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Experts: nature or nurture?

In the Netherlands, a Golf Profiency Certificate is mandatory to play golf. I obtained mine three years ago. A Scottish professional of the local golf club initiated me to this game. After the first instructions, my balls flew into all directions. I hit the ball so hard that my back had to be treated by a chiropractor. Au! Now, a few years later, I sometimes think I start to learn it. I manage to stay more often on the fairway and I don’t need a new bal for each new hole. Nowadays, my opponents don’t wear a helmet anymore when they are playing against me :-)

In 2007, a fascinating article by Professor Anders Ericsson of the Florida State University was published in the Harvard Business Review. Its title: Are experts born or made? Ericsson hereby applies the golden 10.000 hour rule. His statement: in order to reach the top in a particular discipline, you have to train hard and stay focused for at least ten years. At least! In certain disciplines like music, it can take 20 to 25 years to reach the absolute top.

Tiger Woods, for instance, started to play golf when he was only three (!) years old. For sports, it is easier to recognize real experts because there are competitions in which the participants compete with each other, under the same circumstances more or less. But outside the arena, it is often more difficult to recognize them. In order to determine real expertise, three tests have to be performed successfully:
  1. someone needs to perform better than his or her peers;
  2. real experts produce measurable results;
  3. real expertise can be reproduced in a lab environment.
Nobody is born as a top surgeon, a successful CEO or a famous golf player. Only those prepared to sacrifice themselves by training in an oriented way, can become successful in the long term. There are no quick wins or short cuts on this road. Experts can be made when three conditions are fulfilled.

1. Oriented training
Ordinary exercise is not enough here. As a manner of speaking, you can perform the same trick for years, without ever progressing. Intensive training is required here, exactly for those things you do not master yet. By training and improving yourself in a consistent way, you can eliminate the weak aspects of your performance in a structural way.

2. 10.000 hours
In order to become a real expert, you need at least 10.000 hours of oriented and intensive training. Moreover, top musicians often need 20 to 25 years of practice before reaching their top level.

3. Coaching
Research has shown that future experts need different coaches and teachers at different moments in their learning curve. At the beginning, future experts might just need a person with lots of time, who can give them enough confirmation. Later on, they rather need someone with more advanced skills. On the other hand, experts who are very close to the top, but want to take the last step to reach it, need someone enjoying himself or herself many years of experience and having worked at the top either.

As a teenager, Tiger Woods already had been enjoying oriented training for more than 10.000 hours. Through intensive training, oriented feedback systems in order to improve step by step and with the best coaches, he reached the absolute world top. This enabled him to become the first sport millionaire in the world. We have to wait to see if he will keep this financial status, now that his adventures outside the golf course have been spread by the media.

The variation created by means of DNA, is thus much smaller than the one created by means of training. It needs to be remarked here that intellectual tendencies or physical characteristics need to be sufficiently present in the genes. For instance, a basketball player measuring 1.65 meter, will never be able to reach the top.

Paul

By Paul Donkers

"my purpose is to help improve strategy execution, to create high performing teams and coach for effective business leaders"

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