I recently read an article from the Harvard Business Review titled “The Making of an Expert” by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely. Aside from being impressed that a 7-page article had three contributing authors (my wife and I have trouble collaborating on Sunday breakfast), the article was both interesting and encouraging.

The premise is “new research shows that outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberate practice and coaching, not of any innate talent or skill.”

Let’s break this thought down with excerpts from the article:

  • What is expertise? According the the authors, real expertise must pass three tests: 1) It must lead to superior performance over the expert’s peers; 2) produces concrete results; and 3) can be replicated and measured in a lab.
  • How many years? The authors suggest it will take at least a decade (that’s 10 years for those not yet expert in timelines.)
  • What is deliberate practice? Deliberate practice is practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. For example, if you are skilled and comfortable relaxing prone on a regular sofa, you might set a “stretch goal” to develop expertise reclining in a La-z-boy recliner.
  • Is that all? No, the article instructs that you will also need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through “deliberate practice” but also to help you learn to coach yourself.

The natural conclusion to this article is that each of us (barring any genetic or intentional\accidental disability) has the capacity to become “expert” in a chosen field. The idea of luck, practice and opportunity magically combining to deliver expertise is not proven out. Focus, intentional and deliberate practice, outside help and lastly, time are the ingredients that form the recipe for expertise.