So, What Makes You Such an Expert?

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I was having a conversation with my college-age daughter the other day. We were talking about different careers, professionals, and what makes a person an expert in their field.

After some thought, it occurred to me that the experts I have met over the years seemed to share common traits. Recent studies have noted that elite performers and experts do share similar attributes in both their ability and willingness to practice their craft, along with a natural affinity for the field in which they work.

The combination of nature and nurture in top performers is supported by real science. In K. Ericsson’s study from the Psychological Review (Issue 100) “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” he notes:

“We view elite performance as the product of a decade or more of maximal efforts to improve performance in a domain through an optimal distribution of deliberate practice. This view provides us with unique insights into the potential for and limits to modifying the human body and mind. Many anatomical characteristics, traditionally believed to be fixed, can adapt and change in response to intense practice sustained for years.”

What is even more exciting about these scientific studies is that it proves that as human beings, we all have the capacity to change, grow, and adapt into top performers through practice and application.

I have found that another major factor in building expertise is in the ability to recognize patterns. Whether you are a teacher, a manufacturing engineer, or a graphic artist, there are a finite number of patterns and paradigms within your field of study. In other words, there are only a limited number of ways to accomplish the tasks required to do your job. There are many variations to these patterns, but the main variables stay the same regardless of the work environment.

An expert acknowledges these patterns early in the process and determines whether to continue down a certain path, change directions, or stop entirely and start over again. That is what makes expertise so valuable — they cut down on wasted time and money, while raising the bar on quality.

Experts aren’t created; they are not born. It’s only through practice and a natural desire to do what you love to do that will allow you to become an expert in your field.

It’s just like the old joke, “How do you make it to Carnegie Hall?”

Answer:  Practice, practice, practice.

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