How Do You Become an "Expert"?


As designers, we typically like to get better at our craft, maybe find a specific focus or niche and of course- learn new skills.

Recently I was listening to the Freakanomics podcast and they had a little series, on self improvement, which I thought you would find helpful or interesting which is why I’m sharing it with you.

In one particular episode, titled “How to Become Great at Just About Anything”

They explored the idea that perhaps the experts we admire, aren’t just naturally talented but work really hard through this idea of deliberate practice. As it turns out, there’s a lot that goes into “Deliberate Practice”.

Let’s start out by defining who is considered an “expert”:

According to Google, “expert” is defined as a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.”

This term covers highly experienced professionals such as doctors, teachers and scientists.

But also includes people who have reached “superior performance” through instruction and this deliberate practice. So this can include artists, athletes, musicians.

One guy, named Eriksson, who was extensively featured on the episode says that because these “experts” make what they’re doing look effortless, we assume it must be natural talent.

However, after a series of studies, scientists have found that these assumptions aren’t necessarily true. Just because you’re born talented doesn’t mean you’ll become an expert. It’s through a lot of hard work.

This means if you’re born without natural talent or abilities - you can still achieve high standards through “deliberate practice”.

Unfortunately what happens, is that most people work towards a level that’s considered “acceptable” and then stay in that comfort zone. To reach “expert level” you need to continue deliberate practice.

These theories on how to become an expert is where that 10,000 hours theory comes from. If you’re unfamiliar with that number, there’s a theory that it takes 10,000 hours to be considered an expert.

There are certainly debates on how accurate this number is, or how much stock you should put into that number. According to one author, this 10,000 hour idea must be understood as an average.

What is deliberate practice? What are some steps you can take to become an expert?

According to Ericsson, you have to get specific. You have to define your goals and to be most effective find a training activity that you can repeat, and refine with each repetition.

Deliberate practice takes place outside your comfort zone, so you have to constantly try things that are just beyond your current abilities.

Ideally you would be guided during this practice, which is why people look for mentors and teachers that help them improve and stretch themselves.

How can we apply these ideas to design or our whatever creative endeavor you have?

It’s important to get specific on what you want to improve. Like Ericsson explains in the interview, if you want to be better at basketball, you can’t just play a pickup game. You have to choose a skill, for example free throw shooting, and consistently work on that specific skill.

This is why people say to learn lettering, trace a lot of letters, or draw one letter in a lot of different ways. And then keep re-drawing it.

It’s also important to share your work, ask for specific feedback and get input from a mentor who is an expert in that particular field.

I hope you found this video helpful, I will have a few additional sources linked below, if this is a topic you’re interested in reading up on. I recc listening to the full episode, I found it interesting and inspiring.

I’ll see you next time, bye!

Freakonomics Episode


Dubner, Stephen J., and Steven. "A Star Is Made." The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 May 2006. Web. 07 June 2016.

Dubner, Stephen J. "How to Become Great at Just About Anything - Freakonomics." Freakonomics. N.p., 27 Apr. 2016. Web. 06 June 2016.

"Expertise." Expertise. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 June 2016