We’ve all heard it: Practice makes perfect, you need 10,000 hours (10 years)! Be an expert in anything! Well, it’s not so clear:

Brooke Macnamara of Princeton University and colleagues looked at 88 studies of practice and performance across the domains of education, the professions, sports, games and music (Macnamara et al., 2014).

All the studies involved people learning new skills, how much practice they had done, and how good they became.

The results contained a surprise, but first the obvious news: practice was important. People didn’t generally get good without practice.

The surprise was that practice only accounted for 12% of individual differences in performance across all the different areas.

For professional performance, practice accounted for less than 1% of individual differences. He concludes with:

It’s easy to see why the message that anyone can do anything if they try hard enough might be popular.

Unfortunately it’s not true.

A better message is that, yes, you need to practice to be perfect, but if a lot of practice isn’t making you perfect, maybe it’s time to try something new.

Ten years is a long time to waste.

I’ve long been a fan of working on your “strengths” rather than your weaknesses. Fixing your weaknesses is too hard ;)

Disclaimer: The academic article is behind a paywall, so I only read the blog post by Jeremy Dean. And unless you believe everything you read, you should also take this with a grain of salt. But it’s nice to see studies on this issue.