On Developing Expertise

masteryThere's a process for becoming good at anything. Expertise and mastery require a set of steps.

I know, not because I've mastered a lot of skills, but because I've read a lot about the high performers that have demonstrated mastery at an incredible level. I've even written about them.

What's interesting to me is that we often get the order wrong – which is best explained by telling you about the time my college roommate and I tried to make bread.

Baking Fresh Bread

I can't remember why we got on this kick to make fresh bread but it just became an important thing. So important that we tried every day for weeks.

This problem, in case you wondered, no longer exists – the development of break-making skills – because breadmakers are inexpensive.

So each day we added flour, water, salt, sugar, and yeast – but I also think we tried adding eggs and one time milk. Then we'd mix it, knead it, let it rise, and bake it.

And each night it would suck. I mean, really bad.

Our problem boiled down to the fact that we were trying to make fancy bread and we were trying to get it perfect. We wanted to go from not knowing how to make bread to becoming experts in a single shot.

If you asked us to write down the order of steps we were taking to become great at making bread, it would have been simple, because there was only two steps.

  1. Get better each time.
  2. Do it perfectly.

Expertise comes with a certain kind of practice

Unfortunately, that set of steps, that two-part equation is what I was taught learning anything and everything. You keep trying to improve and eventually you'll do it perfectly.

The good news – it promotes discipline, which is always good.

The bad news – it's wrong. It won't get you where you want to go.

Instead, you need a different order of operations, and it's three steps, not two.

  1. Do it.
  2. Do it right (even if you're really slow).
  3. Get better.

The first step is to just try. Just step into something – even if you're going for the simplest of all versions of the skill you're developing. Getting in and getting your hands dirty (so to speak) helps you prepare your brain and create a space for your newly acquired skill.

Me and my college roommate should have made the simplest form of bread ever.

The second step is to slow down and get something perfect. Rather than tons of incorrect practice where you're trying to get something right but making errors, you should slow things down and do it perfectly. Speed and pacing come later.

This is why I have my young development staff learn from, copy code of, and study experts. Eventually they'll get faster. But I don't want them exploring the 200 ways to do things wrong. I want them learning the 1 or 2 ways to do it best. (Note: this is why I highly recommend Pippin's online tutorials)

The third step is where we start speeding up and getting better (and faster). In this way, we know we're getting better at doing something correctly. If not, we're actually just learning (poorly) lots of new ways to do things, with each change we make to improve.

If you'd like to learn more about how to learn effectively, check out my free course.