If you invested 10,000 hours learning how to learn, you might be better than average at a lot of things. In his bestseller, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell sets out his interpretation of data which seem to show that the success of top performers in many fields is better explained by fortunate opportunities to get more practice than it is by innate talent or other factors. He suggests that you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice to get to the top of your field. He goes on to explain how this applies to people like Bill Gates, the Beatles, and professional hockey players as high-profile examples of people who actually had the fortunate opportunities to put in their 10,000 hours of practice long before most of us ever heard of them.
But suppose you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, or at least you can’t predict which jobs will still be there a decade from now. How do you invest your 10,000 hours? If you are a parent trying to help children consider their futures as they look at college or careers, how do you advise them. A good strategy might be to suggest they focus on how they learn in some broad area where they have an interest.
For example, I have always been interested in designing and building things. I have easily put in 10,000 hours in this general area. I have learned to analyze how things are constructed out of all kinds of materials. I have learned what factors contribute to an appealing design and how to include others in the design process. Just as importantly, I have learned that I tend to learn these things visually and through hands-on experimentation. So I have learned to draw plans and to use visual and graphic computer software and found ways to experiment on a small scale before a major project. I have also learned that for many design-build projects, someone has often invented a specialized tool that makes the job so much easier.
What is more amazing to me is that now that I have practiced the foundational design-build skills for a long time, I can find several useful ten minute videos on YouTube to help me learn how to design, build, or repair almost anything. Now that I have put in my 10,000 hours learning how to learn to design and build things, I can apply these skills to a wide range of projects with the help of ten minute videos. I have enough experience to evaluate the information, see what’s missing, and appreciate what’s new. I suspect the same principles apply in my other general areas of interest like organizing and coaching people on business strategy.
Investing 10,000 hours in (a) learning how to learn and (b) how you learn, and combining that with (c) thousands of 10 minute “how-to” videos online, just might be the most powerful strategy for life-long learning.