How to be an expert (in anything)

If you’ve ever wondered how to be an expert, wonder no longer. Scientific American has the answer.

All it takes is a decade of intense effort. No problem.

Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but “effortful study,” which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one’s competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time. It is interesting to note that time spent playing chess, even in tournaments, appears to contribute less than such study to a player’s progress; the main training value of such games is to point up weaknesses for future study.

Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance–for instance, keeping up with one’s golf buddies or passing a driver’s exam–most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind’s box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields.

Makes me wonder: in what areas have I relaxed? What do I think I’m “good enough” at?

What about you?

[tags] scientific american, science, expert, study, effort, attitude, aptitude, john koetsier [/tags]


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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • John, very astute “take-away” from the article in S.A., and brings up a cautionary point. There are some areas in our lives where “relaxing” can actually be harmful – like marriage, for instance. A good long-lasting marriage takes a lot of work, and the moment you think you’ve “arrived” is the moment you start downhill. Possibly also our jobs, but that may vary with the job. Hard to imagine a job where continuing to learn would be a bad thing.