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How to be an expert

 
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Kathy and I have been doing a study of how to be an expert at... whatever you want to be an expert at.

One of the most interesting, fairly recent, findings / studies is that "prodigies" are mostly "studying and focusing" prodigies. In other words, Yo Yo Ma isn't a prodigy at being a musician, he's a prodigy at being able to practice correctly. Same with basketball players, Go players, whatever. It seems that for the most part, mastery boils down to the ability to do lots of high quality, deliberate practice.

For some reason, this short article really spoke to me:

http://kottke.org/10/07/novelist-versus-pro-tennis-player
 
Rancher
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There is a popular book that claims that it just takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. I think this is about right, one can argue at the margins of the times.

My daughter thought about being a professional musician, she was very good. We sent her to Interlochen Arts camp for summer. She quickly decided that she was not going to be a musician, she saw kids who were in three bands/orchestras, then took at least an hour of one-on-one lessons, and followed up with hours in the practice "shed"

She wanted to play volleyball, canoe, etc. when she was done with her music. She knew that the other kids were the ones going to Julliard.

In the software world, 10,000 hours is five years of professional work. That seems about right, as well
 
Bert Bates
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You're right about that 10000 hour idea.

Another common phenomenon that gets in the way of the 10000 hours to mastery is the idea that a lot of people put in a good 1000 hours, and then more or less repeat that same 1000 hours 10 times. So they get to be "pretty good", and over the next 9000 hours they don't get any better. It's harder and harder to create "deliberate practice" that moves you past the level of expertise you get in the first 1000 hours.
 
Pat Farrell
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Bert Bates wrote: a good 1000 hours, and then more or less repeat that same 1000 hours 10 times.


I had a boss who demanded that when we interview candidates to hire that we clearly find out if someone had either of:

  • ten years of repeating one year of experience
  • ten years of increased understanding and complexity


  • Sadly, too many have the first
     
    lowercase baba
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    Penn Jillette, the louder, taller half of Penn & Teller, once talked about Lance Burton doing some close up magic. He said it was some of the most beautiful magic he's seen...and it's about 2 minutes. He said that Lance had probably spend hundreds of hours practicing that 2 minutes. And what really stuck was he said "The secret to being really good at (the magic trick) is to spend way more time than anyone would ever think it would be worthwhile".

    When I took a class in stage combat - sword, fist, and quarterstaff fighting for live theatrical shows - the teacher said that for every 5 seconds of combat you see in a show, the actors spend an hour rehearsing THAT FIVE SECONDS. We spent an entire semester doing a 6 minute combat. Four hours a week in class, and then dozens of hours outside of class rehearsing on our own.
     
    clojure forum advocate
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    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreyfus_model_of_skill_acquisition
     
    author & internet detective
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    While I agree with the X hours of practice, I think that two other factors are important: "skill" and "interest." I can't just decide to be an expert in something I hate because I'll never be motivated to get that intense studying and focusing done.

    I put skill down because some things can be enhanced through practice but you need to have some base level of skill to get there. For example, if one has unsteady hands, being a surgeon is going to be tough. Or if one thinks logically rather than artistically, it's going to be hard to become a master artist. That intuition still matters.

    Another quality I think of in an expert is continued growth. Always looking for those opportunities to learn something. That might be part of the intense studying though.
     
    Ranch Hand
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    I took a class in glass blowing once and a student asked the teacher how he was so good at it.
    The teacher repled, "If you played golf 8 hours a day you'd be a golf pro too."
     
    Bartender
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    I wonder if any of the studies look at the age of the individual -- whether they learn the skill or knowledge set during early formative years, before the the wiring of the brain hardens, or (in my case) atrophies?
     
    author and iconoclast
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    In my circle of artist friends, we are all of the opinion that pretty much anyone can learn to draw, and that there's no such thing as "innate talent". What good artists have is a learned, practiced skill. I would absolutely agree that the ability to draw and paint well is more about the desire and willingness to work hard as opposed to some magical, inborn ability.
     
    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    Ernest Friedman-Hill wrote:In my circle of artist friends, we are all of the opinion that pretty much anyone can learn to draw, and that there's no such thing as "innate talent". What good artists have is a learned, practiced skill. I would absolutely agree that the ability to draw and paint well is more about the desire and willingness to work hard as opposed to some magical, inborn ability.


    So colorblindness isn't an issue at all? Not being able to identify red vs green seems like it would be an issue for painting.

    Then there is "logical colorblindness" where I think two things look exactly the same and an artsy person sees a million differences. This could be a learned skill I suppose. I certainly don't have the desire to work hard to find out. I'm to busy learning things I enjoy.
     
    Rancher
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    Also, a recent episode of Doctor Who established that Vincent van Gogh really did perceive the universe in ways unavailable to most humans, or timelords.

    I saw it on TV - it must be true.
     
    Ernest Friedman-Hill
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    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:
    So colorblindness isn't an issue at all? Not being able to identify red vs green seems like it would be an issue for painting.

    Then there is "logical colorblindness" where I think two things look exactly the same and an artsy person sees a million differences. This could be a learned skill I suppose. I certainly don't have the desire to work hard to find out. I'm to busy learning things I enjoy.



    Well, I did say "pretty much anyone", not the same as "absolutely anyone." If you have biological limitations on what you can see, or how you can move, there are obviously going to be differences in what you can achieve. But I think the sincere desire to learn is the only real prerequisite. Color blindness is not a complete deal breaker.

    It's interesting you mention color specifically, because that's the area I struggle with the most. I did reasonably well right off the bat with graphite or charcoal, but color has been a whole different ballgame for me. I continue to work hard to improve in full-color media. But that's work that I enjoy, and if I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't do it. For me, I find the same enjoyment in a well-crafted piece of code as in a well-executed painting -- or a well-built piece of furniture, actually, although I haven't been exercising that interest much for the last few years.
     
    Ranch Hand
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    To be an Expert, one has to have an accurate and correct knowledge and proper guidance(either by books or person,blogs etc) and continous repitition of those things...

    I am not an expertise right now.But i still remember when i was in college the way teacher used to teach us core java it was like Learning framing "chinese sentences without learning Chinese alphabets" .I used to underestimate myself as saying as i am not smart enough to understand it.

    But with under the guidance of you people, I rethought: "Damn it, why didnt our teacher thought us in this manner and thus my interest developed..."

    If i only knew about this forum back then i would have been an expertisee right now and wouldnt have bbyhearted any progaming code....

    To be an expert i would like to add up that the "Way of teaching needs to be improvised"..

     
    Bert Bates
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    Of course it's great when you happen to have a great teacher, that can really speed your progress, but in the end, if you want to be an expert, you gotta put in the hours. And, more importantly, you gotta put in the correct kind of hours. It's easy to practice in ways that don't keep you moving forward. For instance, it's not enough to go to the driving range and hit golf balls for 4 hours - you have to have deliberation, and focus, and goals, and practice techniques if you want those 4 hours to really pay off. One of the sayings we've heard from various disciplines goes something like: "practice doesn't make perfect, *perfect practice* makes perfect".

    Even if you haven't had the benefit of great teachers, you can discover a lot of this yourself, if you're self aware and honest with yourself. When you're practicing your thing, are you "phoning it in?" - not perfect practice. Are you practicing something that isn't requiring learning anything new? - not perfect practice, and so on.
     
    Vishal Hegde
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    Bert Bates wrote:

    . When you're practicing your thing, are you "phoning it in?" - not perfect practice. Are you practicing something that isn't requiring learning anything new? - not perfect practice, and so on.



    Didnt get this part.

    For instance i do practise Guitar just for fun which is not needed at all.
    Also i also try writing stuff ,just for fun
    Also i tend to read core java books
    Sometimes i teach m friends Prograaming basics etc

    In whatever i teach some practise in involved..Do you mean to not to do some unwanted things that wont be needed.For instance

    stop practising guitar,Unless are interested in being a professional guitar player?
     
    fred rosenberger
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    I think what Bert means is that when you 'practice your guitar', are you focusing on what you're doing, trying to get better, and pushing your limits (to an extent)? or are you just playing a song you've already played 100,000 times, not really paying attention, not trying to correct mistakes, etc?

    "phoning it in" is a common expression here meaning that the person is there, doing the activity, but isn't really trying. A basketball player who slowly jogs up and down the court vs. someone who is running. A guitar player who is talking to friends while playing. A professional chef who warms up frozen chicken nuggets. All these people have technically done done what they are supposed to, but aren't REALLY trying.
     
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