Dear Dalitso

Everyday lessons for tomorrow

10 000hours Rule vs Range

October 9, 2023
Letter #

Dear Dali
One day they will tell you about the 10000hrs rule made popular by Malcolm Gladwell. It is argued that for one to be a specialist/master in any field they should spend at least 10 000hrs perfecting their craft. When I learnt about this rule- i jumped at it and thought this would be the best way to propel myself ahead. But I was not sure what to focus on. I have never been a one thing person. And I bet there are many of us like that. We do a lot more than research for instance. What should I let go off to do that one thing which will propel me to mastery?

I stumbled upon another thought. Perhaps of the least cited pieces of literature is David Epstein’s Range. In this book David argues that ‘If you’re working on well-defined and well-understood problems, specialists work very, very well,” But ‘as ambiguity and uncertainty increases, which is the norm with systems problems, breadth becomes increasingly important’. Eureka! Finally, I had found something that speaks to my situation.

I work on a number of issues; (I) institutional development and(ii) influencing practices of democracy and development. These require one to develop a number of skills ranging from leadership, management of resources, technical skills inclusive of research, training, communication etc. I can’t just do one thing. Thinking from a range perspective allows me to spread my 10 000hours in developing the different skills I require to be effective.
The issues we confront are also varied; weak to inadequate government institutions, increasing levels of mistrust between public officials and citizens, limited to weak engagement of citizens in public processes and deepening of poverty and inequality. There is no silver bullet to these wicked problems. We need a range of initiatives and tools to respond to these issues.
Finally, the range approach sustains one for the long run. It’s better to have a number of tricks in the bag than just one.

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