The 10 year rule of creative breakthroughs throughout History

Many people have over the years come out and spelled out the art of achieving lasting success and achieving goals over the long or short run. Hard work, they emphasized and they were right. Hard work is a recipe for success but hard work without continuous practice, organic learning, trying out new boundaries and whatnot might not to the trick for many people- hence the 10 year rule.

Success is a long process of perspiration, endless learning, coupled with hard work. Long hours/years of relevant labor and toil often breed success regardless of sector/dominion (Arts or Science). In 1903, Thomas Edison’s remarked, “genius is 1 per cent inspiration, 99 per cent perspiration.”

First identified by the psychologist John Hayes in 1989 and soon endorsed by other psychologists, philosophers, life coaches, and the elite, the rule states that a person must persevere with learning and practicing a craft or discipline for about 10 years before he or she can make a meaningful breakthrough. Remarkably very few breakthroughs have been achieved in less than this time.

In the same light, 40 years ago, in a paper in American Scientist, Herbert Simon and William Chase drew one of the most famous conclusions in the study of expertise:

 There are no instant experts in chess—certainly no instant masters or grandmasters. There appears not to be on record any case (including Bobby Fischer) where a person reached grandmaster level with less than about a decade’s intense preoccupation with the game. We would estimate, very roughly, that a master has spent perhaps 10,000 to 50,000 hours staring at chess positions…

The 10,000 hour rule somewhat corresponds with the 10 year rule in a great aspect. Lasting success can’t be gained overnight especially if it requires complex tasks- hours of work and study are needed to fuel this success. In his book “Outliers”, Malcom Gladwell greatly emphasized the 10,000 hour rule- “achievement is talent plus preparation,” he states. However, over the years, it ceases to be an act of talent but of preparation, done every day until a major break through. It’s never just about talent or skills but talent/skills plus consistent practice.

Example in the Arts; John Hayes looked at seventy-six famous classical composers and found that, in almost every case, those composers did not create their greatest work until they had been composing for at least ten years. (The sole exceptions: Shostakovich and Paganini, who took nine years, and Erik Satie, who took eight.) Most famous composers took between 11,000-14,000 hours of practice to make their greatest work that still lies in many History Books. Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was created in 1907, a decade after he began training as an artist in Barcelona in 1896. Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was composed in 1912, a decade after he began his apprenticeship to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1902.

Examples in Science; Albert Einstein’s first insight into special relativity occurred around 1895, 10 years before the creation and publication of the theory in 1905. August Kekulé’s theory of the benzene ring was published in 1865, 10 years after his first day-dream of his structural theory on a London omnibus. Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1990, 10 years after his first web-like computer program, known as Enquire. Alexander Fleming had been working in the bacteriology department of a hospital for some two decades when he discovered penicillin by accident in 1928.

The best time to start is now and not tomorrow, let hard work, constant practice and learning be your cup for the years to come and success will all be yours. Mastery is key here- if your clients are seeing your product for over 10 years, they get accustomed to it or even addicted to it, it becomes part of their lives to the extent that it is the only competition they can buy. When that happens, you my friend, have reached a point of success- persistence, patience, discipline, hard work, are all key aspects.

The 10 year rule isn’t all about success but also a mark for unhappiness in many relationships and marriages after research scrapped the seven year itch theory, arguing that it takes ten years to reach the point in a marriage when couples are most unhappy. Whether this corresponds with the attainment of great success is a discussion for another time.


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