Making of an Expert


I recently read an article based on László and Klara Polgár, the two Hungarian educators who decided to challenge the popular belief that women can not succeed in areas requiring spatial thinking, like chess.  They wanted to make a point about the power of education, training, practice and quality coaching.  The Polgárs homeschooled their three daughters and as a part of their education, the girls started playing chess with their parents from a very young age.  Their systematic training and coaching paid off; by 2000 all their daughters were ranked in top 10 female chess players in the world.  An early result was Susan [one of the three daughters] winning the Budapest Chess Championship for girls under 11 at the age of four.  The other daughter, Judit became a grand master at the age of 15, breaking previous record by a month.  Today, Judit is one of the world’s top chess players and has defeated almost all best male players.

The Polgárs believed that ‘geniuses are made, not born’ and they proved it.

There several studies and researches conducted which support this fact, that outstanding performance is a product of years and years of intense, focused, quality practice and coaching, not of any innate inborn ability or talent.

It is not only the assumption around gender differences in expertise which has started to crumble.  I read about a very interesting study conducted by Benjamin Bloom which was published in his book, Developing Talent in Young People in 1985.  He took a deep retrospective look at the childhoods of 120 elite performers who had won international competitions or awards in fields ranging from music and the arts to mathematics and neurology. Surprisingly, Bloom’s research found no early indicators that could have predicted the grand success these performers achieved.

So, what correlates with and leads to success?  What really goes into making of an expert?

From what I have read about success stories of sportsmen, business leaders, musicians, artists and what I have also observed from my work experience…some of the key themes which I could jot down are these:

[1] They had a very clear vision – an objective to satisfy and they felt very very strongly about it.  It can generally be seen in their tenacity, focus, concentration and aggression.

[2] Intensive Practice…learn – repeat – improve, learn – repeat – improve, learn – repeat – improve until you master it, sweat it out for the methods and techniques until they are mastered completely.

[3] They studied and trained with an equally devoted trainer or mentor, who was aligned to the vision and objective, who felt it equally strongly about it.

[4] Enthusiastic support in the developing phase from family, peers, seniors.

[5] Amount and Quality of practice.

[6] Honest and often painful assessment…and constantly working to perfect it.  I feel this is something that separates the best from the average.

There could be many more contributing factors but I feel these are those key things which go into the making of an expert.  One thing is for sure, there are no shortcuts in becoming or making an expert.  It takes time, focus, attention, dedication and unshakeable determination.

As leaders we need to become those devoted mentors, completely aligned to the goal of making experts.  We need to relook at and question ourselves on how much time we spend with our team members on developing them, giving them the support they require from us and the very important honest assessment of their capabilities-performance.  We need to relook at our people development plans, methods we use to identify those in our teams who can go that extra mile and endure it to emerge as experts, reassess our training modules and methodologies and make them synchronize with the objective of laying a solid foundation to build a team which will produce experts tomorrow.

We need to remember, that making experts requires a lot of practice and coaching methods…methods which can always be reproduced and are verifiable.  In other words, there exists a formula to make an expert which can be shared, learnt, and adopted.

So…let us be that devoted mentor and try making some experts from within our teams.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Leadership, Personal Effectiveness

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