Are You an Expert?

Sunday, July 22
Recently a friend of mine sent me a link to the current issue of the Harvard Business Review. Although I like to read HBRs articles from time to time I usually don't have enough time to dig into them due to the sheer amount of quality content. However, in this case I made an exception.

The article, called The Making of an Expert, had me immediately and completely engrossed from the first paragraph. It is a topic I have pondered before but not to the level of detail that K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely, the authors, did.

The basic premise behind the idea is that inequality of skills may not necessarily due to innate talent or brain chemistry but just simply a significant amount of concentrated effort over a long period of time. When you see any kind of virtuoso or sport superstar do you presuppose that the person in question had some kind of disposition for that talent in the first place? I know I did. Nevertheless, the author flies in the face of this notion and states the following premise:

Becoming an expert is not about innate talent or skill but about spending a significant number of hours of concentrated effort on the skill directly. In fact, he goes on to say that approximately 10,000 - 15,000 hours is needed to become a virtuoso.

I've thought about many people that I have known over the years and their level of skill. Does Author's theory fit my own experience? A very good friend of mine was a supurb guitar player. By the time he was 16 he was in demand and noted for his talent. Growing up with him I knew specifically how much time he devoted to his skill. He started playing when he was 9 so had 7 years under his belt. I know that based on his habits he probably averaged out to 2 hours a day and that may be a bit high - however I'll give him the benefit of doubt.

Working through the numbers means that in those 7 years he devoted about 5000 hours of time to his skill putting him in an elite group of guitar players within a local region. I can think of other cases as well such that it seems the time to get even to an elite status my be within the 3000-5000 hour range. I would even suggest that doctors go through this kind of effort during their residencies to boost them into an elite status (3 years at 10 hours a day average is about 10,000 hours) although I think that true concentrated effort may be half that. Nevertheless, the goal is to build on top of the effort spent in med school.

Now I'm not going to argue that there are innate talents, physique and smarts that give one person an advantage over another. No doubt that some will excel much faster than others. But the author's argument is that those who are young and coached get a distinct concentrated effort advantage.

Here is my own theory based on the article
2500 hours - considered very skilled, very good.
5000 hours - excellence
7500 hours - master
10,000 hours - expert or virtuoso

What does that translate to your own work? If you spend 2 hours of concentrated effort a day you will be a very skilled pratitioner in your field of study in 3 years (about 2200 hours). This could be applied to any skillset be it sports, academics, business, arts, and even working to make money online, etc. Of course, 2 hours of concentrated effort a day is quite a bit for any adult.

Whatever your intended knowledge and skillset this article might be a good measuring stick for your own success.


Unknown said...

This article is so encouraging. I began learning internet marketing in 2007 & I have taken baby steps since then. I find the most helpful are Camtasia video tutorials. To be able to implement the "monkey see monkey do" strategy. Whenever I get discouraged, I'll remember your article that it takes 2 hours a day for 3 years to become skilled. I recently created a site, and I am excited about taking the strategies you talked about to promote the site. Your article archives are great. Thanks, Glen Woodfin

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