In this blog we hear the views of Mark Hammer. Mark is a psychologist working in the Canadian public sector, with a longstanding interest in expertise, wisdom, and adult cognition in general. Here are his thoughts on this recent research, expertise, and the importance of coaching.
I've read the Macnamara et al. paper. One of the more interesting things it shows is that the correlation between the amount of identified practice and expertise tends to be greater when we are talking about more systematic domains of expertise with a more easily delimited set of skills. These also tend to be more physical domains (sports, musical performance) than analytic ones (professions).
One of the things the article sidesteps (probably because such things are extremely hard to measure with any reliability) is off-line mental rehearsal and rehashing. Pondering the choices one could have made in one's skill domain often occupies an enormous amount of time; little of it being what we would think of as “on-line”. This is often the very basis of expertise and the connecting together of the knowledge base that lies at the heart of expertise. When there are motor skills involved as part of those choices, the automatization of those motor aspects does rely more on actual practice. Not that off-line reflection is unimportant in those domains, but practice is that much more critical.
I had a nice chat with Neil Charness about 20 years back, concerning expertise. Neil is a member of the center on expertise that Anders Ericsson heads up. One of the things he noted was the conjunction of coaches and learner in developing prodigies.
What identifies great coaches is that they assist in developing prodigies - experts in some domain, distinguished by their comparatively early achievement – by the manner in which they structure and sequence the practice and experiences the prodigy receives. That is, the coach goes beyond simply motivating the learner. This structured experience facilitates deeper skill-learning; by engineering what many in pedagogy refer to as "the teachable moment.” Lev Vygotsky, the Soviet Belarusian psychologist, talked about the "zone of proximal development" in which the child is pushed just a bit beyond what they currently know, to nest other concepts within that existing framework, or possibly adjust their schemas.
And therein lies the difference that many folks just don't seem to get. Expertise depends very much on experiencing the right things at the right time such that the knowledge base is constructed and connected in a far more effective manner. Practice alone doesn't do it; rather it is the manner in which existing knowledge is leveraged:
- by practice
- by fortuitous learning opportunities
- by structured/guided learning opportunities.
This need for "the stars to align" to leverage existing knowledge is why we can, at once, have people who make tremendous strides quickly, and others who bash away for a long, long time without making progress, thus degrading the correlation between practice and performance. For me, the principles underlying "the 10,000 hour rule" are not severely challenged by the Mcnamara et al. meta-analysis. But it does assist me in becoming more expert about expertise.
I found Mark’s comments very insightful.
1. Clearly the meta-analysis underscores the importance of deliberate practice in sports and musical performance, activities with more physical components.
2. Mark’s point about “off-line mental rehearsal” seems right on. This is or probably should be a large part of professional practice, mentally rehearsing the presentation, the sales talk, the disciplining of an employee. Role play is insufficient. One must do the mental homework.
3. The value of coaching. We usually think of coaching related to sports. Increasingly I see this as one of the most important functions of a leader. A leader can grow people through effective coaching.
4. Being an expert is a way of developing one’s influence. Mark’s comments, in bold above, sum up what it takes to become an expert. He has provided a very useful formula that can be applied to make anyone more effective.
My thanks to Mark for contributing to this discussion of the 10,000 hour rule.
Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T. & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100 (3) 363-406.
Macnamara, B. N., Hambrick, D. Z., & Oswald, F. L. (2014). Deliberate practice and performance in music, games, sports, education, and professions: A meta-analysis. Psychological Science, 25(8), 1608-1618.
Image: "The Ballgame" ©John Ballard, 2013. All rights reserved.