Twenty years ago, Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer (1993) proposed that expert performance reflects a long period of deliberate practice rather than innate ability, or “talent”.

Ericsson et al. found that elite musicians had accumulated thousands of hours more deliberate practice than less accomplished musicians, and concluded that their theoretical framework could provide “a sufficient account of the major facts about the nature and scarcity of exceptional performance”.

The deliberate practice view has since gained popularity as a theoretical account of expert performance, but here we show that deliberate practice is not sufficient to explain individual differences in performance in the two most widely studied domains in expertise research—chess and music”.

The study found that deliberate practice only accounts for 34% of the performance of chess players and 30% in musicians. There are many other factors that play an important role here, such as genetics and talent. Thus, some people will master a skill after maybe 2000 hours while others might need 30,000 hours. 10,000 hours is just an average. Furthermore, spending mere hours isn’t what will get you to improve your skills, the hours need to be focused and also use empirically tested methods to improve.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work hard. Hard work will always be needed to reach the top, but talent is equally, if not more important. It is true that hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard, but to dismiss talent altogether is just ignorant. Accept it and work hard either way. Your journey is yours alone.


Deliberate practice: Is that all it takes to become an expert? David Z. Hambrick, Frederick L. Oswald, Erik M. Altmann, Elizabeth J. Meinz, Fernand Gobet, Guillermo Campitelli.

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