The efforts behind being the top expert – part 2. We have finally reached part 2 of “The efforts behind being the top expert of your game” – series. Now we dive in to the deep end of the study and takes a look at how to practice your craft as a creative and what time you actually need to spend on deliberate practice – to reach expert level. You can read the first part here and the whole study here.
We have learnt that talent isn’t innated, but something we need to work hard for to get. To have a sense of style for something, like ballet (that I photograph a lot), is something that comes from training. Where training gives me insights about how the dance should look like, positions of dance moves in different sets and everything else that ballet is about. To study ballet gives me a feeling of what is good, beautiful and technical excellence – which gives a sense of style.
The same thing applied when I was working as a ski photographer. In the beginning I didn’t know how a good ski-turn or a switch cork 900, should look like. But, with time I learnt exactly when in the turn or in the air the skiers have his or her best position and to wait until then to take my picture. Knowledge is talent and a sense for something.
What is differencing deliberate practice?
Is a very good question that we will answer right now. I will use myself as example as a photographer. This is of course something that can be translated in to any creative profession such as copywriting, filmmaking, animator and such. As a photographer I do photoshoots in many different forms and shapes, but most of them can be categorized in to the following categories: Commissioned work (work), personal creative projects (play) and deliberate practice.
Is when I practice my profession, often in a public place, such as the client’s office and not in a private domain. And, people, such as the client, Art Director etc., are also watching me perform. The performance is on the highest level (the images) and is being motivated by a reward (money). In these situations, we tend to rely on tested procedures with reliable result. To experiment with new techniques, with unknow results and reliability, where we risk to not reach an expected and satisfactory result, is often put aside, due to the cost of failure is too high.
Play / Personal creative projects:
Are activities that has zero or minimal economic value and often a diffuse, if any, goal. The purpose is to have fun and maybe blow of some creative steam that we have been building up. This can be taking a walk around town for some snapshot “because it has been some time since”. The goal is often the activity itself than the result of it.
Are activities that are created to raise my knowledge level of my field or a certain area in my field. For example, I can practice on how I communicate and pose a person in front of my camera, by photographing people that are unfamiliar or don’t like having their picture taken. It can also be that I’m working on a specific detail, such as micro-contrast in skin tones to make my images a little bit better or a new method or way of lighting – to raise my knowledge about light.
As you see in these three activities, the goal, cost (energy and money) and reward differs. Where work demands a lot of energy, where the goal is to satisfy someone else for a reward. While play demands a small amount of energy, with no goal or special performance. Deliberate training demands a lot of energy, is time consuming and sometimes money (mentors, courses etc.). It is often well structured to get the most out of the time spent. Where specific tasks are created, to improve on your weaknesses and not what you already master, which means = little to no development.
Deliberate training is either simple, fun or accomplished in a day. But is practiced during extensive period of time of 10 years or 10 000 hours, before hopefully achieve expert level within your field or craft.
This is how to train
Deliberate practice. In other words, training with the sole purpose to become better at your craft. We are not talking about taking a stroll around town for some snapshots with your camera, casually sketching what you see outside your window or perform a “bread and butter” work as a freelancer.
What sets optimal conditions for development varies, of course, from person to person. But, there are some criteria’s that your tasks need to have. The most critical one, as mentioned in the first part, is motivation. To have the enormous amount of motivation that is needed to reach the goal of being a top achiever and reach expert level. Because, the amount of time and energy it takes of deliberate training are of the same portion as the motivation you need.
So, besides this motivation and the time you need, your tasks and exercises need to take in account of what you already know. As the learning curve fades off and more challenging tasks are needed. You also need a mentor (who has higher level of skills and knowledge than you) who can give you informative and valuable feedback, based on the results you show. This is so the mentor can create new tasks and challenges to correct the wrongs, mistakes and flaws that you display. Because, without feedback from an observing eye, the development we are after is hard to achieve end often not so effective. Your coach or mentor shall also give you tasks to do in between your meetings.
What do I need a mentor, you might think? Think of a goal keeper in football (soccer). During a game the keeper might get 10-20 situations or shots at target (I’m no football player, but you get the message). But during training, with a person dedicated just to shoot on target, in different situations – where do you thing the learning curves goes up?
A creative tennis elbow
Deliberate practice is, as we know, time consuming and demands a lot of energy. An equation that not bring joy. And just as with physical exercise, you can’t keep going at it, day in and day out for an extensive time. Because, just as with physical exercise you can get worn out with too much practice and too little recovery. To get the most out of your deliberate training, for a long period of time, you must have time for recovery and rest. So, you have the energy and mental power to train for some time each day and week, without getting burned out.
This will end this part of, The efforts behind being the top expert – part 2. In the next blog post, that I promise will be shorter, we will take a look at what is needed to go beyond expert level performance and break new ground!