Monday, February 11, 2013

The Path of the Expert

I have heard that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in most fields. I thought maybe this was an urban legend, but turns out there is some solid research to back this up.

Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell mentions the "10,000 hour rule". The 10,000 hour rule states that the key to success in any field is related to practice for a total of around 10,000 hours.

The Making of an Expert, a Harvard Business Review article indicates a similar finding in Dr. K. Anders Ericsson's research (see link below to the article). The things that Dr. Ericsson found to correlate to the success of superb performers were intensive practice, devoted teachers, and  enthusiastic support from their families. His evidence showed that experts were always made, not born. The journey to superior performance required tremendous diligence and tenacity. The process takes at least a decade in most instances.

A genuine expert has the following attributes:

  1. Consistently superior performance to that of others.
  2. Concrete results and successful outcomes.
  3. Can be replicated and measured in the lab.
To achieve this you must exercise "deliberate practice" and think deliberately to improve the skills you already have and extend the reach and range of new skills.

It is interesting that people often assume that an "expert" achieves overnight success when in reality they have been practicing the skills of their success for many years training and preparing. It is important to find coaches and mentors, these teachers may change over the different stages in your training to more advanced teachers. Expert coaches help accelerate the learning process and provide constructive feedback.

I think this is amply reflected in the field of farming and I have seen my own level of expertise grow as I have invested time in learning and as I have practiced the craft season by season. This is why it is good to get several years of experence in farming before seeking to make a full time living.

Ericsson, Anders K.; Prietula, Michael J.; Cokely, Edward T. (2007). "The Making of an Expert". Harvard Business Review (July–August 2007).

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