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Book Review: Expertise Matters

The book is particularly relevant for us in India because we as a nation are obsessed with collecting degrees and certificates. Expertise matters less than the pedigree of degrees we can display


How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

The answer: Practice, practice, practice.

If you have not heard that one then you have certainly been told as a child, “Practice makes a man (or woman) perfect.”

What if I told you that both the sayings are wrong? Maybe I should say that they misguide you to believe that if you practice, there is no reason for you not to be at the top of your vocation. The reality is that practice does not help you achieve perfection — “deliberate practice” does.

When we watch the gasp-inducing performance by Ustad Zakir Hussain on the tabla, we ascribe it to his being the son of tabla maestro Ustad Allah Rakha. When we hear Lata Mangeshkar sing that perfect note or watch Sachin Tendulkar, we ascribe it to them being extremely “talented”. That is so not true, says Geoff Colvin, editor-at-large, Fortune and the author of Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. What these maestros have done is “deliberate practice”. If you asked any of them about “deliberate practice” they would shake their head and perhaps tell you, “I have heard of practice, but never heard of deliberate practice.”

Colvin systematically deconstructs this magic potion. So, how does it work? Here are a few pointers:

Get yourself a coach: The coach must know the latest methods of developing people in that field. That explains why every top achiever has a coach or guru. Everyone who is a top performer is not necessarily a great coach. Being able to coach someone requires special skills. The coach must be able to do an honest assessment of the protégé’s skills and stretch the person beyond their comfort zone.

The task must be repeatable: The coach must isolate the specific action that has to be fixed. The wrinkle that must be ironed out must be isolated and the protégé works on just that wrinkle till it is perfected. Then move on to address the next problem area. This kind of practice is emotionally demanding and not very enjoyable. It is exhausting. During the day, doing two or three stretches of an hour of deliberate practice will leave the student drained out mentally and physically.

Continuous feedback: Regular practice coupled with feedback that is brutally honest is what drives change. This is what improves performance. During “deliberate practice”, the protégé must be prepared to hear that even after a hundred or a thousand attempts the outcome is still not perfect and repeatable. If hearing such feedback damages your self-worth, then deliberate practice is not for you.

The book is particularly relevant for us in India because we as a nation are obsessed with collecting degrees and certificates. Expertise matters less than the pedigree of degrees we can display. The most popular teachers are the ones who can “predict” the questions that are likely to be asked in the exam. It is common to see protests against a “difficult” exam where everyone does not sail through. For a nation obsessed with cricket, it probably makes sense to compare Vinod Kambli and Sachin Tendulkar. Both started off at the same level. Kambli wavered and fell off the charts. Sachin Tendulkar did his 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” under the eagle-eyed coach Ramakant Achrekar. Sachin is proof that talent is overrated. Deliberate practice wins every time.

Talent is Overrated is an interesting read for all those who coach and for everyone who dreams of perfection in their craft. I absolutely loved it.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Abhijit Bhaduri

Bhaduri s a digital transformation coach, keynote speaker and author. His latest book is The Digital Tsunami

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