Notes on the Making of an Expert

Notes on The Making of an Expert, by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely. Harvard Business Review, July/August 2007

All the superb performers [benjamin Bloom] investigated had practiced intensively, had studied with devoted teachers, and had been supported enthusiastically by their families though their developing years.

1. Intensive, deliberate practice
2. Devoted teachers
3. Family support

The amount and quality of practice were key factors in the level of expertise people achieved.

The journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self assessment. There are no shortcuts. It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise, and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice—practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practice, but also to help you learn how to coach yourself. Above all … forget the folklore about genius that makes many people think they cannot take a scientific approach to developing expertise.

Real expertise must pass three tests. First, it must lead to work that is consistently superior to that of the expert’s peers. Second, real expertise produces concrete results…. Finally, true expertise can be replicated and measured in the lab. As the British scientist Lord Kelvin stated, “if you can not measure it, you can not improve it.”

Deliberate Practice

Not all practice makes perfect. You need a particular kind of practice—deliberate practice—to develop expertise. When most people practice, they focus on things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you *can’t* do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.

Deliberate practice involves two kinds of learning: improving the skills you already have and extending the reach and range of your skills…. The famous violinist Nathan Milstein wrote: “Practice as much as you feel you can accomplish with concentration. Once when I became concerned because others around me practiced all day long, I asked [my mentor] Professor Auer how many hours I should practice, and he said, ‘it really doesn’t matter how long. If you practice with your fingers, no amount is enough. If you practice with your head, two hours is plenty.”

[V]ery few appear to be able to engage in more than four or five hours of high concentration and deliberate practice at a time.

Ivan Galamian: “If we analyze the development of the well-known artists, we see that in almost every case the success of their entire career was dependent on the quality of their practicing. In practically every case, the practicing was constantly supervised either by their teacher or an assistant to the teacher.”

The development of expertise requires coaches who are capable of giving constructive, even painful, feedback. Real experts are extremely motivated student who seek out such feedback. They’re also skilled at understanding when and if a coach’s advice doesn’t work for them. The elite performers we studied knew what they were doing right and concentrated on what they were doing wrong. They deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who would challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance. The best coaches also identify aspects of your performance that will need to be improved at your next level of skill.

The key to improving expertise is consistence and fully controlled efforts.

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