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How you become an Expert Entrepreneur – backed by science

What makes someone an expert entrepreneur and how can I become one? This is the question I wanted an answer to when I started my first business some twenty years ago. We all want to increase the likelihood of success, right? Well it turns out that the science of expertise has an answer that is worthwhile reflecting on if we are serious about what we want to accomplish.   

Most people would answer that become an outstanding entrepreneurs you need an appetite for risks, high intelligence and the ability to hustle but a whole stream of research shows that its more likely to be the result of something entirely different. Something that is accessible to anyone but very few actually focus on. If you aspire to become an expert this is what science says you should do.

The making of an Expert in any field 

Studies on experts in many different fields have come to the conclusion that outstandingly high performance is a result of something called Deliberate Practice. It has been shown to be much more crucial than talent as well as mere experience to explain the success of world class chess masters, concert violinists, athletes, surgeons and scientists among others. So what is it? Well basically it is a continuos focus on effectively improving specific aspects of an individuals competence.

Research on expert performance shows that Deliberate Practice consists of eight characteristics, ranging from being fully absorbed in what you do, repeating it many times over a long period, being self-observing and self-reflecting as well as analyzing feedback in relation to predetermined goals. It requires a lot of effort on a meta-level and is quite different from mere experience or practice. The result is an ability among experts to evaluate incoming information, conduct mental simulations and make superior decisions under difficult conditions. It also involves being able to direct attention to what is most important and to recognize complex patterns and their meaning quickly. The benefits of Deliberate Practice seems surprisingly similar across many different fields but can it be applied on entrepreneurs? The two entrepreneurship researchers Robert Baron and Rebecca Henry says Yes.

You can become an expert entrepreneur (and it’s going to be worth it)

One challenge is that entrepreneurs most often are generalists and it might not be obvious what skills to practice. It takes a bit more effort to identify the critical skills you need as an entrepreneur than in a sport as golf or tennis. The traditional view of practicing a narrowly defined task over and over again is however not the only way that aspring world class entrepreneurs could apply Deliberate Practice. Instead they may engage in a variety of activities and it is the variety and the attitude of competence improvement to these activities that leads to expertise. And perhaps it is the fact that the path to entrepreneurial excellence takes more effort to uncover is what makes it so rewarding for the ones that try. The ones that try are likely to be ones that stand out from the crowd and become the experts in this field also.

When an important concept is overlooked or ignored by most of the actors that is usually the time when the upside is the highest. Using Deliberate Practice could give you an essential advantage and significantly better performance than your competitors. Outstanding entrepreneurs do not succeed just by working more hours than their peers they first and foremost spend the hours more wisely, recognizing that building a company is a marathon and not a sprint.

Do this now
In summary this is the advice I would give to someone serious about becoming a world class entrepreneur:

  • Always bring presence and awareness to your work, particularly your decisions.
  • Honestly evaluate weaknesses in essential skills and set learning goals in these areas.
  • Keep a progress journal. Write down observations and reflections on your own learning in relation to your goals.
  • Always collect feedback on the outcome as well as the process and discuss how to improve with a peer, coach or mentor.
  • Always be learning! Starting, running and owning a business is a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow that will have benefits not just in your business.

Want more on this subject?
1) “How entrepreneurs acquire the capacity to excel: insights from research on expert performance” Robert A. Baron and Rebecca A. Henry, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal (2010).
2) “The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance” K. Anders Ericsson, Neil Charness, Paul J. Feltovich and Robert R. Hoffman Cambridge University Press (2006).

A Quote to ponder on:
”If you don’t know how to think you will always be a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest” – 
Charlie Munger