Become an Expert Through Deliberate Practice

If Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule to becoming an expert is accurate, or not depending upon your opinion, then how do you become an expert? You can become an expert through deliberate practice. This article will examine the following:

  • What does the word expert mean and why do so many unqualified people call themselves “experts”?
  • What is Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule?
  • What is deliberate practice?
  • How do you become an expert through deliberate practice?
  • Why will becoming an expert positively impact your business career?

What Does the Word “Expert” Actually Mean?

Merriam-Webster defines “expert” as one with the special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject.

Yet, the word “expert” is one of the most misused misrepresented words in the English language. So many people today, in every facet of business, label themselves “experts” when they lack the qualifications, recognition from other industry experts or media, and the proof required of such lofty status.

According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine in Washington D.C. there are six key principles of experts’ knowledge and their potential implications for learning and instruction. These principles separate experts from novices and people with generalized expertise:

  • Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices
  • Experts have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organized in ways that reflect a deep understanding of their subject matter
  • Experts’ knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or propositions but, instead, reflects contexts of applicability: that is, the knowledge is “conditionalized” on a set of circumstances
  • Experts are able to flexibly retrieve important aspects of their knowledge with little attentional effort
  • Though experts know their disciplines thoroughly, this does not guarantee that they are able to teach others
  • Experts have varying levels of flexibility in their approach to new situations

Do you consider yourself an expert? In many cases, people with a high level of expertise are not experts but rather above average in their chosen field.

The reasons why people label themselves “expert” is so they appear to have an advantage over their competition, for brand awareness for their business, to attract new prospective clients, and to attract the attention of media and other experts in their field.

What is Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule?

According to accomplished writer and critical thinker Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, the 10,000 Hour Rule represents the idea that:

“Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness. . . “

Simply put, if someone puts in 10,000 hours of practice into a particular field or activity that person will become an expert.

In essence time spent, in Gladwell’s theory, is the driving factor to attaining the level of expert.

What Could Be Missing?

A cadre of scientists and writers have stepped forward to challenge Gladwell’s theory. Some of the reasons cited include:

  • Quality of Practice: What type of practice? Not all practice is created equal
  • Genetics: Your DNA may play a prominent role in your ability
  • Age: The age a person begins their quest to the level of expert could have a bearing on that outcome. In some instances, the earlier a person begins to learn, in early years of life, the easier it is for that person to reach expert status

According to the site 6seconds.org

“The 10,000 rule is an oversimplification. Genetics, your age when you start, and how you practice all determine when – or even if – you become a master.”

Yet, Gladwell is correct in the fact that it usually takes many years of concerted effort and practice to become a true expert in a field.

What is also true is the fact that people are different. Some people are able to put far less time than 10,000 hours in their process of becoming an expert while others may be forced to spend more than 10,000 hours on their journey.

So, if you believe Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule or you do not believe his theory what is the answer to: How do I become an expert?

In my opinion, the answer begins, and lies within, the concept of deliberate practice.

What is Deliberate Practice?

Psychologist Anders Ericsson invented the theory of Deliberate Practice. His theory of Deliberate Practice has great value to the person that is willing to take on the process. To further understand Ericsson’s concept, let’s take a look at some of the best explanations of deliberate practice from author James Clear:

“Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.”

“Deliberate practice always follows the same pattern: break the overall process down into parts, identify your weaknesses, test new strategies for each section, and then integrate your learning into the overall process.”

The steps to deliberate practice look like this:  

  • Breakdown the Overall Process into Parts
  • Identify Your Weaknesses
  • Test New Strategies for Each Section
  • Integrate Your Learning into the Overall Process

The value of deliberate practice and why the process can drive your quest to becoming an expert centers upon your ability to analyze, be self-critical and scrutinize your shortcomings, show a willingness to change by testing new strategies, and then having the courage to integrate your learning process into the overall process of attaining your goal.

How Do You Become an Expert Through Deliberate Practice? 

The greatest challenge of deliberate practice is to remain focused. . . Mindless activity is the enemy of deliberate practice. The danger of practicing the same thing again and again is that progress becomes assumed.” –James Clear

With the idea of creating a better understanding for how the process of deliberate practice looks, let’s examine some examples of the deliberate practice.  

Deliberate Practice: An Athlete, Statesman, Coach

Ben Hogan

One of the greatest golfers in the history of the game of golf worked very hard at his craft. But what separated Ben Hogan from his competition was the fact that he was purposeful, systematic, and analytical about his practice.

  • Overall Plan: Hogan devised a plan where he broke down his game into sections and then figured out how he could master each piece within a section for instance. . .
  • Club Yardage: He was one of the first golfers to assign yardage distances to each club in his bag.
  • Course Management: Ben studied each course he would play using trees, bunkers, and other distinct markers on each course as reference points that would guide him on the distance of each shot
  • Golf Swing: Possibly the most important piece to Hogan’s plan was a complete reconstruction of each step of his golf swing. He analyzed each section of his swing for mechanics while always keeping an eye out for ways to change and improve the process

Yes, Ben Hogan spent countless hours practicing his swing, hitting thousands of balls, and perfecting the feel of the game. But without his deliberate practice plan, willingness to adjust, and ability to analyze his performance, he may not have reached the heights he attained.

Ben Franklin

In the book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, Geoff describes how Benjamin Franklin used deliberate practice to improve his writing skills.

Ben Franklin, as a teen, was scolded by his father for being a poor writer. Rather than shy away from the challenge, young Ben decided he would improve his writing skills as much as possible. Here is what he did:

  • Research: Franklin searched and found a publication that featured the best writers of the day
  • Reverse Engineering: Before the term reverse engineering was invented, young Ben used reverse engineering to take the next step in his transformation. He began by examining each article line by line and he wrote down the meaning of every sentence in each article
  • Rewrite and Compare: His next step? Rewrite each article in his own words. Once finished he would do a side by side (line by line) comparison of his work vs the original piece
  • Analysis: Ben Franklin’s final step in the process was to analyze his work looking for weaknesses and ways to improve. According to Ben, each exercise “I discovered some of my faults and corrected them.” His biggest revelation, after going through the process and steps was that his vocabulary held him back and contributed significantly to his poor writing in the past
  • Focus: Now knowing that he lacked a robust vocabulary, Ben began immersing himself in reading other high level writers looking for new words and phrases that would improve his abilities

Bill Walsh

Legendary San Francisco 49er head coach, and NFL Hall of Famer, Bill Walsh used deliberate practice on his path to stardom. Interviewed by Richard Rapaport for the Harvard Business Review, Rapaport wrote:

“Walsh developed a uniquely thoughtful style of play and a successful system of team management that has become one of the most respected in the modern game.”

  • Preparation: Possibly his greatest strength was coach Walsh’s ability to see the future through planning. He had a long range strategic and personal plan for the 49ers when he was hired by San Francisco in 1979. Using his long-time experience as an NFL assistant working alongside well-established coaches, Walsh was ready when he was hired by San Francisco
  • Details: Walsh focused on the details of the game often these details were considered minutiae of the game by rival coaches
  • Team Practices: Each practice was choreographed minute-by-minute and timed. Walsh would break down individual player tactics and group team tactics into sections
  • Responsibilities and Objectives: Once he had broken down the player and group team tactics into parts or sections, Walsh would then define responsibilities and set objectives for both players and coaches
  • Self-Analysis: When Richard Rapaport asked “What is the biggest obstacle to creating this kind (Winning) of organization? Bill Walsh answered: “The coach must account for his ego. He has to drop or sidestep the ego barrier so that people can communicate without fear.” And this thought “But there is another side (of ego) that can wreck a team or an organization. That is being distracted by your own importance”
  • Innovation: Bill Walsh took experiences from different coaches and his own innovative ideas and he invented West Coast Offense a system that was the linchpin and foundation for the 49er’s high scoring offenses of the 1980s. An example of his innovation was his insistence that Joe Montana run a goal line drill that seemed odd or even nonsensical. Walsh would line up the offense in the red zone close to the goal line. He would then give the offense one last play to win the “game.” Recreating a last second play with the game on the line,  Walsh instructed Montana to roll out and practice throwing into the end zone to a receiver. The key to the drill was that the throw had to be intentionally high so that no defender could intercept the ball and only the receiver would have a chance to make a play. Years later in an interview, Montana credited Walsh’s drill for producing The Catch, one of the most famous plays in NFL history, helping the 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship game to advance to their first Super Bowl

Why Will Becoming an Expert Positively Impact Your Business Career?

Not everyone can attain the status of expert even though many throw the word around without having the credentials. Having a high level of expertise, a notch or two below “expert”, is very valuable for your career.  

But if you can attain the level of expert in your given field the following advantages often follow:

  • You will understand your business better and better than most of your competitors
  • People will care what you say more as a recognized and accepted expert
  • New media opportunities for interviews, speaking engagements, appearances, and guest articles
  • People often trust experts more than non-experts
  • Other experts will want to work or collaborate with you
  • Consumers will want to buy from you
  • Growing a social media following will be easier
  • In most cases experts are paid more

How do you practice when attempting to elevate your performance or base of knowledge? Do you have tips or techniques you can share that made a difference in your drive to become an expert? For more information, please contact us so we can begin look at the best plan for your next step.