There Aren’t Shortcuts to Becoming an Expert

There Aren’t Shortcuts to Becoming an Expert

Whether you want to become a better interviewer for your transition, improve at giving a persuasive presentation to a client, sharpen your ability to analyze data to solve a problem, or provide constructive feedback to one of your team members, significant improvement will not come easily or quickly. According to Anders Eriksson, a psychologist at Florida State University and an expert in experts, you need significant experience in your desired skill over time and conduct deliberate practice with it. Ericsson has written several scholarly articles on the topic of expertise and you can find a good synopsis of them in a Harvard Business Review article. He also wrote a more easily understandable book for the masses called, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

Malcom Gladwell drew from Ericsson’s studies for his book, Outliers, when he wrote that experts practice about 10,000 hours in a specific domain before achieving their peak level of performance. Unfortunately, Gladwell oversimplified this concept and made it seem all one needed to do was practice. Gladwell left out the most important part – deliberate practice. Practice does not make perfect. Deliberate practice does.

What are the requirements for deliberate practice?

  • Practice focused on a specific skill.
  • Stretching your capabilities. Ericsson uses figure skaters to demonstrate this point. Good figure skaters devote more practice time to jumps they have already mastered, whereas elite figure skaters spend significantly more time on jumps they have not yet mastered and are just outside their expertise.
  • Intense concentration.
  • Several hours of practice a day, most days of the week.
  • A coach or teacher to provide critical feedback.

This type of practice is not easy. When I read about Ericsson’s findings, I thought, “This sounds great for piano players, chess players and athletes, but I have to work and produce results. I do not have time practice.” He addresses my concern in Chapter 5 of Peak. Here are 5 suggestions for deliberate practice at work:

  1. Do not go through the motions. Ericsson actually found that once you fall into a routine you will regress. Concentrate to do your best.
  2. Seek out challenging assignments. Step outside of your comfort zone.
  3. Be open to feedback, and if you are not getting it, go ask for it. You can be direct and ask or even use a survey.
  4. Find some time to practice. In my opinion, we spend too much time just producing. An hour a month will not reduce your production. Ericsson provides several tips in Chapter 5 of Peak on ways you can practice.

If you want to develop your expertise, just gaining the knowledge is not enough. You need to put that knowledge into deliberate practice. Then, you will begin to experience marked performance improvement.