Many of you will have of heard of Malcolm Gladwell's '10,000-hour rule' in his book Outliers. He wrote that if you practised whatever, whether it was a particular sport, a musical instrument or a specific hobby for 10,000 hours you would be an expert. However, for those of you who do not know, it was Professor Anders Ericsson where Gladwell got the research from and it was Ericsson who has spent over thirty years studying the secrets of extraordinary performers.

Ericsson's findings reveal that high performers special abilities are gained through purposeful/deliberate training and practice. The innate 'gift' of talent, he found was a myth.

Exceptional individuals are born with just one unique ability, shared by us all - an ability to develop our brains and bodies through their efforts.

I have summarised what Deliberate Practice is:

Purposeful Deliberate Practice

  • Have a clear, well-defined strategic goals
  • Have a plan for reaching those goals
  • Do it in a focused way
  • Have a way to monitor progress and receive feedback
  • Get outside your comfort zone

If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve. Many people think and what Gladwell implied is that just practising the same thing over and over again for 10,000 hours would make you an expert or high performer. Ericsson calls this 'Naive Practice'.

Naive Practice

- is doing something repeatedly, expecting that the repetition along will improve performance


When we look at sport, we can see this purposeful practice strategy with Team Sky cycling team as they prepare Chris Froome for the Tour de France every year. Again purposeful and deliberate practice. He is not just cycling every day for the sake of 'putting in the hours' so he is fit enough for the tour. There is a real purpose and strategy to his preparation. 

In the 1908 Olympics, a double somersault in the diving was considered simply too dangerous, after a diver was seriously injured themselves. That somersault is now completed by ten years old at the entry level. Likewise, the winning marathon time at those Olympics was 2 hours, 55 minutes and 18 seconds. That would barely qualify for the Boston marathon today which requires runners to have completed a sub 3 hour, 5-minute marathon. We can see that over time that athletes have advanced their skills through deliberate practice. It is not that the human body has genetically advanced since 1908.


When you look at the criteria of Ericsson's Purposeful Practice, you can see they tick all the boxes when looking at successful entrepreneurs. In many respects, when an entrepreneur starts a new business, they set a goal (building a new business), are focused on achieving that goal. In the early days they may well be out of their comfort zone as they strive to win new business. The financial results are their monitor and the feedback comes from the customer.

For the young, whether they are considering a future in business or sport, using Ericsson's 'Deliberate Practice' principles would be good advice. Steer clear of naive practice.

However, more than anything work out a way to maintain your motivation, passion and desire. Choose something you like or enjoy doing and then do some deliberate practice.