It’s more than 10,000 hours, sorry.

So much has been written about putting in 10,000 hours to become an expert. Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code and Matthew Syed in Bounce are recent (and really, very good) books to cover Anders Ericsson’s original research.

It’s a great maxim that sticks in your mind: put in the hours and you’ll inevitably emerge an expert in your sport, in chess or playing the piano. It’s been proven, right? So how hard can that be?

Harder than we think, actually. Most of us when we take up a sport can reach a functional level of performance in about 50 hours. At this point, we decide that we’re good enough and we languish at the recreational level of play. Oh, sure we keep playing, racking up the hours but we never seem to get a lot better. So what’s the deal? I thought the agreement was that I’d play for 10 years and then I’d be an expert?

It’s more than just putting in the time or even practicing with the team once a week. Ericsson calls it deliberate practice, which is a bit more complicated than just showing up for your weekly lesson. The research shows that it’s necessary for you to keep stepping up the level of difficulty as you get better and better. What’s more, you need to practice specific aspects of your game with a teacher in a protected environment when the game isn’t on the line. Afterwards, you have to spend time with your coach reviewing your practice and exploring alternatives to what you did (or didn’t) do. This is followed by careful repetition of corrected technique with careful and more expert feedback.

A little different than your Saturday morning round of golf, isn’t it? It leaves me believing that the path to expertise is a hard and miserable road. Turns out, that’s not necessarily the case and I’ll share my thoughts on that in a later post.

[“Studies of Expertise from Psychological Perspectives”: Feltovich, Prietula, Ericsson]

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