First introduced by psychologist Anders Ericsson and later featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s popular book, “Outliers: The Story of Success,” was this idea that you could become a genuine expert in a field with approximately 10,000 hours of practice — roughly 3 hours a day, every day for a consecutive decade.But is that really what it takes? And what’s the real difference between being a “natural” and a prodigious practicer?
In a study published in Harvard Business Review, researchers say that you must pass three tests to know if you’ve reached a level of expertise:
1. Your performance must be consistently “superior to that of your expert’s peers.” You can’t really be an expert if you are on the same level of expertise as everyone else.
2. Your expertise must produce consistent, concrete, successful results. For example, if you’re an expert at building a car, you must be able to achieve a superior end result in a consistent manner.
3. Your performance “can be replicated and measured in the lab.” If you can’t do it again, it isn’t consistent, and you won’t be able to measure it. So how can you prove your expertise?
In order to get to this level, it’s obvious that you’re going to have to practice and put in a lot of sweat, but not all practice is useful practice. The Harvard Business Review says:
When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.
According to Gary Marcus in Psychology Today, if you keep practicing what you know you are already good at, you will never be able to reach an uncomfortable level that will force you to push harder. This means you’ll never improve or reach your greatest limits.
“Getting better isn’t just a matter of logging hours,” Marcus says. “It’s a matter of developing a focused program of targeting your weaknesses and broadening your skill set.”
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