Nobel Laureate: These 3 Conditions MUST Be Met In Order To Be Great


Perhaps the most popular success formula is the 10,000-Hour Rule, conceptualized by researcher Anders Ericsson and popularized by Malcolm Gladwell. The idea is that you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become a world-class performer in any field.

Research now tells us that this formula is woefully inadequate to explain success in the professional realm. A 2014 review of 88 previous studies found that...

“deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued.”

This chart summarizing the results should cause any ardent believer in the 10,000-Hour Rule to pause:


So where does this leave us?

So when exactly does more experience and deliberate practice help and when does it not?

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman has the answer.

He proposes three specific conditions that must be met in order for the 10,000-Hour Rule to be helpful. Kahneman says...

If you are in a [1] regular world, and you have many [2] opportunities to learn about that world, with [3] immediate feedback, you will eventually develop expert intuition.

Let's break this down...

Rule #1: You have to be in a world that is REGULAR, where there are RULES to be picked up.

"If you're in a chaotic world, then you're not going to develop expertise." — Daniel Kahneman

To understand this rule, it's helpful to think in extremes. Imagine you're in a world that is completely random. One day gravity exists. Another day it doesn't. One day your office is located in town a bike ride away. Another day it's located on the other side of the world.

In this sort of chaotic world, experience would have zero value. In fact, past experiences in a completely random environment would be a hindrance.

On the other end of the spectrum is a game like chess where the rules haven't changed for thousands of years.

The professional world is between these two extremes—with different jobs and industries at different places in the continuum.

Now, think about your job and industry. How random are the distribution of results in it? How quickly are the rules of the game changing?

Before you jump to a quick answer, consider this quote from Kahneman so you don't make the mistake of thinking that the world is less random than it actually is:

“The world makes much less sense than you think. The coherence comes mostly from the way your mind works.” ― Daniel Kahneman

Rule #2: You need the opportunity to learn the rules of the environment through many, many sessions of deliberate practice

Ok. Assuming that you do work in a domain with predictable rules, then you need to learn those rules and that takes a lot of time. To be the best in the world in a particular area of the environment can take years of deliberate practice — hence the 10,000-Hour Rule.

Rule #3: You need constant, rapid, and clear feedback from reality about whether your guesses were correct or wrong.

And finally, when you take action, you need quick feedback to tell you whether you're on the right track or not. If you take action, but don't get any feedback for years, then it will be virtually impossible to improve.

For example, imagine trying to improve as a teacher without ever receiving any sort of feedback from your students on whether they had learned or not.

How To Apply Kahneman's 3 Rules For Expert Intuition To Your Life

With these three rules in mind, you can be more aware of your environment:

  • When you're in an environment that does allow expert intuition, you can put more time into deliberate practice and seek mentors to provide feedback. For example, I put extra effort into identifying, learning, and mastering durable knowledge that will pay me back forever and can be applied across disciplines. I value durable knowledge, mental models, and principles, because I know that once I master them, I don't need to learn the rules over and over like I would if I focused on a quickly-changing domain alone. For example, I've put significant time into learning durable skills like decision-making, goal setting, learning how to learn, prioritization, and problem-solving rather than the latest tricks and hacks alone. This is why I co-created the Mental Model Of The Month Club where every month I teach you one new durable skill that you can use for the rest of your life.
  • When you are in a quickly changing, chaotic environment, you can discount the value of self-proclaimed experts and put more time into experimentation. I've written about this in Forget The 10,000-Hour Rule; Edison, Bezos, & Zuckerberg Follow The 10,000-Experiment Rule.