The Dan Plan And Specificity

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Malcolm Gladwell, in his book ‘Outliers‘, popularised the concept that to become an expert requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice (which I will write about at some point).  Others (for example Daniel Coyle) have run with the idea.  Still others, in the way the people do, have taken the 10,000 hours number (because it is the easiest bit) and tried to debunk the idea, conveniently overlooking the fact that the key point is not the time frame but the deliberate practice that is the major determining factor.  Still others, have thought “mmm…”.

In the last category is Dan.  Dan decided that he wanted to try out that 10,000 thing.  He chose golf as his medium and embarked on a journey to become a professional golfer even though he hadn’t picked up a club before he turned 30.  Because he lives in 2011, he decided to document his progress on a blog entitled  And so we can all follow his weekly progress to inevitable greatness (if you believe Gladwell and co) or failure (if you believe the others).  The whole thing is interesting in and of itself, but recently he wrote a blog post that touch on the concept of specficity, which is something of a recurring topic of mineHis post related to putting and how he now feels that the way he learnt putting (hours of repetitions on the same green) may have given him some short term mechanical benefits, but in the long term he may not have actually learnt anything about the ‘skill’ of putting.

It is food for thought…


  1. One thing I’ve always wondered is: is it possible to undertake 10,000 hours of deliberate practice and NOT become an expert?


    1. I want to say no.
      My reasoning is that 10,000 takes a lot of time, effort and commitment. To get to that point you have to be exceptionally committed and more importantly, you must be getting positive feedback along the way to get you to continue.
      I guess that we will never find out. Gladwell has better things to write about 🙂


    1. These of course are the obvious questions. It also occurred to me that part of the ‘ignition’ that Coyle talks about is the instant success you have from having talent for an activity.
      The amusing part of the post that Alexis linked is the backgrounds of the two people. Matthew Syed (who wrote Bounce) was a table tennis player who never reached the highest world level perhaps because his opponents had more training opportunities. The 10,000 theory allows him to think that he had just as much ‘talent’ as his opponents, just not as many opportunities. The author of the blog is a sports physiologist. If there is no ‘talent’ he has no profession.


  2. I think Gladwell’s point is that 10,000 hours will make you elite. It won’t necessarily make you worlds best, but it will make you elite. Gladwell uses the analogy of learning music. 10,000 hours practice will allow musicians to reach soloist level, less practice leaves you as a music teacher or hobbyist. It doesn’t matter about the quality of initial teaching, regular practice will ultimately bring you to the attention of those that can help you by having you rise above those who work less (even those with more “talent”)

    Gladwell talks about opportunity in his book What the dog saw. i have no doubt that talent makes access to 10,000 hours and motivation to work for 10,000 hours easier. Getting 10,000 hours of gym time, coaching clearly requires more than just wanting to train and play. Surely talented youngsters get invited to camps, asked to play on better teams, invited to trial for advanced squads and receive far more positive reinforcement than their more average peers. Both groups however require parents that can and will support their endeavours.

    So it seems to me to make it as an elite player takes talent and opportunity. Those with less initial talent as well as those who seem talented though surely require a great deal of determination, support and resilience as 10,000 will take the average junior 10 years to achieve and a huge number of obstacles and distractions will surely prevent the majority of players from ever reaching 10,000 hours.


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