Becoming an expert is not a mindless application of endless hours of practice. It’s not about doing the same thing over and over again until you get good at it. Being an expert is much more intentional than that. Anyone who is at the top of their game will tell you that’s it’s about learning the right things, not just everything you can.
Experts know that certain principles apply to becoming the best. If you can apply these principles correctly, you’ll speed up your time to becoming an expert, and you’ll improve not just yourself, but the world around you.
You’ve probably heard of the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. Basically, it states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. When applied to expertise, 80% of the results will come from learning 20% of the skills involved. The secret is discovering which 20% to focus on.
The 80/20 rule applies best when you are starting out. Now, to truly become an expert, you’ll need to eventually master more than 20%, but focusing on the biggest returns in learning a new skill early on will save you time and energy later. It’ll also develop a better understanding of effectiveness.
A good example of this is learning a new language. Most languages consist of hundreds of thousands of words, but you only need to use a fraction of those words to easily get by, or to appear fluent. That’s why you can learn a language in a few months.
As you dive deeper into any venture, like running a business, getting in shape, or starting a blog, you’ll see the 80/20 rule become more evident over time. 20% of your clients will bring in 80% of the revenue, 20% of the exercises you do will produce 80% of the results, and 20% of the blogs you post will bring 80% of the traffic.
Knowing does not equal doing.
It’s one thing to know everything there is about basketball. It’s another thing to be good at playing basketball. Expertise is much more about being able to proficiently apply what you know, than it is about just knowing.
It’s also true that you don’t get better at something by learning more about it. Basketball players need to play basketball, or better put, they need to practice basketball.
Skills developed through practice far outweigh knowledge. This is why Google will hire people who didn’t go to college.
You also learn better and much faster by doing than by knowing. For instance, Shane Snow mentions in Smartcuts that children are learning math better by using calculators than by doing it the old fashion way, like memorizing formulas. “By learning the tool (calculator) first, we actually master the discipline (math) faster.”
If you want to become an expert, focus more on doing than knowing.
There’s another step beyond excellence in proficiency.
The people who are truly the experts – those at the very top of their fields – aren’t just great at what they do. They also advance their field. They innovate. They build upon the foundation of the craft and add their own unique level of creativity.
A master pianist does more than play everyone’s musically exceptionally. He writes a new symphony. An author writes a new book. A master marketer finds a new way to reach new audiences. New platforms, methods, and avenues are developed and discovered.
All of these things add value to the world. They make the world a little better, and they set a new bar for the next experts to surpass.