Becoming an expert

Whilst reading the newspaper this morning an article grabbed my attention. It was entitled “10,000 hours of work”.  The article is a review of one of those self-help books that apparently teaches you how to be successful. The point, however, is not just about being successful, but actually about becoming outstanding in a particular field.

The theory behind the book, or so the article tells me, is that you need 10,000 hours of work (or 416 days) in order to excel in a particular field. Apparently that is what The Beatles did, Mozart actually doubled that to 20,000 hours.

It made me think….

According to the article you need five years working 8 hours per day in order to make the 10,000 hours. However that does not count the hours spent on Facebook,  writing/reading blogs or making endless to-do lists or Gantt charts, which means you would probably need to double that to perhaps ten years….

Nevertheless, I have spent the last few years being told that doing a PhD would make me an expert in my area… Yet, I probably haven’t spent 10,000 hours on my PhD.  It’s funny how our perception of expertise changes, or it should change, as we increase our ability to digest information.

I think that is key… it isn’t necessarily a matter of becoming experts. The fact our very own expertise, although extremely interesting to us, is probably highly irrelevant to most people’s daily lives. It reminds me of my auntie’s face after I told her what my contribution to knowledge is. The point then is not what makes us experts, but the skills we have achieved in getting there. Skills need to be constantly updated, enhanced and most importantly, used. So, whilst it may be a matter of how many hours we spend gaining expertise, the point is that to continue being an expert, you cannot stop.

In addition, there are two attributes that are crucial in developing our expertise: research and writing. Doing research, from talking to people, to delving into data, to analysing all sorts of records and attempting to make sense of it are some of the skills anyone doing a PhD should master. Being able to write clearly and concisely is the other one.

So, how many hours writing and researching do you need to do to become an expert? I guess the answer is an infinite number of hours. Whilst best-selling books may need to give us a specific target to achieve, life is usually more complicated than that. Every new turn, every new word or piece of data or research topic should make you feel like you are starting fresh once again, remembering the pitfalls of your previous project but ensuring that you have your senses awake to becoming an expert once again. It should be a continuous process.

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