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How to Become an Expert. Top 7 Qualities

Experts do not need rules to make decisions. They have qualities that allow them to consistently make good decisions and show high level of performance under different circumstances without any rules. This post discusses these core qualities that turn a novice into an expert.

rule: prescribed guide for conduct or action
intuition: instinctive knowing (without the use of rational processes)
tacit knowledge: automatic, unexpressed knowledge that provides context for people, places, ideas, and experiences. Tacit knowledge is not easily shared. As Polanyi said: “We know more than we can tell.”
context: the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.

Problems with rules

Most rules didn’t come from heaven. They come from ordinary people. They are product of practice, theories, traditions and fear.

  • context-free – rules reflect standard situations without considering your specific circumstances
  • limited verification – most rules are empirical and do not pass vigorous analysis, strict prove and experiments
  • time sensitive – many rules become outdated quickly in dynamic professions, industries and societies
  • overcautious – fear fuels many rules and seeks to protect from the worst scenario, often imaginable
  • low skills denominator – rules tuned to match capabilities of the majority without accounting for individual strengths and weaknesses
  • misinterpretation – tacit knowledge of experts, which forms base for many rules, is difficult to transfer in correct and understandable form

Core 7 Qualities of the Expert

1. Motivation. Believe in self. Energy. Unsatisfaction
Motivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability in the development of expertise.Scientific American

You have to believe in self to become a successful expert. An expert need strength, energy and motivation to go beyond ordinary performance levels.
Top performers in different disciplines do this – envision own success and prepare their minds to achieve higher levels. Thinking can “wire” our brains for developing new capabilities and success.
Questions: Am I ready? How can I boost my strength, energy and motivation? How will I succeed?

2. Hard Work. Discipline. Focus.
The differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.Anders Ericsson

Hard work is not as difficult after you start and dive into it. Often the problem is that you cannot start or concentrate. Procrastination ruins your progress. There are many barriers for focused and productive work:

  • pressure and stress kills productivity
  • low interest – without engaged mind your brain will resist to form knowledge
  • multitasking – takes away precious concentration and mindset needed for productive work
  • unclear goals – disoriented mind cannot focus effectively
  • no specific time  – you will tend to postpone, delay and miss practice without strictly scheduled time
  • distractions – inconvenient  environment and frequent interruptions don’t help

New Scientist had an advice how to get a grip on yourself and strengthen willpower. The main ideas – willpower is limited resource, easily depleted; it requires planning, boost and  practice.

Also, keep yourself interested. Switch if you start loosing focus and interest. Reboot. Have prepared practices in different areas to enable fresh start for your mind.
Questions:  How do I maintain focus, stay committed and interested? Do I have clear goals, action plan and productive environment?

3. Think critically. Think as a beginner
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but int the expert there are few – Suzuki Roshi

As an expert you cannot go with the flow, believe everything and hide behind authoritative opinions. You cannot stick with your own views forever without changing them. You have to think critically: challenge beliefs, existing theories and dominant ideas. Some of them are completely wrong. Many of them have flaws and can be improved. Most of them are not the best in your specific context.
5 Whys is an excellent method to discover reality.
Better unforeseen solutions exist if you look for them. If you don’t think critically, you will be a follower without much chances to grow your ideas and find better solutions. Keep your mind open and question ideas including your own.
Questions:  What are hard facts, assumptions and theories? What should I trust, dismiss or verify?

4. Full brain power. Use right brain (in addition to left).
The right hemisphere synthesizes over space. The left analyzes over time. – Jerre Levy

Your right brain (more accurately – right brain mode) is inherited from our animal ancestors and shaped by millions years of evolution. Right brain mode is much more powerful, reliable and faster than left brain mode. Right brain works in parallel with images, subconscious mind and deep vast memory (even when you sleep). On the contrary, left brain works with symbols and words; it is logical, analytical and linear. It can only work with few ideas in the same time (4-7) and needs focus and conscious effort. We need left brain to formulate, express ideas and communicate them to others.
Experts are using both brains – left for rational thinking, analysis and communication, right for intuition, imagination and creative insights. One of the best books how to start using you right brain is The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
Learn how to expand your brain power with the right brain mode. If you use only left brain mode, you’ll stay dull, rational and predictable specialist.
Questions: How can I engage my both brain modes? (Hint: interest, humor, senses, emotions, surprise.) What puzzles can I feed to my subconscious mind?

5. Continuous learning. Sharing
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust

Experts never stop to learn. The day you believe you know everything is your last day as an expert. Experts learn from new research and existing knowledge, they learn from other people and they learn from own experience. Also they learn from disciplines outside of their professional realm that can provide new ideas.
For a example, a programmer could benefit from learning:

  • psychology – better understand how users think and perceive, how to engage customers, how to make yourself and team productive and motivated;
  • design, aesthetics, art – beautiful systems are more usable and successful
  • management theories and practices – learn how to organize people and activities  (for example Agile learned a lot from Toyota Production System and Japanese product development)
  • system theories – understand fundamental principles and laws governing complex systems
  • economics, business – why people and business need software, how software fails or succeed on market; how your software fits into company business; how to start your own company
  • culture, social life, demographics – trends in behavior, interest and problems of groups of people (by sex, age, education, profession, etc). This knowledge will explain current dynamic and suggest future opportunities.

Make learning essential part of your everyday life. If you don’t learn, you stop your journey to become an expert.
You gain deeper knowledge if you share your knowledge with other people – discuss, explain, teach, blog, speak, present. Other people – with different views and perspective – will quickly show weaknesses and quality of your knowledge. Sharing with others will push your learning further and deeper than keeping knowledge to yourself.

Questions: What do I not know? How will I learn it? How will I share it?

6. Self-improvement. Know yourself.
Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye but fail to notice the beam in your own eye?Matthew

We protect ourselves from inconvenient truth and often are blind to own mistakes. Our psychological defense systems help to avoid depression and anxiety by protecting our ego, but also distort our view and perception of true reality.
Good experts are capable to see truth, be objective and correct themselves. They try to avoid the trap of groupthink, crowd psychology and self white washing.  They know own strengths, weaknesses and biases.
Seek  the truth about self, know your internal beliefs and motivation and improve yourself. Otherwise, your rosy distorted pictures will hinder your growth and you will become the part of a problem, not the part of a solution.
Questions: What can I do better? How can I improve myself? Am I honest with myself?

7. Big picture. Systems Thinking. Creative solutions.
Opportunity ideas do not lie around waiting to be discovered. Such ideas need to be produced.Edward de Bono

Experts main advantages are tacit knowledge and experience. They understand big picture, reality, context and how systems work. However, it is not enough. Experts should solve problems. And therefore, they should train themselves for problem solving, innovation and changing reality in the novel ways. The outcome, a creative solution,  is quintessence of hard work, deep knowledge and intuition.
Questions:  What is the big picture: forces, players and relations? How things can be done better? Do I see new ways?

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Motivation – Am I ready? How can I boost my strength, energy and motivation? How will I succeed?
  2. Focus – How do I maintain focus, stay committed and interested? Do I have clear goals, action plan and productive environment?
  3. Critical thinking – What are hard facts, assumptions and theories? What should I trust, dismiss or verify?
  4. Full Brain power – How can I engage my both brain modes? What puzzles can I feed to my subconscious mind?
  5. Continuous Learning – What do I not know? How will I learn it? How will I share it?
  6. Self Improvement – What can I do better? How can I improve myself? Am I honest with myself?
  7. Creative solutions – What is the big picture: forces, players and relations? How things can be done better? Do I see new ways?

If you know answers to these questions, you don’t need rules to solve problems – you are ready to make good decisions and become an expert.

Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition , Wikipedia
The Science of Experience, by John Cloud/Tallahassee, TIME
Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware, by Andy Hunt
The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards
The Expert Mind , Scientific American
The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer

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[…] How to Become an Expert. Top 7 QualitiesSome very good points here.Tags: development expert […]

Pingback by Chipping the web: April 7th -- Chip’s Quips | April 7, 2009 1:03 pm

Congratulation ! Excelent article.

Comment by Francisco | April 7, 2009 2:49 pm

Well researched post, certainly given me plenty to think about.

Comment by Ian Hickman | April 9, 2009 4:01 pm

Extremely well thought through. Thanks for posting this.

Comment by Jay | April 11, 2009 3:40 pm

yet another extraordinary article. I read articles about business leadership that are wonderful (from SmartBrief), but this just tops the cake

Comment by Jay K | April 14, 2009 11:13 pm

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Pingback by Leandro Siqueira » Blog Archive » Daily Digest for 2009-04-15 | April 16, 2009 3:29 am

Just for the sake of… The quote on 6 was made (not exactly as it is on the post) by Jesus, as it is written by Mathew 7,3-5

Thanks for this interesting post.

Comment by Eduardo Cabrera | April 18, 2009 2:24 am

What do you mean by systems thinking? I have an understanding of the concept, but I just wondered about a further exploration of this. Could you point to any articles or resources that would go into further detail? Thanks.

Comment by Andrea >> Become a Consultant | April 19, 2009 3:20 pm

Andrea, one of the best books for systems thinking is The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. The Systems Bible by John Gall is a good book too.

Comment by Andriy Solovey | April 20, 2009 12:38 pm

[…] not going to find the answer here (arf), but I love this article on what it takes to become an […]

Pingback by What is an expert? » Who’s The Judge? | April 30, 2009 5:24 am

Very inspiring, well written. I shall bookmark it and read it often to keep myself focused

Comment by Harsha Hegde | October 7, 2009 2:14 am

Nice article, I will try to revisit your website.

Comment by azhar | February 2, 2010 5:35 am

Brilliant article, well written and insightful.

Comment by Ben | April 26, 2010 5:40 am

A well written article, shocking to see this on a website about software development, it’s applicable to personal development as well.

Comment by b1wutx | May 4, 2010 4:36 pm

A very nice article. What I miss here is some real life scenarios that could help me to better adapt to the qualities of an expert..

Practice makes perfect, how to practice is the question?

Comment by Sanix | May 6, 2010 7:12 am

[…] How to Become an Expert. Top 7 Qualities […]

Pingback by ???????? ??????, 6 ??? | ???? ???? | May 6, 2011 1:45 pm

Very interesting article! I agree with one commenter that some examples would be nice, but that would probably turn it into a book! I’m curious as to how you came up with this list? Is compiled based on your own research (i.e., all the books you’ve cited) or is there another set of theories you are also making use of? Or is this just what was taught in your (Russian?) grammar school? In any case, it’s good stuff, and everyone who wants to be successful could make use of your advice.

Comment by Nils Davis | March 27, 2013 7:55 pm

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