So you want to be an expert
What a sad week. We have lost Sir Ken Dodd, Professor of Comedy and Stephen Hawking CBE, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. Undoubtedly both experts in their fields.
What does it take to become an expert? Some would argue that it is 10,000 hours of practice but Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers really only suggested this was what it took for the Dodds and Hawkings of this world to become masters who stood head and shoulders above their peers.
What would 10,000 hours of practice and experience look like? Apparently, about 10 years. So for most of us mere mortals we really need a significant level of practice at that which we would like to become an expert in order to be a leader in our field.
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I suspect that these two great men also had something else in common. A dogged determination:
- Hawking was not just a Professor of Mathematics but a cosmologist, astronomer and author of numerous books including the landmark “A Brief History of Time,” which has sold more than 10 million copies. He achieved all this despite being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, in 1963, when he was 21. He did all these things not necessarily being right first time but sometimes by losing bets with other scientists and changing his mind about the cosmos.
- Dodd, according to the BBC knew his audience and responded accordingly: “you get a glimpse of the audience and see how many of them were older women and relatively young children. He needed to find a way of making them all laugh. The solution was the torrent of gags.” I learnt from his obituaries that he wrote all his material down in little black books and had someone back stage for every performance assessing how much applause and laughter each gag generated. He dropped those which were not getting a good enough response and rehearsed and re-rehearsed to achieve maximum effect.
Whilst none of us necessarily aim to be the master or mistress of our own particular universe let’s all aspire to excellence in our chosen field. What might we learn from Dodd and Hawkings:
- Take an idea and work and work on it
- Don’t get too distracted
- Research and analyse
- Test ideas on others, listen to their views and review and reformulate
- Seek feedback on performance from our clients and colleagues, however painful, and act on it
- Practice, practice, practice
To develop an expertise in any particular area you might need to improve your skills. To achieve this you might require additional training, coaching or mentoring or a blend of all three. However you choose to learn and develop an expert skill set, learning offers opportunities. An opportunity to practise the art of whatever the subject matter of the course is; to challenge understanding and review. To develop your understanding of trusts, for example, why not read my labour of love, the Trust Practitioner’s Handbook the fourth edition of which was recently published by the Law Society (find out more and purchase a copy).
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