An hour a day for deliberate learning?

Edited excerpt from Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Oprah Winfrey All Use the 5-Hour Rule by Michael Simmons:

In the article Malcolm Gladwell Got Us Wrong, the researchers behind the 10,000-Hour Rule set the record straight: Different fields require different amounts of deliberate practice in order for someone to become world-class. If 10,000 hours isn’t an absolute rule that applies across fields, what does it really take to become world class in the world of work?

Many leaders, despite being extremely busy, have set aside at least an hour a day (or five hours a week) over their entire career for activities that could be classified as deliberate practice or learning. I call this phenomenon the five-hour rule. For the leaders I tracked, the five-hour rule often fell into three buckets: reading, reflection, and experimentation.

We need to move beyond the cliché, “Lifelong learning is good,” and think more deeply about the minimum amount of learning the average person should do per day to have a sustainable and successful career.

Just as we have minimum recommended dosages of vitamins and steps per day and of aerobic exercise for leading a healthy life physically, we should be more rigorous about how we as an information society think about the minimum doses of deliberate learning for leading a healthy life economically.

(1) Thank you Karen Miller Jackson for the tip.
(2) On experimentation as a learning tool: We often don’t experiment enough because we gravitate to things we are familiar with and which we believe have a high probability of success. If we view new tasks, jobs and experiences as experiments, we can drop our requirement that they should be familiar, and worry less that they’ll be unsuccessful.
(3) In the full article, Michael Simmons shows that many famously successful people are voracious readers of books. What is it about reading books that is more valuable than reading articles online (including this blog 🙂 )?
(4) Cf. (i) How truly great entrepreneurs manage their time and (ii) How to clear time for deep thinking.

6 thoughts on “An hour a day for deliberate learning?

  1. “What is it about reading books that is more valuable than reading articles online?”

    I have long held a view that you can score any piece of reading (and therefore the return on effort) by the effort required on both the writer’s and reader’s side. A really great piece of writing usually has a tremendous amount of effort put in by the writer, and requires a variable amount of work on the reader’s side (usually less, since things are clear and are easy to comprehend).

    So, a poorly written blog post: Little time/effort on writer’s side, Lots of effort on the reader’s side trying to figure out wtf the writer is saying: Poor return.

    A better-written version of the blog: More effort on writer’s side, less effort on reader’s side: Better return

    A magazine article that takes three months to research and a month of writing and effort: Lots of effort and resources on the writer’s side, less effort on reader’s side: Even better return

    A book that takes 2-3 years to write and is the culmination of a lifetime of research and a team of writers and editors: Tons of effort/resources on the writer’s side, probably an equal amount of effort on the reader’s side: Probably the best return, depending on the book.

    You are better off in terms of return on invested effort with going towards those things that are super high-scoring. This is why, all things being equal, you’re better off reading high-quality sources of writing.

    • Jeffjlin — fascinating and convincing point.

      One potential downside of non-fiction books: sometimes the core ideas could have been presented in an article, but are padded out into a whole book (perhaps to justify higher revenue), needlessly increasing the effort required from the reader.

      • Hi David,

        I agree. Sometimes non-fiction books review the same core ideas over and over. I enjoy reviewing how the idea applies in different contexts.

        Though, some colleagues of mine have suggested sticking to well written academic articles that are usually 8-12 pages long — and usually extremely insightful. Also, academic articles are more dense as well.

        I’m curious if you’d make the argument about the value of life-time networking: Should business people spend 1 hour a day (or 5 hr/week ~ 1.5 networking events) per week strategically networking?

      • While it’s true that you can get the summary quicker, it’s a little like getting the answers in a textbook: in some cases it’s useful, but then you run the risk of not understanding the context of a rule.

        What I find most useful about book-length books (and this is, again, dependent on the source and quality of the book) is that you get the argument and the principles (i.e. the underpinnings of the mental model) which in my experience are easier to integrate into your own set of mental models. Which is why I think higher return accrues to books written either by people that have really studied and lived their subject matter, or by people that have extremely clever/clear minds.

        Real insight rarely comes without work on the reader’s part too….

      • Also, it is true that a lot of nonfiction books are padded out or regurgitated/reassembled material — see most of the books in the business section. Which is why getting a read on the author’s background helps.

  2. Daniel, my personal view is that successful networking needs to be around a common goal; networking for its own sake is ineffective. As such, it’s hard to schedule it. But I’m an introvert, and I generally avoid networking. So it would be interesting to hear from someone who likes and is good at networking.

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