Mastery Math


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INDUSTRIAL ENGINEER – Volume 44 Number 4

There are fewer masters than the numbers claimed

In his book Outliners, Malcolm Gladwell cites the work of Andres Ericsson when presenting his “10,000 hour rule” and uses the Beatles and Bill Gates as examples of true masters. I applied some rough math to my 30 years of practice in various arenas and found a lot of consistency between Gladwell’s contentions and my experience.

Ten thousand hours roughly equals five years of fulltime work. As we rarely practice one skill full time, it typically would take more than five years to master a given skill. To become a master industrial engineer, one probably would have to practice a certain set of IE skills for at least 15 years.

To become a true master at process definition, data analysis, root cause analysis, and corrective action development, one would have to spend 10,000 hour in each area peer Gladwell. That’s 20 years if you practiced only these skills.

Unfortunately, people often do not know what they don’t know until they are exposed to best practices outside of their normal world. True master realize that one never really masters a skill – there is always more to learn.

Concerns about the implications of the 10,000 hour rule are twofold. First, many organizations place too much stock on formal certifications without questioning the amount or quality of practice involved in obtaining the certificate. Second, people tend to slow down, if not stop, their learning once they feel they have attained mastery status.

Skill and personal mastery are worthy goals to aspire to, but they require a significant time investment and intense may be a bit subjective, but the equations definitely are worth considering.