Daily Prompt: What Makes An Expert?

Are some people just more talented than the rest of us?

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Good morning! Following some great feedback from the friendly bloggers I found hanging around the Community Pool, I’ve decided to start publishing the occasional short post alongside my longer articles. Responding to the Daily Prompt seems like the ideal way to do this, and yesterday’s fits right on-trend with what The Lifeshelf is all about: learning to live, and living to learn! So here we go…

What does it take to become an expert? Are the greats born or made? These are the kind of questions that a group of researchers were asking themselves in 1993, when they conducted a study of violinists at an elite music school. What they found was that the very best violinists at the school had practiced much more than those who, though still good enough to be there, were not so jaw-droppingly incredible.

They found no evidence that innate talent determined how good each violinist was – which puts paid to the idea that some people are just naturally more skilled than others and there’s nothing we can do about it – and instead concluded that the world-class examples of expertise they had witnessed were the result of, on average, ten years of committed practice. They also worked out that the optimal amount of practice to conduct in each of those years was around 1,000 hours (that’s just under three hours a day, by the way).

Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book, Outliers, popularised this finding as the ‘10,000 hours rule’. And it makes sense: ten years times a thousand a year equals ten thousand. Except, one of the original researchers didn’t think the book was very good…at all. K. Anders Ericsson pointed out that Gladwell had missed the crucial point of his research; the sheer number of hours spent practicing is important, but exactly how they are spent is more important.

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You see, in order to achieve expertise, an individual needs to conduct deliberate practice. This is practice that is difficult. This is practice that stretches us, and makes our brain hurt a bit – practice that frustrates us because we can’t nail it straight away. Deliberate practice is specifically designed to take us beyond what we can already do, and incrementally expand our abilities.

For the guitarist, this might mean trying to work out the difficult section of a new piece, then repeating it to a metronome, rather than simply strumming through a song they can already play comfortably. For the footballer, this could mean refining their penalty technique by taking hundreds of shots and aiming for a specific corner every time, rather than simply going for a kickabout in the park. It’s the level of effort required that’s the difference between basic experience, and actual deliberate practice. In short, becoming an expert takes time, but it also takes hard work.

For a more in-depth introduction to the research on expertise, I recommend you check out Bounce, by Matthew Syed. Consider that a bonus recommendation from Books on The Lifeshelf…

Thanks for reading my debut Daily Prompt response! Have you learnt anything new? Perhaps you disagree that talent isn’t what separates the best from the rest? Let me know what you think in the comments (I always reply)!

Words by Alexander MJ S. Images from Pexels/Pixabay.