It is generally accepted these days that to become truly expert in something we need to have experienced at least 10,000 hours of practice. There has been a lot of research and much written about this theory and if you want to know more I would point you in the direction of Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book called Outliers.
Let’s be clear that this is not to say that 10,000 hours practice will guarantee expert status. It may not even guarantee competence. There are lots of things that we may have done for over 10,000 hours that we are still absolutely rubbish at.
To save you working it out 10,000 hours represents doing something for 8 hours a day every day for three and a half years, or doing something for an hour a day for 27 years. That is a lot of practice, but the key word here is practice rather than a “lot”.
Many of us will have driven motor cars for over 10,000 hours but few of us can be described as expert drivers. Experienced perhaps, but expert, I doubt it.
The difference really comes from the quality of the experience and the purpose or use to which we put that experience. Practice implies a deliberate act in order to improve and that is why I chose the title Deliberate Practice. It also demands feedback to let us know how we have performed. It may also include measurement and it will probably involve an impartial observer.
Daniel Goleman wrote “Ideally that feedback comes from someone with an expert eye and so every world-class sports champion has a coach. If you practice without such feedback, you don’t get to the top ranks”.
The feedback matters and the concentration does, too — not just the hours. Often when we drive we do so mindlessly, without any attention to assessing our performance and without the intention to get better. Goleman might argue that going to the gym and working out will probably be more effective when done by someone focussed on improving than when carried out half heartedly by someone while casually scanning the TV’s around the room.
Jim Rohn once said that “reflection turns experience into insight”. So perhaps the pathway to excellence becomes clearer and it involves practicing, constantly, with feedback, metrics, an impartial but experienced observer, a coach if you will, a desire to improve and access to better techniques and guided reflection.
The challenge is how we take that pathway, for those of us in business, where performance matters more than in most other fields. How we find the opportunity to practice such a broad and complex mix of skills and behaviours, how we get the honest feedback, and who is able to help us reflect and improve.
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