How To Become An Expert At Something

Rodlie Ortiz —  January 14, 2014 — 6 Comments

This guy totally looks like an expert, doesn’t he?

There are two schools of thought regarding personal development and getting “good” at something. At one end is the perfectionist. That’s someone who is looking to produce the masterpiece. This person will spend a lot of time studying and learning and even crafting that one perfect thing. On the other end is someone, who at face value, is not as talented, but who produces a lot.

Who will end up becoming better at something?

There’s been a decent amount of study and analysis devoted to this question. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliersdevoted a whole book to the matter. He found that people who succeed and become experts are those who have devoted 10,000 hours of practice and development in a certain field.

I’ve recently become inspired anew in this arena after reading a few articles that deal with the same principle.

Here is a great one called Why Quantity Should Be Your Priority: The Key To Higher Quality Is Higher Quantity. In this article, Herbet Lui shares a great story which I’ll quote below:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.

All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on.

Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.

It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

So what’s the lesson here?

Do stuff.

Often.

Sometimes we spend so much time waiting and planning to create that perfect thing that we end up missing the boat entirely.

By the way, I’m pretty convinced that persistence is much more powerful than raw talent. Some people have a lot of raw talent, but they produce little. Meanwhile, there are many who are much less talented, but are very persistent, and so end up finishing the proverbial race.

Jeff Goins recently started a campaign called 500 Words to help encourage people in this area. Check out the rules:

  • Write 500 words per day, every day during the month of January.

  • You can write more if you want, but 500 words is the minimum.

  • Don’t edit. Just write.

  • If you miss a day, pick up where you left off. Don’t make up for lost days.

  • Encourage, don’t criticize (unless explicitly invited to do so).

  • Blogging counts, but email does not.

  • All of this is completely free.

Again, what’s the thinking behind this campaign? Produce. Do stuff and you’ll get better.

So what about you?

What have you been putting off?

What do you dream about, but have not started because it seems too big?

I say start.

Go for it.

Want to learn to play guitar? Don’t save up money for a fancy guitar. Just start playing on whatever you have.

Want to become a better speaker? Find speaking gigs and practice.

Want to build a website? Tinker around with building one.

Turn whatever you want to get better at into a habit.

And over time, with practice, you will develop.

Question: So what have you been holding off from starting? To leave a comment click here.

[image by Pete Prodoehl]

Rodlie Ortiz

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On the pastoral team at Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University. Tech geek.

6 responses to How To Become An Expert At Something

  1. very interesting post…..reminds me of when I first started toying with building websites several years ago….my goal being to provide information for tourists wishing to travel to our town…..I was immediately “advised” by a professional web designer in town, and the town mayor, that what I wanted to do was not needed and besides…I wasn’t an expert at it anyway…..I persisted….now, I have been helping small businesses in town that are struggling to get a presence on the web…..and I am much busier than the web designer who has now moved away and ended up with no one wanting an expert website built by her….
    Mark Luker recently posted..Head Scratcher Monday Jan 13th

  2. Great post! Now I need to find something to apply it to.

  3. I love the concept in this post. Ideas like those I found in Outliers fundamentally changed me. I’m a big fan of doing and more doing to get better at something. But I remember asking a professor at Avondale, “What do I have to do to become an expert in something?” After reading your post, I might have been fishing for a different answer. Is there a difference between a concert violinist and a respected scholar, or do they follow pretty much the same process? Do you think ‘doing’ is the same in athletics and academics?

    • Hey Scott! (Congrats on the new EP, by the way!) My sense is that it’s similar in athletics or academics, or any field for that matter. I think to become an expert requires hard work and time put in. When those “magical” 10k hours are hit, as Gladwell references, we are probably close to a level of expertise in a given field.

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