The efforts behind being the top expert of your field – part 1

What does it actually takes to reach that level of craftmanship and expertise?

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The efforts behind being the top expert! I think every single one of us aspire, working against and dreams of being among the top achievers in our own field of profession. Being the best photographer, filmmaker or graphic designer. But, what does it actually takes to reach that level of craftmanship and expertise? I dived down in the study The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance to find the answer.

As I wrote in my last blog post (read it here) I stumbled across this study by the Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues Ralf Th. Krampe and Clemens Tesch-Romer, as I read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. What Ericsson and his colleagues did is pretty astonishing and also debunks the myth of innate talent. It attracted my attention and interest so much, that I decided to read the study in full and share the best bits and pieces with you – as I translate it to a creatives point of view.

The most important first. Innate talent doesn’t exist. Period! What many are mistaking for innate talent is often the result of intense practice for a longer period of time. The only innate “talent” that can be inherited is height and the length of your legs, which is good for basketball players and runners. The efforts behind being the top expert is a certain type of training.

What leads to expert performances

Not completely surprisingly training leads to better performance. And, continuous training, that extends for a minimum of 10 years, leads to expert performance. But unfortunately, it isn’t just that simple to become the white wizard in your field. We need to look at the environmental circumstances that leads to expert performance. Such as the structure and duration of your activities, leisure and recovery.

The acquisition of performance and skills isn’t a steady increasing curve either. But more of a staircase with different levels and plateaus to reach and overcome. The same goes for the repetition of doing the same thing over and over again (for too long). Where the level of improvement fades off and for further improvement more challenging tasks are required. Together with the structure and duration – motivation and perseverance is equally important pieces to have. As study after study shows that expert performance is acquired over a long time and the result and possible achievements requires at least 10 years of intense training and preparation. Without right motivation and the ability to be persevering you will never have the stamina to make it in the long run.

A true sign of deliberate practice: worn out gear.

Deliberate practice

So, what about this training? Is it when I’m snapping images of my friends, scribbling down a quick body of text or sketching on a logo because I’m bored at work? Of course, it has some (small) effect on your improvement, but what we are talking about here is deliberate practice. With the single goal and purpose to learn, develop and grow. Like working on perfecting your skin tones or color grading in Photoshop, working on your storytelling so the book your writing will be even better or deep diving into color science as a graphic designer. 

The single purpose of deliberate practice is to get better at your craft , not to have fun. Deliberate practice takes high amount of effort and energy to exercise and is often slow phased – hence the 10 years rule! This is often the difference between professionals and amateurs. Where the amateurs aim to have fun along the ride and will only reach a certain level of expertise. While professionals and expert performers spend hours and hours, tirelessly grinding the details for the sole purpose of being better and being the top expert.

This will wrap up the first part of the efforts behind being the top expert. Next time we will dive deeper into the study and about how to practice and what amount of time you need to spend practicing.

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