Making of an Expert

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New research shows that outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberate practice and coaching, not of any innate talent or skill.

The Making of an Expert
by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely

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This article is made available to you by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely. Further posting, copying or distributing is copyright infringement.

New research shows that outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberate practice and coaching, not of any innate talent or skill.

The Making of an Expert
by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely

COPYRIGHT © 2007 HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL PUBLISHING CORPORATION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Thirty years ago, two Hungarian educators, László and Klara Polgár, decided to challenge the popular assumption that women don’t succeed in areas requiring spatial thinking, such as chess. They wanted to make a point about the power of education. The Polgárs homeschooled their three daughters, and as part of their education the girls started playing chess with their parents at a very young age. Their systematic training and daily practice paid off. By 2000, all three daughters had been ranked in the top ten female players in the world. The youngest, Judit, had become a grand master at age 15, breaking the previous record for the youngest person to earn that title, held by Bobby Fischer, by a month. Today Judit is one of the world’s top players and has defeated almost all the best male players. It’s not only assumptions about gender differences in expertise that have started to crumble. Back in 1985, Benjamin Bloom, a professor of education at the University of Chicago, published a landmark book, Developing Talent in Young People, which examined the critical fac-

tors that contribute to talent. He took a deep retrospective look at the childhoods of 120 elite performers who had won international competitions or awards in fields ranging from music and the arts to mathematics and neurology. Surprisingly, Bloom’s work found no early indicators that could have predicted the virtuosos’ success. Subsequent research indicating that there is no correlation between IQ and expert performance in fields such as chess, music, sports, and medicine has borne out his findings. The only innate differences that turn out to be significant—and they matter primarily in sports—are height and body size. So what does correlate with success? One thing emerges very clearly from Bloom’s work: All the superb performers he investigated had practiced intensively, had studied with devoted teachers, and had been supported enthusiastically by their families throughout their developing years. Later research building on Bloom’s pioneering study revealed that the amount and quality of practice were key factors in the level of expertise people achieved.

harvard business review • managing for the long term • july–august 2007 This article is made available to you by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely. Further posting, copying or distributing is copyright infringement.

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The Making of an Expert

Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born. These conclusions are based on rigorous research that looked at exceptional performance using scientific methods that are verifiable and reproducible. Most of these studies were compiled in The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, published last year by Cambridge University Press and edited by K. Anders Ericsson, one of the authors of this article. The 900-page-plus handbook includes contributions from more than 100 leading scientists who have studied expertise and top performance in a wide variety of domains: surgery, acting, chess, writing, computer programming, ballet, music, aviation, firefighting, and many others. The journey to truly superior...
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