The path to knowledge is not as straightforward as many believe it to be. Practice is the base of any journey towards expertise. Malcolm Gladwell famously coined the “10,000 hours rule”, in which 10,000 hours of practice are required to become an expert in any field. While the sentiment that expertise or knowledge is the result of persistent practice holds true, it’s important to understand that the type of practice is key.
“Expertise in most any field is the result of “deliberate practice”, which is distinguished from other kinds of practice in several ways: it requires constant analysis and feedback, a good teacher at the start to ground the learner in the basics, deep focus, and consistently pushing against the edge of one’s abilities.”
– K. Anders Ericsson
Aspiring thought leaders should aim to employ a more sophisticated approach. Mindlessly performing the same task over and over again in order to reach a time quota is not as effective as practice with reflection, otherwise known as “deliberate practice”. This is where reflective analysis is key. Reflective analysis is the act of analyzing your performance in hindsight, identifying areas of improvement and crafting goals that will help you achieve this. Combining both deliberate practice and reflective analysis is key to making the biggest improvements over a short space of time.
Often sport is used to demonstrate the importance of this process. In sports like 100 meter sprinting, where margins of a fraction of a second can determine the winner, this is especially important. Sprinters will analyze every aspect of their running form, then adjust accordingly to cut off milliseconds. Careful scrutiny, adjustment, and practice are needed in order to move from simply being knowledgeable, to becoming a thought leader.
Equally, feedback from current leaders in the field you wish to join is fundamental for growth. Seasoned professionals can offer advice on what type of practice you should pursue and how to tweak your current modes of practice to maximize results. Mentors are able to share professional expertise with would-be experts that cannot be found in books or picked up through reflective analysis. They are able to highlight aspects of your performance that only a trained eye can. Mentors have years of experience, which is something that cannot be taught, thus making their insight invaluable.
However, you should be cautious in becoming over-reliant on a mentor, they should only act as a guiding hand that mostly introduces the basics. Much practice and learning needs to be done individually. A good work ethic is essential in this journey, but it must be coupled with analysis and feedback from those with experience if you want to make the step from being an informed bystander to a knowledge leader. Finally, you should recognize that deliberate practice as a whole, is an unending process that should always be done to ensure growth.
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