More about achieving expertise…

Since March 2013 I’m enrolled with Coursera in a Duke University writing module: “Writing composition I: Achieving expertise” lead by Professor Denise Comer. The main objective is practice writing in English exploring what expertise is and how this level could be achieved in different fields.

In a previous post, I published my first project: a critical review of Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code. Now, along this line, I post my second project about visual analysis in which I use an image to support the previous thesis about expertise and its process. Here it is!!!

How to become an expert

Daniel Coyle, the journalist and New York Times bestselling author, wrote in 2009 The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown. Here’s how. Coyle’s argument is that talent does not exist. At least, talent understood as “the possession of repeatable skills” indicator of long-term success (pg 11). For Coyle the innate potential certain people has, is not the way to become an expert in a field. For him the only way to achieve expertise is through practice. Of course, natural ability is important but it is nothing without hard work. Deep practice is the secret to improve performance. An adequate practice, that “microsecond for struggle” (pg. 17) is the surest way to reach perfection. Coyle even dares to propose an “intriguing possibility” (pg. 19), that practice is the building block that creates talent.


The image[1] is a description of how to become an expert. The chart depicts the relation between the level of ability and time necessary to get expertise in any activity. In the vertical axes, it depicts ability, the possession of the qualities required to do something; necessary skill, competence, or power, as it is defined in the Collins Concise English Dictionary. It measures the degree of ability from cero, struggling and frustrating level, to expert level where the practitioner always is in flow. There are also two ability levels which constitute thresholds, important turning points, in the way to expertise: low-level and medium-level. In horizontal axes, the graph illustrates the time of practice in the activity in which to become an expert. So, it describes Coyle’s idea that practice along time is the key variable in getting this expertise.

There are three types of practitioners, represented in the diagram by lines which described the evolution of practice. The “drop-out” is someone who practices little time and with low intensity, indicated by the slope of the line. This type of practitioner gives up quickly the practice and abandons the activity without reaching relevant level of ability. The “amateur” practice intensively for a sufficient period of time, going through the low-level threshold to reach levels of ability that permits quality performance. The main difference between the amateur and “the expert” is that the second one maintains the intensity of practice during a much longer time. The expert goes beyond the medium-level threshold maintaining the intensity of practice to improve permanently.

Geoffrey Colvin, in his article “What it takes to be great” published in 2006 in CNN Money, agrees with Coyle is this idea that “an enormous amount of hard work over many years” (Colvin, pg. 1) is necessary to achieve greatness. Both of them support the “myth-of-talent hypothesis”. Both of them justify deep practice, as Coyle names it (Coyle pg.18) or deliberate practice, in words of Colvin as the base of expertise. So, anyone can reach expertise through hard work, work “of a particular type that’s demanding and painful (Colvin, pg. 1).

The steepness of the line in the graph show us that experts practice always with high intensity, focused on improving and learning from errors. Any task related with practice is an improvable skill that will lead to learning and better performance. As Caroline Kuhn, one of our classmates, has pointed in her Coyle’s critical review the concept of flow defined by Csikszenmihalyi describes really well the type of state in which experts practice. “Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does” (Kuhn, pg.2).


Coyle, Daniel (2009). The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown. Here’s how. London. Bantam;  1st edition.

Colvin, Geoffrey (2006). “What it takes to be great , CNN Money.

Kuhn, Caroline (2013): “The bitter sweet spot”. Critical review of Daniel Coyle The Talent Code for Professor Comer Coursera course English composition I: achieving expertise.


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