I’m not sure where I heard it first – maybe it was a seminar, a TED Talk, or an excerpt from one of Malcolm Gladwell’s thought-provoking books like the “Outliers”, but the premise stuck with me.  The rule is simple: “If you want to be great – you can.” Okay, so that will strike many as naïve, but then think about it.  What does it take to be great? Of course, talent helps, but as I have pointed out many times before, talent without the commitment to feed that talent is a promise without delivery.

In our daily lives, our work specifically, there is an inherent need to be competent – to be able to perform at an acceptable level without embarrassing ourselves. To some that is enough, but to many this falls short.  Why, well-being competent doesn’t move the needle, we never move to the next level, attract better opportunities, receive the pay and accolades that inspire us, and never get the atta-boys if we are just able to do the work. What we really hope for is to be excellent, noteworthy, and uniquely accomplished at our work. As the author Josh Kaufman once stated:

“Many things aren’t fun until you’re good at them. Every skill has what I call a frustration barrier, a period of time in which you’re horribly unskilled and you’re painfully aware of that fact.”

So, what does the 100-hour rule imply?  The basic idea is that YOU can be great at a particular skill or task if you commit 100 hours in a year to that skill or task.  That equates to 16 minutes a day. Now, we can all find 16 minutes a day to reach the goal of greatness, RIGHT? 16 minutes is three songs on a Pink Floyd album, half an episode of your favorite soap opera, the time it takes to walk a mile, or the typical wait time for a burger at Shake Shack during the lunch rush. Come on, you can invest 16 minutes every day if the result is greatness! Funny though, we (me included) can find ample excuses for passing up this opportunity.

I have a few pieces of gym equipment in my basement.  The room is set up nicely for exercise and my routine of crunches on the slant board and a light weightlifting routine takes 18 minutes.  It’s good for my physical and mental health to do this every day – yet, if I manage to fit it in three times a week I’m doing well.  Eighteen minutes to better health – now that should be a no-brainer.  Hmmm, what did I spend those 18 minutes doing that was so important as to trump my physical and mental health?

How many of us have that nice guitar hanging on a stand in the corner of a room, cord dangling from an amplifier, and cup full of guitar picks just waiting to be clutched between your index finger and thumb? How many of us lament how great it would be to play like Tommy Emanuel, Eric Clapton, or Joe Bonamassa, but do so while staring at the equipment and exhaling a sigh of disappointment.  Pick it up, plug it in, and commit to 16 minutes of practice every day. If you do, and the practice is structured, at the end of a year you will be as good at playing as more than 85% of the people who own the instrument. Now, if you narrow that practice down to one style of playing – maybe blues, or folk and continue to work diligently at it, you might even become great at that micro skill. Commit more time and you are on the road to world-class. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Just start with those 16 minutes and one specific genre.

The 100-hour rule suggests that greatness starts small. Pick a micro skill, research it, build a practice schedule that is designed for excellence, work at it consistently, dedicate those 16minutes and step into the world of greatness. Amaze yourself and others through commitment and focus and find out how much fun this can be.

In the kitchen, pick a task or skill and apply this approach. Whatever skill or task you choose make sure it is something that is unique yet needed.  Maybe it’s knife skills – study it, measure your cuts initially, focus on consistency first and then speed until it becomes second nature. Become the “go-to” person in the kitchen for knife handling and vegetable cuts. “If you want perfect knife cuts, go to……”. Or maybe you focus on becoming the egg master. Study eggs, their components, how to determine freshness, and what temperatures are ideal for different styles of cooking. Work on over-easy, sunny side, poached, real fluffy scrambled, and the perfect French omelet. Focus on quality and consistency and then gradually build your speed until others marvel at your mastery of the egg station.  When the chef hires a new breakfast cook be the person chosen to train him or her. When the chef says to a new hire: “Work with……and learn how to cook the perfect egg”, then you know you have reached greatness.  Once there with that micro skill, then move on to the next with the same level of commitment.  Invest the 16 minutes.

The important point is not the 100 hours or the 16 minutes, it is the dedication to being great, to building your reputation as a person who is confident in his or her competence and always focused on pushing it further.  Be the person who seeks to become world-class.

This is how great companies are built, this is how outstanding restaurants emerge, and this is how world-class cooks and chefs come to be. Commit to the effort, commit to a practice routine designed to reach greatness, commit the time every day, and approach each day in pursuit of excellence.

We may never play the guitar like Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck, but we can all be great with the instrument. We may not become the next Thomas Keller or Dominque Crenn, but we can become great cooks and chefs in our genre, our community, our restaurant.  Stop staring at that guitar and wondering why you aren’t great – pick it up today and build that regimen of practice towards greatness. Do it today.

Right now – I’m on my way to the gym in my basement for 16 minutes of exercise building towards greatness and better health – a worthwhile goal.


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About Me

PAUL SORGULE is a seasoned chef, culinary educator, established author, and industry consultant. These are his stories of cooks, chefs, and the environment of the professional kitchen.


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