Many of us take an annual winter vacation that includes snow skiing. We typically consult a trail map that shows the ski runs in order to plan our route down the hill. The runs are marked with four levels of difficulty on the map and also on the mountain; 1) easiest (denoted by a green circle), 2) more difficult (blue square) 3) most difficult (black diamond) and 4) experts only (double black diamonds).
What an invaluable service! The resort wants us to enjoy ourselves so they tell us what to expect on their terrain. All we have to do now is assess our own abilities and decide where we should ski. Easy, right? Well, as it turns out, “no” for most of us.
As I discussed in Get Calibrated! most of us are extremely poor at self-assessment and are outwardly overconfident. That’s why many intermediate skiers find themselves on the “experts only” runs; hyperventilating, sweating despite the cold, and desperately hoping that the inevitable fall won’t result in loss of life or limbs!
So, what does it take to really become an expert at skiing? Or for that matter, anything? There is a lot of research in this area and well, the “experts” on experts generally conclude that they have the following attributes relative to their field of expertise: 1) Specific education, training, and qualification, 2) Practical experience and 3) Self-assurance and confidence in their knowledge.
These attributes are easily observed and form the basis for someone to be considered an expert, but are they sufficient to describe what separates a true expert from a layperson? No, as it turns out…the attributes listed above describe a “qualified” person that may or may not be an expert. Think about that newly graduated physician working as resident; arguably, they have all of the attributes listed, but would you want them as your primary care physician if you had a life threatening illness? I wouldn’t.
True experts possess unique problem solving skills that truly set them apart from the merely “qualified” individual. These problem solving skills enable experts to rapidly recognize all possible outcomes for a given situation well into the future and quickly make accurate decisions. Their superior decision making skills are based on a vast “library” of specialized knowledge built on many years of practical experience from tens of thousands of situations.
They are able to efficiently leverage these vast libraries because they also possess superior memory skills. Experts have the ability to retrieve large chunks of relevant information very quickly and recognize patterns and relationships within that information that allow them to circumvent the memory limitations of laypersons. The ability to quickly recognize informational patterns and accurately predict situational outcomes is the mark of a true expert.
So, how do experts build their libraries? And then learn to recognize patterns, anticipate events and respond quickly? For one, they start young. Most experts are involved in their fields by the time they are six years old. They also practice… a lot! In general, it takes about 10 years to become an expert at something, and in those 10 years, there has to be at least 10,000 hours of dedicated practice (i.e. in practical terms, you need to practice at least 20 hours a week, every week, for 10 years).
Of course, in addition to practice and dedication, experts are highly motivated and disciplined. In addition to hours and hours of practice, they also strive to understand the relationships between cause and effect in their library of informational patterns. They are always “students” of their craft no matter how qualified and accomplished they become… true experts are never satisfied with their performance and are always trying to improve their skills.
So, how can we become an expert in our field? Especially since we didn’t start as PLM workers before the age of 6 (well, most of us anyway, although I wonder about some of my colleagues). The key is to focus on building and expanding our knowledge library. Volunteer for an extra assignment… or for one outside of your comfort zone…. Offer to help out in a new department…. Volunteer to present a paper at PLM Connections…. Ask a colleague what they are working on and really engage in the conversation. Don’t be satisfied with the “status quo” or doing business the same way you’ve always done it. These are tangible steps that increase your personal PLM knowledge library, increase your value to the company and put you on a vector to becoming an expert in your field.