Forget The 10,000-Hour Rule; Edison, Bezos, & Zuckerberg Follow The 10,000-Experiment Rule

The 10,000 hour rule, as articulated by Malcom Gladwell and studied by ‘deliberate practice’ researchers like Anders Ericcson, has always seemed ill-suited to the practice of innovation. You can’t practice innovation. What works well when practicing a violin or a golf swing, doesn’t have any effect on being more innovative. As the author states,

Deliberate practice may help you in fields that change slowly or not at all, such as music and sports. It helps you succeed when the future looks like the past, but it’s next to useless in areas that change rapidly, such as technology and business.

Research shows that, in an organization, a small number of individuals (<10%) create a large percentage of breakthrough innovations. They don’t do this by having a higher percentage of breakthrough ideas, but rather by creating more ideas and testing them quickly. The superstars create more breakthrough ideas, but they also create more duds. Pundits see these results and admonish us to “fail fast”, but quick failure is side-effect of this success, not the cause of it.

The problem most organizations have is that letting creative people take time to come up with ideas and run experiments that have unpredictable results that probably won’t pay off is extremely hard. But there is a definite benefit when, instead of starting the day with a to-do list, start it instead with a “to-test” list.

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