How would you define an expert? Experts tend to be seen as people who are extremely focused in one area and devote much of their time towards gaining and expanding knowledge in their particular subject. Repetitive practice, time and effort is usually thought of as the way to become truly talented and knowledgable in your one field. But is this really the case?
Why Being Too Focused Slows Us Down
While being solely focused on one thing can seem like the logical way to become an expert, it can actually have a detrimental effect on how we gain knowledge efficiently.
By focusing for too long and too much in one area, we are actually stopping ourselves from opening up to different thoughts, perspectives and connected subjects. When our brain enters focused learning mode, it puts all its energy and concentration on the one subject.
This causes us to develop a set framework and mindset to approach a problem and limits our thinking and perspectives. The necessary stimulation that could help you think in new and different ways is hindered therefore, while practice does seem to make perfect, how you approach your practice is key to becoming a true expert.
The Key Learning Mode to Becoming an Expert
There are two major learning modes when it comes to our brain. One is focused learning mode which is when our mind is very concentrated and occupied entirely by the task or subject. The other learning mode is diffused thinking which is when our brain is in a more relaxed, free-flowing state and it’s in this mode that we can get inspiration and creative ideas on a subject we didn’t really spend time focusing on.
Diffuse mode takes your attention or pressure off a subject and allows your conscious mind to feel almost mindless. This allows ideas and framework-free, flowing connection within the brain. Focused mode could be doing a marathon study session with no distractions but diffused mode would be implemented through breaks, going for a walk, listening to music or exercising. In other words, taking part in an activity where your mind is seemingly free from focused thought.
How Does This Fit in With Learning Effectively?
Effective learning and becoming an expert isn’t all about focusing on one skill. Real experts take a skill they’re good at and use it in different areas.
Paul Graham is a British computer scientist with engineering as his primary skill. However, he’s also managed to become an expert entrepreneur, venture capitalist, author and blogger. He has helped dozens of well-known companies such as Dropbox and Airbnb alongside publishing books and writing dozens of articles on various subjects.
What’s the secret to Paul’s success? He takes his engineering expertise but instead of solely focusing on this one skill, he uses the knowledge of engineering concepts to break down problems and suggest solutions for businesses.
The key to becoming an expert is to find connections between the framework of your expertise and other areas, applying the concepts to new things. By doing this, you can create new solutions and help yourself to practice your expertise at the same time.
The ability to utilise fundamental skills makes you the true expert
Steve Jobs didn’t just limit himself to computer science, he constantly reached to outgrow himself by thinking of unique and original elements that added value to his expertise. He made the realisation that computers shouldn’t just be a tool but could have the potential to be stylish and beautifully designed making them fashionable, everyday items. Combining these two concepts of design and engineering is how the MacBook was created and this thinking is exactly how Apple manage to outgrow their competitors every time.
Becoming an expert and focusing on those sets of skills is crucial for basic success. But what will make you grow and become even more successful is allowing yourself to learn new things that stimulate your thinking. This constant evolving new ideas is how you progress your learning in your expertise.
Becoming an expert is about combining ideas that help create innovative out-of-the-box solutions. The key is, when learning something new, ask yourself how can I apply this to what I already know? By doing this you stop being stagnant and you create new pathways that can take you to new heights and successes.
Featured photo credit: matthew Feeney via unsplash.com