How to Have an Expert Mind

There is a very interesting article in the August 2006 issue of Scientific American titled The Expert Mind. The article explains about recent researches in cognitive science which tries to understand how experts think and how people can get such kind of expert mind.

The researches are specialized on chess players for the simple reason that chess-playing strength can objectively be measured (by using the rating system). Hence, it provides the opportunity to learn how people think from all parts of the skill spectrum – from novices to grandmasters. Of course, the results of the research is not meant only to the chess players. Instead, the goal is to find a general pattern that can be applied to all fields.

You can get complete information by reading the article directly, but here I want to give you the key points:

  1. Experts think much more using structured knowledge in their mind rather than using analytical thinking
    This explains how a grandmaster can get the right decision within the first few seconds of thought, while a novice needs much longer time to analyze the situation and still makes the wrong decision. He already has database of similar positions in his mind. This also explains how an expert physician can quickly diagnose a patient and how an experienced curator can quickly “know” whether a work of art is authentic or not (like the example in Blink).
  2. This structured knowledge is built by years of effortful study
    The only way to build this structured knowledge is by studying hard for long period of time. Effortful study marks the difference between experts and others. Effortful study means that someone consistently try to push slightly higher than her current limit of competence.
  3. It takes about ten years of effortful study to become an expert
    Not only a will-be expert must do effortful study, she must do it consistently for long, long period of time. As a general rule of thumb, it takes about ten years of heavy labor to become an expert in any field. There is no shortcut to have an expert mind.
  4. To do this years of effortful study, motivation is a very important factor
    Who can manage to do such hard work consistently for long period of time without strong motivation? Clearly, motivation plays big role here. Motivation makes someone endure the hard years toward expertise.

These points can be illustrated by the diagram below:

The road to expert mind
The conclusion is: experts are made, not born. It’s very motivating for me. It gives hope that any of us can become expert in our field, regardless of our background or innate ability.Of course, as long as we are willing to pay the price.


  1. […] Be consistent To see your knowledge account grows exponentially, you need to “save” and “earn the interest” consistently for long time. So you need to consistently acquire new intellectual capital and apply them. As a rule of thumb, it takes about 10 years of effortful study to have an expert mind. This, of course, requires discipline which in turn comes from motivation. As you can see, there are three factors that determine how big your knowledge account will be: […]

  2. […] do such effortful practice, motivation is important (see the diagram in How to Have an Expert Mind), and that’s why you should choose a motivating […]

  3. […] success; the key to becoming an expert in a chosen field. I found articles in response to or expanding on Philip E. Ross’ article, “The Expert Mind” as well as a series of entries on […]

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