Thought Leadership

Becoming an expert

By Colin Walls

As I wrote recently, I like to learn things. I have always had a penchant for “useless” [= rather random] information and pride myself on knowing a bit about many things. I am also interested in acquiring new skills and have been giving this possibility some thought …

For many people, acquiring a real skill means becoming an expert in something. I have always tried to avoid saying that I am an expert in anything – it just opens the possibility for someone to illustrate one’s lack of expertise or show that is has limits or is out of date.

A skill that I am currently endeavoring to acquire is playing the bass guitar. I have always wanted to play an instrument and finally started getting lessons a few months back. I have a great teacher and I am enjoying it. He is very keen to tell me that I should not aim to be an expert player. He is somewhat older than me and has been playing since he was a child. I do not need to reach that level, probably do not have the motivation and, perhaps most importantly, do not have the time. I recognize that the saying “Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good” is valid in numerous contexts and this is one of them. I just need to be “good enough”.

I have been pondering the time issue. In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell talks about his “10,000 hours rule”, which claims that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours. This has been disputed, but I am sure it is a good ballpark number for the amount of effort needed. I did some calculations. If I studied/practiced for 5 hours each day, 5 hours per week – i.e. 25 hours per week – which is very unlikely, it would take me 8 years to clock up the 10,000 hours. I guess that, at a pinch, I do have time. I have a birthday in a few weeks – I will be 21 for the third time. That means that I would be 71 by the time I would want to start forging a second career as a rock star. This is not going to happen.


2 thoughts about “Becoming an expert
  • Some time a go I have read a short piece penned by New York TImes journalist. It was titled “In Praise of Mediocrity”. It was illustrating that a lot of people today don’t even have a hobby, because they are afraid they will be not good enough at it. Like it is either you are an expert, or you should not even try. This removes a pleasurable part of things we sometimes do just because, well, we just like them. There is no need to be an expert in every activity. Hopefully in the world forcing perfection, we can accept some amount of mediocrity.
    Glad to hear you enjoy your guitar sessions with no pressure 🙂

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