Abraham Lincoln and the 10,000-Hour Rule


The Beatles did it before becoming world famous. Bill Gates did it before becoming one of the world’s richest men. And Abraham Lincoln did it before becoming one of America’s most honored President.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, maintains that anyone who expects to become world-class at anything had better plan on doing it.

And what is IT?

IT is practicing thousands and thousands of hours. Gladwell says 10,000 hours.

In the case of the Beatles, they played night after night in Hamburg, Germany’s strip clubs. Here’s how John Lennon remembered the experience: “We got better and got more confidence. We couldn’t help it with all the experience playing all night long….In Hamburg, we had to play for eight hours, so we really had to find a new way of playing.” When the Beatles returned to Liverpool, they had become a seasoned, musically disciplined band with their own sound.

In the case of Bill Gates, he started doing his 10,000 hours when he was in the eighth grade. His high school purchased a teletype machine that was linked to a mainframe computer in Seattle. Gates and his buddy Paul Allen used that system to the limit, then found a way to get computer time at a software company where they spent literally thousands of hours learning how to use the new technology. Here’s Bill Gates on that topic: “It was my obsession. I skipped athletics. I went up there at night. We were programming on weekends. It would be a rare week that we wouldn’t get twenty or thirty hours in.”

And Lincoln? Historian Gerald J. Prokopowicz writes: “Over the 25 years that he practiced law, Lincoln (and his partners) handled an average of more than two-hundred cases a year, an awesome workload.”

Do the math. Two-hundred cases for twenty-five years come to 5000 cases. (Actually there were more than 5000 cases.) Let’s say Lincoln spent just two hours on each case. (On some he certainly spent less time, on others far more.) That easily comes to the magic number 10,000 hours that Gladwell has written about.

Lincoln, like everybody who has ever made a lasting mark in any field, got to be good at what he/she was doing by putting in thousands of hours of practice.