In an interesting post by Peter Norvig says talks about how long it takes to develop expertise. I’ve somewhat quoted him here; with a few tweaks to the contemporary references.
Researchers (Bloom & Sosniak, 1985; Bryan & Harter, 1899; Hayes, 1981; Simmon & Chase,1973) have shown it takes about ten years to develop expertise in any of a wide variety of areas, including chess playing, music composition, telegraph operation, painting, piano playing, swimming, tennis, and research in neuropsychology and topology. The key is deliberative practice: not just doing it again and again, but challenging yourself with a task that is just beyond your current ability, trying it, analyzing your performance while and after doing it, and correcting any mistakes. Then repeat. And repeat again.
There appear to be no real shortcuts: even Mozart, who was a musical prodigy at age 4, took 13 more years before he began to produce world-class music. In another genre, the Beatles seemed to burst onto the scene with a string of #1 hits and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. But they had been playing small clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg since 1957, and while they had mass appeal early on, their first great critical success, Sgt. Peppers, was released in 1967. Malcolm Gladwell (2009) reports that a study of students at the Berlin Academy of Music compared the top, middle, and bottom third of the class and asked them how much they had practised:
Everyone, from all three groups, started playing at roughly the same time - around the age of five. In those first few years, everyone practised roughly the same amount - about two or three hours a week. But around the age of eight real differences started to emerge. The students who would end up as the best in their class began to practise more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight by age 12, 16 a week by age 14, and up and up, until by the age of 20 they were practising well over 30 hours a week. By the age of 20, the elite performers had all totalled 10,000 hours of practice over the course of their lives. The merely good students had totalled, by contrast, 8,000 hours, and the future music teachers just over 4,000 hours.
So it may be that 10,000 hours, not 10 years, is the magic number. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) thought it took longer: “Excellence in any department can be attained only by the labor of a lifetime; it is not to be purchased at a lesser price.” And Chaucer (1340-1400) complained “the lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.” Hippocrates (c. 400BC) is known for the excerpt “ars longa, vita brevis”, which is part of the longer quotation “Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile”, which in English renders as “Life is short, [the] craft long, opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgment difficult.” Although in Latin, ars can mean either art or craft, in the original Greek the word “techne” can only mean “skill”, not “art”.
Bloom, B. S., & Sosniak, L. (Eds.). (1985). Developing talent in young people (1st ed.). New York: Ballantine Books.
Bryan, W., & Harter, N. (1897). Studies in the physiology and psychology of the telegraphic language. Psychological Review January 1897, 4(1), 27-53.
Chase, W. G., & Simon, H. A. (1973). Perception in chess. Cognitive Psychology, 4(1), 55-81. doi:10.1016⁄0010-0285(73)90004-2
Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. Camberwell, Australia: Allen Lane.
Hayes, J. R. (1981). The complete problem solver. Philadelphia, PA: Franklin Institute Press.