The results shocked the wine world: California wines received the highest scores from the panel. Even more surprising, during the tasting the experts often mistook the American wines for French wines and vice versa. Two assumptions were challenged that day.
The Process of Decision Making in Chess: Volume 1 - Mastering the Theory
The first was the hitherto unquestioned superiority of French wines over American ones. But it was the challenge to the second—the assumption that the judges genuinely possessed elite knowledge of wine—that was more interesting and revolutionary. The tasting suggested that the alleged wine experts were no more accurate in distinguishing wines under blind test conditions than regular wine drinkers—a fact later confirmed by our laboratory tests.
Current research has revealed many other fields where there is no scientific evidence that supposed expertise leads to superior performance. There are even examples of expertise seeming to decline with experience. The longer physicians have been out of training, for example, the less able they are to identify unusual diseases of the lungs or heart.
Because they encounter these illnesses so rarely, doctors quickly forget their characteristic features and have difficulty diagnosing them. Performance picks up only after the doctors undergo a refresher course. Real expertise must pass three tests. Second, real expertise produces concrete results. Brain surgeons, for example, not only must be skillful with their scalpels but also must have successful outcomes with their patients. A chess player must be able to win matches in tournaments.
Finally, true expertise can be replicated and measured in the lab.
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Anecdotes, selective recall, and one-off events all can present insufficient, often misleading, examples of expertise. There is a huge body of literature on false memories, self-serving biases, and recollections altered as a result of current beliefs or the passage of time. Reporting is not the same thing as research.
Bear in mind that true expertise is demonstrated by measurable, consistently superior performance. Some supposed experts are superior only when it comes to explaining why they made errors. In , the tasting of the reds was reenacted, and California came out on top again. Had it not been for the objective results from the blind tastings, the French wine experts may never have been convinced of the quality of the American wines.
While it may be true that intuition is valuable in routine or familiar situations, informed intuition is the result of deliberate practice. You cannot consistently improve your ability to make decisions or your intuition without considerable practice, reflection, and analysis. Many managers hope that they will suddenly improve performance by adopting new and better methods—just as golf players may think that they can lower their scores with a new and better club.
In reality, the key to improving expertise is consistency and carefully controlled efforts. Knowledge management systems rarely, if ever, deal with what psychologists call knowledge. They are repositories of images, documents, and routines: external data that people can view and interpret as they try to solve a problem or make a decision.
There are no shortcuts to gaining true expertise. Skill in some fields, such as sports, is easy to measure. Competitions are standardized so that everyone competes in a similar environment. All competitors have the same start and finish lines, so that everyone can agree on who came in first. In the early days of Wal-Mart, for instance, Sam Walton arranged competitions among store managers to identify those whose stores had the highest profitability.
Each store in the Nordstrom clothing chain posts rankings of its salespeople, based on their sales per hour, for each pay period. Nonetheless, it often can be difficult to measure expert performance—for example, in projects that take months or even years to complete and to which dozens of individuals may contribute.
Expert leadership is similarly difficult to assess.
Most leadership challenges are highly complex and specific to a given company, which makes it hard to compare performance across companies and situations. One methodology we use to deal with these challenges is to take a representative situation and reproduce it in the laboratory.
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For example, we present emergency room nurses with scenarios that simulate life-threatening situations. Testing methodologies can be devised for creative professions such as art and writing, too. Researchers have studied differences among individual visual artists, for instance, by having them produce drawings of the same set of objects. Other researchers have designed objective tasks to measure the superior perceptual skills of artists without the help of judges. To people who have never reached a national or international level of competition, it may appear that excellence is simply the result of practicing daily for years or even decades.
However, living in a cave does not make you a geologist.
Not all practice makes perfect. You need a particular kind of practice— deliberate practice —to develop expertise. When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. In the early phases, you try to understand the basic strokes and focus on avoiding gross mistakes like driving the ball into another player.
You practice on the putting green, hit balls at a driving range, and play rounds with others who are most likely novices like you. In a surprisingly short time perhaps 50 hours , you will develop better control and your game will improve. Your golf game now is a social outing, in which you occasionally concentrate on your shot. From this point on, additional time on the course will not substantially improve your performance, which may remain at the same level for decades.
Why does this happen? If you were allowed to take five to ten shots from the exact same location on the course, you would get more feedback on your technique and start to adjust your playing style to improve your control. In fact, professionals often take multiple shots from the same location when they train and when they check out a course before a tournament. This kind of deliberate practice can be adapted to developing business and leadership expertise. The classic example is the case method taught by many business schools, which presents students with real-life situations that require action.
Because the eventual outcomes of those situations are known, the students can immediately judge the merits of their proposed solutions. In this way, they can practice making decisions ten to 20 times a week. War games serve a similar training function at military academies.
Such mock military operations sharpen leadership skills with deliberate practice that lets trainees explore uncharted areas. You often hear that a key element of leadership and management is charisma, which is true. Being a leader frequently requires standing in front of your employees, your peers, or your board of directors and attempting to convince them of one thing or another, especially in times of crisis. A surprising number of executives believe that charisma is innate and cannot be learned.
Yet if they were acting in a play with the help of a director and a coach, most of them would be able to come across as considerably more charismatic, especially over time. In fact, working with a leading drama school, we have developed a set of acting exercises for managers and leaders that are designed to increase their powers of charm and persuasion. Executives who do these exercises have shown remarkable improvement. So charisma can be learned through deliberate practice. Bear in mind that even Winston Churchill, one of the most charismatic figures of the twentieth century, practiced his oratory style in front of a mirror.
Genuine experts not only practice deliberately but also think deliberately. I never just walk up and hit the ball. We actually track this kind of thought process in our research. We present expert performers with a scenario and ask them to think aloud as they work their way through it. Chess players, for example, will describe how they spend five to ten minutes exploring all the possibilities for their next move, thinking through the consequences of each and planning out the sequence of moves that might follow it.
They continually work to eliminate their weaknesses. Deliberate practice involves two kinds of learning: improving the skills you already have and extending the reach and range of your skills. The enormous concentration required to undertake these twin tasks limits the amount of time you can spend doing them.
If you practice with your fingers, no amount is enough. If you practice with your head, two hours is plenty. It is interesting to note that across a wide range of experts, including athletes, novelists, and musicians, very few appear to be able to engage in more than four or five hours of high concentration and deliberate practice at a time. In fact, most expert teachers and scientists set aside only a couple of hours a day, typically in the morning, for their most demanding mental activities, such as writing about new ideas. While this may seem like a relatively small investment, it is two hours a day more than most executives and managers devote to building their skills, since the majority of their time is consumed by meetings and day-to-day concerns.
This difference adds up to some hours more a year, or about 7, hours more a decade. Think about what you could accomplish if you devoted two hours a day to deliberate practice. Experts who reach a high level of performance often find themselves responding automatically to specific situations and may come to rely exclusively on their intuition. Experts may not recognize this creeping intuition bias, of course, because there is no penalty until they encounter a situation in which a habitual response fails and maybe even causes damage.
Research has shown that musicians over 60 years old who continue deliberate practice for about ten hours a week can match the speed and technical skills of year-old expert musicians when tested on their ability to play a piece of unfamiliar music. Snead, who died in , held the record for winning the most PGA Tour events and was famous for having one of the most beautiful swings in the sport.
Deliberate practice was a key to his success. By now it will be clear that it takes time to become an expert.
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