Is outstanding performance born or made?
I just read a fascinating article in the July-August 2007 Harvard Business Review about what makes an expert. Oh, sure, we can all call ourselves expert if we know a little more than the next person, and personal branding is a bit about that. And that’s fine. But what makes a genuine expert, the person who hits it so far out the park everyone looks on in awe?
According to the HBR article, it’s not a high IQ, one’s gender or a God-given talent that makes you a top surgeon, actor, writer, computer programmer, musician…and you name it. The only innate differences that are at all significant, according to the article, are height and body size – and they matter primarily in sports. What truly makes the difference is intense practice.
And, by intense practice, don’t think you can become a real expert in a month’s or even a year’s time. As the HBR article puts it:
“The journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice and honest often painful self-assessment. There are no shortcuts. It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise, and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in ‘deliberate’ practice – practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort.”
What does this mean for the workaday world?
• Managing by the gut isn’t expertise. While intuition is valuable in routine situations, informed intuition is the result of deliberate practice. You can’t improve your ability to make good decisions without a lot of practice and self-analysis.
• A new tool won’t make you an expert. While it’s tempting to think our life will change if we only had X,Y or Z gizmo, the fact is that there is no substitute for practice.
• Deliberate practice isn’t practicing over and over what you already do well. It’s improving what you already know and extending the reach and range of skills. It’s practicing with your head not just your hands.
What do you think? What are you doing to become an expert?