Traits of the Greats

Posted by in Articles | September 23, 2011

In fields from medicine to music, extensive research has revealed a consistent set of characteristics attributable to individuals who consistently outperform their peers. Further, in these studies, it was experience, knowledge and deliberate practice that accounted for one’s level of expertise more so than talent or inherent characteristics. In other words, experts are made, not born. For those aspiring to improve their performance proficiency, these traits offer a guide for improving what you do and how you do it.

Extensive and Explicit Knowledge
It takes at least 10 years of intense preparation and practice for an expert to acquire the skills, knowledge and perspectives that allow them to perform at the highest levels. Their knowledge is drawn from many sources, including those outside their field of expertise. An expert has a thirst and passion for learning all they can from anywhere they can in order to help them perform better. While areas outside their scope of expertise are often and regularly tapped, experts’
knowledge is largely confined to their explicit area of interest.

Analytic Observation Powers
It is often thought that an expert sees things the rest of us do not. This does not, however, appear to be the case. Experts see as much as anyone else, but what they see is highly selective and focused on critical performance criteria. In
other words, they see more relevant detail when surveying a situation of interest. Accurate assessment and the ability to extrapolate the significance of their observations are skills keenly developed in experts. Because they understand the
significance of what they see and have experience with similar situations, an expert is often able to predict future occurrences, anticipate potential problems, and make inferences from the information the perceived.

Problem Assessment and Solutions
In contrast to novices, experts invest significant time in:

a) defining the problem
b) isolating factors causing problem (not symptoms)
c) identifying constraints in finding solutions
d) evaluating the adequacy of possible solutions

Thus, they are able to solve problems more thoroughly. In solving problems, experts also develop a series of contingency plans, so if the first solution is inadequate, they can assess, make adjustments and go with a second solution, or even a third or fourth. Due to their extensive knowledge and substantial experience, experts more often than not rely on an acutely developed intuitive sense in making decisions.

Rituals and Routines
The practice skills and behavior patterns of experts allow them to perform their everyday tasks with fluidity, elegance, and ease. These effortless appearing performances, characteristic of experts, often attract envy, but those skills were
well won in tireless hours of sustained and deliberate practice. Superior performers strive to do what they do well. In the process, repeated behavior patterns become subconscious, automatic routines. The highly refined routines permit the expert to work through the every day tasks with little thought, which leaves conscious thought available for more important or pressing issues.

They Remember
The rehearsed routines characteristic of an expert’s behavior have the added benefit of freeing up short-term memory for more information storage. In other words, because an expert gives little attention to details taken care of by routines, he or she can hold more critical details in short term memory, which allows them to be more effective in performing the tasks at hand. When new information comes to the expert, it is evaluated for its’ potential usefulness, uniqueness and validity. In contrast to a novice who traditionally thinks “do I need to know this?” and expert will ask, “how can I use this?” Because they evaluate and value the fresh information, experts remember.

Self Evaluation Skills
Experts are unafraid to recognize their limitations, knowledge gaps and weaknesses. It was from recognizing and strengthening many of these deficiencies that led to them becoming experts. Experts are masters at assessing a situation to determine which problems will be most difficult for them to solve, weighing the adequacy of the solutions, and are keenly aware of the errors made and why they were made. They know they will make mistakes and willingly learn
from them. The search for improvement begins with understanding what needs to be improved. By objectively and honestly assessing and identifying skill and knowledge deficiencies, and then taking corrective actions, the best get better.

© Copyright Performance Matters, Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author – Paul G. Schempp

Dr. Schempp, president of Performance Matters, Inc., is a professional speaker, coach and consultant. Paul has more than 25 years of experience in the fields of research, teaching and professional development. Individuals and organizations in business, education and sport have elevated their expertise and achieved exceptional performance by working with Dr. Schempp.

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