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Why 10,000-hour rule is no guarantee to success in business

By Peter Opondo | April 28th 2021

Author Malcolm Gladwell popularised the 10,000-hour rule in which he argued that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any area was just a matter of practicing the particular skill for 10,000 hours. 

If you or your organisation wants to be great at something, then work harder than your competitor(s) in gaining or sharpening certain capabilities and you will gain a competitive advantage. 

But is that always the case?

Why would a hitherto successful firm like Kodak collapse in the face of competition from “novice” firms like Facebook or Instagram?

Kodak, Instagram and Facebook were essentially in the same business of “capturing and sharing life’s moments”. Kodak had done this for 100 years by 2010 when Instagram was founded. The guys who had put in a fraction of 10,000 hours effectively killed those who had put in 100 years.

According to author, Frans Johansson, the 10,000-hour rule can only apply to situations where the rules of the game are relatively stable and predictable over a long period of time.

It would apply to tennis or soccer, where the norms of the game are well known and rarely change in a drastic way. When the rules of the game change, organisations should prioritise learning, relearning and unlearning to take advantage of and exploit new market externalities rather than stick to what has given them advantage in the past. 


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