How do people become experts?
If you asked the guy on the street how the "best of the best" got that way (whether it's math, playing guitar, or whatever), they'd say that these people were born with a gift of some sort. Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users disagrees, and she's written the best piece on this topic I've read all year:
The only thing standing between you-as-amateur and you-as-expert is dedication. All that talk about prodigies? We could all be prodigies (or nearly so) if we just put in the time and focused. At least that's what the brain guys are saying. Best of all--it's almost never too late.She also highlights some research by Florida State University psychology professor Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, who's made a research career out of studying prodigies, geniuses (of which I'm neither) and top performers:
In the book The New Brain (it was on my coffee table) Richard Restak quotes Ericsson as concluding:
Read the whole thing here.
"For the superior performer the goal isn't just repeating the same thing again and again but achieving higher levels of control over every aspect of their performance. That's why they don't find practice boring. Each practice session they are working on doing something better than they did the last time."
So it's not just how long they practice, it's how they practice. Basically, it comes down to something like this:
Most of us want to practice the things we're already good at, and avoid the things we suck at. We stay average or intermediate amateurs forever.