Achieving expertise also depends on the domain!

Why is there a gap between efforts executives put and the results they get? The linkage between the improvement in one’s skills vis-à-vis the efforts put can be termed as structure of growth.

Last two weeks I was conducting training programs on Effective Value Selling for Capital Equipments which were in the price range of Rs. 50 L to Rs. 1crore.( Approx. $100k-200K) Selling of CNC machines involves considerable technical complexity and the sales engineers need to understand the customer behaviour in a sensitive manner. For most of the participants, I perceived a huge gap between the job role and the skill set possessed.

Remember the adage, practise makes a man perfect. Generally it is assumed that the improvement of a skill is directly proportional to the efforts, time spent and the intelligence of a person which is partially true. But it also depends on the domain in which one is working. Most of the domains may have the following types of growth structure. There are a number of growth structures but the major ones are: Logarithmic, Exponential and Sinusoidal ( Please refer figure: growth figures      )

  1. Logarithmic Growth: Here one tends to get visible results during the initial phases of activity. But the growth becomes harder as you go along. For example, in athletics running 100 metres in 14-15 seconds looks an achievable task for a beginner. Chopping off the next second or two is relatively easy. But to break the 10 second barrier only athletes at international level can achieve. One needs to be an Usain Bolt to reach a figure of 9.79 seconds where the runner up can be behind by just hundredth of a second. Same is true in cricket where a cricketer can scores a century on debut and become a celebrity but then it is only people like Sachin Tendulkar who go on reinventing their styles and techniques even after reaching a few milestones.

The first phase of logarithmic growth is steep and success comes easily. The second phase is like a plateau where the rate of growth slows down considerably. (refer figure a. logarithmic growth)

Thanks partly to media hype, you see such growth in music ( with pop stars, Little Champs in Saregamapa shows etc.) and in sports like IPL Cricket. With some talent and average efforts some people in such domain, become instant celebrities overnight. The real challenge is in phase 2 where you need to maintain your disciplined habits. You need to move away from your regular routine and break away from those habits. You can even develop a technique which may be beyond the textbook. Tiger Woods reinvented his swing in the second phase.

  1. Exponential Growth: There are some fields where one needs to put lot of hard work initially and the results will not be visible for considerable time. Mastering a field like Physics, computer science, music takes a hell lot of time. In the HBR Article titled The Making of an Expert by Anders Ericsson, Michel Pretula and Edward Cokely, the authors propose that to master a particular field it takes around 10,000 hours of systematic efforts. The results may not be visible initially so one needs to have lot of patience (refer figure b. phase 1 of exponential growth ). And one day, a miracle happens. Suddenly things fall in place and what you were struggling all these days and years, the obvious answers are revealed. The pieces of jigsaw puzzle get into the right place. Kekule developed the model of Benzene ring in his dreams by correlating a serpent swallowing his own tail, Einstein worked on his special theory of relativity for a number of years as a clerk in a Swiss patent office. Marie Curie had to process tonnes of pitchblende in inclement weather and in an ordinary laboratory for a number of years before extracting a few milligrams of radium. Science whether applied or pure is a typical example where the structure of growth is exponential. Einstein, Kekule or Marie Curie did not get the success overnight but had enough perseverance to sustain the phase 1
  1. Sinusoidal Growth: Fields like spiritual growth are neither exponential nor logarithmic. You do not start your spiritual journey as your hobby or for earning a livelihood/achieving fame. ( with the exception of fake gurus,babas & bapus ) It only comes out of genuine suffering or existential dilemmas of life. ( Refer figure c. Sinusoidal Growth ) It is said if you have not suffered a breakdown you may not get a breakthrough. Initially you start from a negative state, you may get results for some time, again you fall down and each time you raise the bar. Siddharth Gautam had to experiment with different techniques that were available in his time from the age of 30, and by 36 he realized chasing the techniques itself was a mirage and he was enlightened to realize his Buddha nature.

Each field may have either one or combination of the above growth structures. So to be an expert and an authority in a specific domain, it is not only important what traits you carry ( which is your DNA ) but to see whether there is a synergy between your traits and structure of your domain.

Remember, Vinod Kambli and Sachin Tendulkar had similar talent. Sachin could sustain in the phase 2 of logarithmic growth; Kambli could not.

As a professional remember, a formal education at the university does you no harm, provided you start learning there afterwards. It is simply beyond attending a 2-day company sponsored training program.

One thought on “Achieving expertise also depends on the domain!

  1. Pingback: Achieving expertise also depends on the domain! | Rajan Parulekar

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