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Everyone says it takes 10,000 hours to become a peak performer. 

But it didn’t feel right to me.

I’ve interviewed 500 peak performers. And studied the 10,000 hour rule, which Anders Ericson discovered. And Malcolm Gladwell popularized. 

Then I read David Epstein’s book, “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.” 

And it confirmed what I’ve always known.

It’s never too late to master something…

Here’s proof:


I’m spoiling it. David writes about this in his book. And he keeps it a mystery. You start off by reading some obscure career path. About a kid who tried drawing.

But quit. 

He had no talent. And had other interests he liked better. So he does those.

Bug collecting, walking, bird watching, etc.

He grows up. Goes to school. But leaves. Because he hates being away from home. 

He gets a job at his uncle’s art dealership.

But he’s arguing with customers. And gets sent to the back. Eventually, he quits.

Then he’s a teacher, a bookseller, a clergyman. He moves to coal country to help the poor. And at each step he says, “I found my calling.” 

But nothing ever fits.

The 10,000 hour rule would say he’s doomed. Because he’s wasting time on too many skills. That don’t connect. And won’t lead to mastery.

But everyone knows Vincent Van Gogh’s name. And that’s because he used a different formula for mastery…

Not the 10,000 hour rule.

He followed the generalist’s circle: 


He tried drawing, watercolor, painting nature, painting without color, painting with only blue and purple. 

And each time he tries something new he thinks, “This is it!”

That’s the journey. 

He didn’t decide to become one of the most influential painters in the world.

He just did his next impulse. Quit. And did something else on repeat. Until he got sick of it.

No one told him, “Vincent! You have to stay at your job for a year! Think of your resume!”

He followed the impulses of his heart. Emerged with a unique style. And died two years later. 

“Everything we know of him, is from the last two years of his life,” David said. “He died at 37. If he had died at 34, he would maybe me a historical footnote.” 

Show Notes:

  • Why I’m so excited to have David Epstein on the podcast [3:04]
  • My gut feeling about the 10,000 hour rule [3:47]
  • Vincent Van Gogh’s full journey from everyday loser to master artist [4:23]
  • How Vincent Van Gogh finally discovers painting [10:53]
  • Why having multiple passions leads to being a genius in the intersection of all your passions [14:09]
  • We compare Vincent Van Gogh’s story to some of the classic 10,000 hour stories [15:10]
  • I ask David, “Where is it that some skills require 10,000 hours where others don’t?” [16:24]
  • David explains how different learning environments impact skill acquisition [17:55]
  • The difference between mastering art and chess [19:06]
  • David explains how a lot of the misinformation about mastery comes from people who study athletes  [20:40]
  • Daniel Kahneman’s theories vs. Gary Klein’s theories on mastery [22:30]
  • David explains research from the Navy that says “breath of training predicts breath of transfer” [23:42]
  • The role of mentorship in mastery [25:10]
  • The role of talent in mastery [27:19]
  • The role of deliberate practice & training in mastery [27:55]
  • The importance of determining your match quality = “the term economists use to determine the fit between your abilities and what you do” [28:11]
  • Proof that DOING (not thinking about doing something) is the only way to learn about yourself [29:04]
  • My view on why setting long-term goals is useless [30:00]
  • “The Dark Horse Project…” Havard’s study about how people find fulfilling careers [30:35]
  • How our mutual friend Maria Konnikova became a pro poker player in less than 10,000 hours [35:40]
  • How Roger Federer used sampling to master tennis [37:05]
  • The role of age in mastery & optimal development [37:52]
  • What makes someone a master in music [39:27]
  • What happens if you combine your skill development by studying in both wicked domains and kind domains [42:22]
  • How to become a peak performer even if you’re starting later in life [43:32]
  • How going to grad school for geology elevated David Epstein to senior writer at Sports Illustrated[44:34]
  • The story behind Nintendo’s founder (who was first told he’d never work on the cutting edge) [44:53]
  • “The creators who make the biggest impact are not the ones who drill the deepest… but the ones who spread their work across the largest number of domains as classified by the US patent office.] [45:49]
  • I summarize the research that measured which scientific achievements have the longest lasting impact on society [46:32]
  • Examples of atypical knowledge [47:20]
  • How David became a successful writer [48:54]
  • How Josh Foer became the U.S. memory champion and how Stefan Fatsis used experimentation to master Scrabble [50:03]
  • How hybrid talents become super talents and beat out the clones [51:30] 
  • Examples of how to create your own field [53:35]
  • How to reinvent yourself at 30,40, 50 years old [54:11]
  • How Coolio created his own area of rap [54:57]
  • One of David’s favorite studies, “Superman of The Fantastic Four” [55:35]
  • The role of experimentation in mastery [56:46]
  • How I use experimentation to try to get better at something totally new for me [57:30]
  • I ask David, “How do you get the psychology to go against what’s expected of you?” [59:48]
  • How Jordan Peele used his understanding of comedy, production, directing, etc. to rise to the top of horror films [1:01:10]
  • Why it’s bad for HR to make job descriptions too narrow [1:03:07]
  • I ask David how he would get good at something new using what he knows about mastery [1:04:10]
  • Why you shouldn’t discard the 10,000 hour rule [1:06:30]
  • Why you don’t have to start young to get good at something [1:07:16]
  • The role in charisma in mastery [1:08:27]
  • Malcom Gladwell’s review of David’s book “Range:” “For reasons I cannot explain, David Epstein, manages to make me thoroughly enjoy the experience of being told that everything I thought about something was wrong. I loved ‘Range.’” [1:10:27]
  • Thanks and closing thoughts [1:11:44]


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