Leadership

Why Oprah Winfrey loves Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that putting in 10,000 hours is key to success

Oprah Winfrey speaks on stage during The Robin Hood Foundation's 2018 benefit at Jacob Javitz Center on May 14, 2018 in New York City. 
Kevin Mazur | Getty Images
Oprah Winfrey speaks on stage during The Robin Hood Foundation's 2018 benefit at Jacob Javitz Center on May 14, 2018 in New York City. 

Oprah Winfrey has been a household name since she became one of the first black female news anchors at 19 years old. Now 64, the self-made billionaire wants everyone, especially young people, to understand one thing about success: It usually takes years of hard work and dedication.

“I love the theory of that there are 10,000 hours behind anybody who ever gets to be successful,” Winfrey says in an interview with British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful. She's referring to the somewhat controversial theory popularized by bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell that it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice, plus talent, to achieve mastery.

Winfrey says that her biggest frustration with young people today is that “they think that success is supposed to happen" instantly. “They think that there isn't a process to it. They think that they are supposed to come out of college and have their brand.” Instead, she says, brands, and careers, take time to develop.

To drive this point home, she uses Enninful as an example: “You did not get to be editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine by not working and working and working to get here,” she says.

Gladwell puts forward this theory in his 2008 book “Outliers: The Story of Success." To bolster his claim, he points out that Bill Gates' success was a result of over 10,000 hours of practice with computers in his teen years; that was the experience that helped him build Microsoft. “By the time Gates dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year to try his hand at his own software company, he'd been programming practically nonstop for seven consecutive years," Gladwell writes. "He was way past 10,000 hours. How many teenagers in the world had the kind of experience Gates had?”

He concludes: “10,000 hours is the magic number of greatness."

Although some studies have pushed back against the idea, it still has its vocal adherents, among them Major League Baseball star Alex Rodriguez. He says that, to evaluate your success or failure at any endeavor, you first "need to acquire your 10,000 hours."

The process "takes time," he says. "You need to make mistakes. It's okay to make mistakes, especially when you're in your 20s."

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