2,916 hours and counting

In his book, Outliers, The story of success, Malcolm Gladwell introduces many interesting ideas concerning what constitutes success.  For me the one that stands out most is what he calls “The 10,000 hour rule”.  In the most simple of terms he asserts that to achieve mastery of any subject, be it music, art, or computer programming, one must spend approximately 10,000 hours of dedicated focus on the subject in question.  He spends some time describing the early years of people like Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems.   When they traced all the hours Mr. Joy spent purposefully focused on programming, including all the days, nights, and summers, they landed on this magic number of 10,000 hours.  The same apparently holds true from Mozart to Bobby Fisher to the Beatles.

As I read over this concept I couldn’t help but wonder if the same holds true for architecture?  The tricky part becomes, well how exactly do you decide how many hours you have spent on “Architecture”?  Do you simply look at time actually spent designing?  Do you include all the other classes and activities that are not directly design related?  For some of us it seems like every moment, both awake and while dreaming, are spent on architecture!  So how many 24 hour periods does it take to reach 10,000 hours??

Ok, that may be a bit of a stretch, so I’ve decided to focus instead on directly design related activities, like studios in school, or SD/DD time while working.  The University of Colorado Architecture program requires a total of 45 credit hours of “design studies”.  I ran some quick numbers, and if you consider one credit hour to be composed of one hour of class work, plus two hours of study time, and multiply that by the 12 week semester, and you get approximately 36 hours of actual time spent for every single credit hour gained.  Take that amount and multiply it by the required 45 credit hours, and you will see that by the time you’ve received your M. Arch degree you’ve spent at least 1,620 actual hours in what Mr. Gladwell might consider “dedicated focus” on architecture.

Furthermore, I’ve kept practicing since leaving school, at a rate of roughly 40 hours per week for the last 4 ½ years.  That equates to another 8,640 hours!  Well anyone who has worked in architecture knows that you’re doing well if you can spend even 15% of your time on directly design related tasks.  So I’ll just go with another 1,296 hours of direct design related work, for a grand total of 2,916 hours of dedicated practice thus far in my life.  No wonder most architects are well into their later years before hitting that stratospheric level of expertise!

But does this even matter when it comes to the subject of architecture?  I’m going to go ahead and throw out that it does not.  Maybe we don’t need a Mozart or Bill Joy in architecture at all.  Maybe the new genius is not the individual, but the team.  Architecture is more collaborative than most any other endeavor.  So while it will be interesting to see where I’m at when I get to 10,000 hours, I bet my team gets there first, and maybe that’s all that matters.

3 thoughts on “2,916 hours and counting

  1. I am a strong believer in the 10,000 hour principle. I started out in civil engineering and after about 5 years of experience (about 2000 hours x 5 = 10,000 hours) I really felt much more confident in my work and had a very good grasp on the profession. I then decided to pursue structural engineering and am finding that the more experience I gain, the better grasp I have on the field as well. I am not quite to 10,000 hours, but well on my way. Of course there are always areas to improve after 10,000 hours. What about a team that each member has at least 10,000 hours on their belt? Now that would be a force to reckon with! I recently read an interesting article about a guy that decided he was going to try out the principle on golfing without any prior golfing experience – http://progolftalk.nbcsports.com/2011/04/20/man-quits-job-hopes-10000-hours-of-practicing-golf-will-make-him-pro/

    • Cody-

      I fully agree that expanding your horizon (in your case taking on structural, in mine perhaps building one of my projects) is the best way to build your base of knowledge. Given the complexities of our professions it only makes sense to do so! That, of course, makes it even that much harder to get those 10,000 hours in on any single area of what we do.

  2. Pingback: Le Se Le Bon Ton Roulette | AIA Colorado Emerging Professionals Blog

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