Bill Gates, Warren Buffett And Oprah All Use The 5-Hour Rule
Top business leaders often spend five hours per week doing deliberate learning.
Author’s Note: This article was written over 60 hours with love and care using the blockbuster mental model.
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In the article Malcolm Gladwell got us wrong, the researchers behind the 10,000-hour rule set the record straight: different fields require different amounts of deliberate practice in order to become world-class.
If 10,000 hours isn’t an absolute rule that applies across fields, what does it really take to become world-class in the world of work?
Over the last year, I’ve explored the personal history of many widely admired business leaders like Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg in order to understand how they apply the principles of deliberate practice.
What I’ve done does not qualify as an academic study, but it does reveal a surprising pattern.
Many of these leaders, despite being extremely busy, set aside at least an hour a day (or five hours a week) over their entire careers for activities that could be classified as deliberate practice or learning.
I call this phenomenon the 5-hour rule.
How the best leaders follow the 5-hour rule
For the leaders I tracked, the 5-hour rule often fell into three buckets: reading, reflection, and experimentation.
According to an HBR article, “Nike founder Phil Knight so reveres his library that in it you have to take off your shoes and bow.”
Oprah Winfrey credits books with much of her success: “Books were my pass to personal freedom.” She has shared her reading habit with the world via her book club.
These two are not alone. Consider the extreme reading habits of other billionaire entrepreneurs:
Bill Gates reads 50 books per year.
Mark Zuckerberg reads at least one book every two weeks.
Elon Musk grew up reading two books a day, according to his brother.
Mark Cuban reads more than 3 hours every day.
Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot, reads two hours a day.
Billionaire entrepreneur David Rubenstein reads six books a week.
Dan Gilbert, self-made billionaire and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, reads one to two hours a day.
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Other times, the 5-hour rule takes the form of reflection and thinking time.
AOL CEO Tim Armstrong makes his senior team spend four hours per week just thinking. Jack Dorsey is a serial wanderer. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner schedules two hours of thinking time per day. Brian Scudamore, the founder of the 250 million-dollar company, O2E Brands, spends 10 hours a week just thinking.
When Reid Hoffman needs help thinking through an idea, he calls one of his pals: Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, or Elon Musk. When billionaire Ray Dalio makes a mistake, he logs it into a system that is public to all employees at his company. Then, he schedules time with his team to find the root cause. Billionaire entrepreneur Sara Blakely is a long-time journaler. In one interview, she shared that she has over 20 notebooks where she logged the terrible things that happened to her and the gifts that have unfolded as a result.
If you want to be in to company of others who reflect on what they’re learning with each other, join this Facebook group.
Finally, the 5-hour rule takes the form of rapid experimentation.
Throughout his life, Ben Franklin set aside time for experimentation, masterminding with like-minded individuals, and tracking his virtues. Google famously allowed employees to experiment with new projects with 20% of their work time. Facebook encourages experimentation through Hack-A-Months.
The largest example of experimentation might be Thomas Edison. Even though he was a genius, Edison approached new inventions with humility. He would identify every possible solution and then systematically test each one of them. According to one of his biographers, “Although he understood the theories of his day, he found them useless in solving unknown problems.”
He took the approach to such an extreme that his competitor, Nikola Tesla, had this to say about the trial-and-error approach: “If [Edison] had a needle to find in a haystack, he would not stop to reason where it was most likely to be, he would proceed at once with the feverish diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.”
The power of the 5-hour rule: improvement rate
People who apply the 5-hour rule in the world of work have an advantage. The idea of deliberate practice versus just working hard is often confused. Also, most professionals focus on productivity and efficiency, not improvement rate. As a result, just five hours of deliberate learning a week can set you apart.