Be An Expert – part 1

What I am about to say applies for both individuales and businesses … what are your strengths, what are the things that you do better than others? Take a moment to really think those questions over. This will take a lot of introspection, and looking at yourself from the outside as well, but there is nothing more powerful than knowing what your core is – and I’ll tell you why in a moment.

I first heard of Psychologist K Anders Ericcson’s study on what makes an expert back when I was training athletes in 2004. The study examined violinists from age 5 till 21, examining how much they practiced and what level of mastery they achieved. Here is a graph for it:

The premise of the graph is that around age 8, certain violinists practiced more, and those who by 21 were considered the best practiced a total of 10,000 hours. This brings about the rule of thumb that 10,000 hours of practice is the minimum you need to do to reach expert level in whatever you do – whether it is the violin, sports, or even academia. The study went on further to say that no prodigy effortlessly mastered the instrument, and no ‘normal’ child who worked harder than the others never made it to the top.

Our strengths are strengths for a reason – they are skills that we have spent more time nurturing because we enjoy using them. Whether your a business who has great customer service, or a person who is a hobbyist photographer, your skill level will be higher up than those who barely focus on those things.

Think about that for a second. If you enjoy doing something, who knows where you currently are on that graph. When I first heard of this study, it was described as training 3 hours a day, seven days a week, and within 10 years you will have your 10,000 hours and be at expert level. Most of us are at least 1/2 way there for most of our strengths, and even more will have already reached that level.

A word of caution though – just because you’re an expert, it doesn’t mean that you can stop learning. Ericcson and company have gone on to find that experience does not account for accuracy in blind tests, and that expertise declines with experience if you dont maintain training. That last part I dont fully agree with though because I believe you can become more of a niche expert instead of a well rounded expert. The example they gave is a physician having a hard time diagnosing unusual diseases – but I guarantee they can diagnose the things they see daily faster than those who can diagnose the unusual.

Part 2 will cover more in depth on why to be an expert, and traps to watch out for.