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The Birth of Expertise

Last July, Scientific American published a fascinating piece called The Expert Mind, an examination of the mental mechanics of expertise and how they develop. The concepts are largely approached through the game of chess, "the Drosophila of cognitive science". Signs point to a diminished significance of "innate talent" and the triumph of practice and effort. Leading the charge are concepts such as chunking, the 10-year rule (it takes a decade of hard work to get really good at anything), and the importance of "effortful study":

From Scientific American: The Expert Mind:

"Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but 'effortful study,' which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time. It is interesting to note that time spent playing chess, even in tournaments, appears to contribute less than such study to a player's progress; the main training value of such games is to point up weaknesses for future study.

Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance--for instance, keeping up with one's golf buddies or passing a driver's exam--most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind's box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields."

(Via Creating Passionate Users.)

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