World class

When you’re first exposed to a new domain, there’s a lot of learning that takes place. Since you know very little to start off, the rate at which you learn during your first few years in the domain is very high.

In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell states that you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world class in a new domain. If you work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, 50 weeks a year, that’s 3,600 hours a year. So this means that it takes 2.5 to 3 years to become world class in a new domain. This is a ballpark figure with high variability based on the specific domain, the extent of existing competition in that domain, and your innate capabilities in the domain. Rather than an average figure, it’s probably a basic minimum for easy-to-master domains with relatively low competition where you have big innate advantages.

The point is that, although the time to get there is long, there does come a time where, if you’re sufficiently dedicated to a domain, your incremental learnings in that domain begin to decline. After a certain point, being world class in a domain switches from being about learning a lot to applying those learnings. And your success in applying your learnings depends on how you manage your psychology.

Managing your psychology is a catch-all phrase that includes specific skills like being able to live with uncertainty, knowing what you don’t know, staying long-term disciplined, performing well under pressure, and being able to take socially unfavorable positions when you have conviction. It’s much tougher than just putting in the hours. But it’s what you need to do to, with a bit of luck, be world class.

Also published on Medium.