Motivation Article #8: The Making of an Expert
Outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberate practice and coaching, not of any
innate talent or skill.
The Polgars homeschooled their three daughters, and as part of their education the girls
started playing chess with their parents at a very young age. Their systematic training and
daily practice paid off. By 2000, all three daughters had been ranked in the top 10 female
players in the world. The youngest had become a grand master at age 15, breaking the
previous record for the youngest person to earn that title, Bobby Fisher.
Bloom’s work found no early indicators that could have predicted the virtuoso’s success.
Subsequent research indicated that there is no correlation between IQ and expert performance.
The only innate differences that turn out to be significant are height and body size. All the
superb performers investigated had practised intensively, had studied with devoted teachers
and had been supported enthusiastically by their families throughout their developing years.
The amount and quality of practice were key factors in the level of expertise people achieved.
The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice and honest, often painful,
self-assessment. There are no shortcuts. It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise,
and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in deliberate practice—practice that
focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-
informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn
how to coach yourself.
What is an Expert?
Current research has revealed many fields where there is no scientific evidence that supposed
expertise leads to superior performance. A study showed that psychotherapists with degrees
and decades of experience aren’t reliably more successful in their treatment of patients than
novice therapists with 3 months of training.
There are even examples of expertise seeming to decline with experience. The longer
physicians have been out of training, for example, the less able they are to identify unusual
diseases of the lungs or heart. Performance picks up only after the doctors undergo a refresher
Real expertise must pass 3 tests:
1) It must lead to performance that is consistently superior to that of the expert’s peers
2) Real expertise produces concrete results (a chess player must be able to win matches)
3) True expertise can be replicated and measured in a lab
Things to Look for When Judging Expertise
• Individual accounts of expertise are often unreliable
There is a huge body of literature on false memories, self-serving biases, and
recollections altered as a result of current beliefs or the passage of time.
• Many people are wrongly believed to possess expertise
• The idea that you can improve your performance by relaxing and just trusting your gut is
popular. You cannot consistently improve your ability to make decisions without