What Really Makes An Expert Superior?

In 1976, Stephen Spurrier, a British wine merchant, organized a wine competition in France called ‘The Judgement of Paris’. The competition’s method incorporated blind wine tasting of French and California wines. Nine experts had been asked to grade ten whites and ten reds, with a scoring out of 20. There were no specific grading guidelines given, so it was on each judge to grade based on their own criteria. In results that shocked the wine industry, Californian wines received the highest amount of votes than the French. What’s even more intriguing is during the blind taste testing, the experts often mistook the French wines for American wines and vice versa.


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Wine Experts Are A Different Type of Expert


The wine industry made two assumptions at the end of the competition:

1) American wines replaced the French wines in superiority.

2) The wine experts were only ‘assumed’ to possess elite knowledge of wine.

The second assumption is what led to a backlash from the consumers. Tastings suggested and critiqued by these experts were no more accurate in distinguishing and testing wines by regular wine drinkers. The competition nevertheless gave Napa Valley a boost in investment, which is a big factor as to why the region is so profound today. Here are some interesting findings of what defines a wine expert (also known as a sommelier) and to how they judge:

– When judging a wine, results are scored off personal opinions, feelings and tastes.
– The differences in personal tastes of the experts are what facilitates a consumers search for a wine
– Wine tastings are influenced by uncontrollable factors (time of day, number of hours since the expert last ate etc.)
– The market for wine would be more open and result in higher consumer benefit if a few expert names of judges weren’t dominating the market.

From the Judgement in Paris and the characteristics of judging, are wine experts really experts? I don’t believe so. They are enthusiasts who possess elite knowledge of different wines. You can look beyond the wine industry and ask yourself this question: What really makes an expert?


What Makes An Expert


Not all practice makes perfect. To continue on the path to expertise, It requires a specific kind. Deliberate practice. When most people apply their actions to a skill type, they focus on what they already know. Deliberate practice is different. It requires specific and meaningful efforts. Those efforts are more dedicated to the things you can’t do well- or even at all. Focusing often on what you can’t do, instead of what you can do will keep you on the path to expertise. Here are some examples:

In sports

– Tennis: Playing tennis when I was younger, I would have a cone set up on the service line. By aiming at the cones, my precision improved and It resulted in more aces.
– Power Lifting: A strength athlete would practice executing a specific movement with only a bar. The continuous practice over time improves the athletes fundamentals, increasing their ability to consistently lift correctly with more weight.

In business

– Learning through the feedback of customers: Receiving feedback is a crucial component in deliberate practice. Organisations can deliberately practice through their customers’ response. They can double down on what resonates with their customers, and fix what doesn’t.

– Growing a business: Decades ago Toyota used to be a middle-sized company. Today, it’s one of the largest in its field. Toyota has used a strategy called ‘kaizen’- the Japanese term for continuous improvement. Toyota urges its employees to be on the constant lookout for small improvements. Each year, it estimates that the company implements a thousand fixes in each of its production lines, resulting in an exponential amount of tiny fixes every year. A business won’t see immediate changes, but over time the results will show.

Deliberate practice involves two types of learning: improving your current skills and expanding on what you already know. The concentration required to perform limits the amount of time spent doing them continuously. A boxer might develop a specific movement pattern they have never done before, but the concentration required to perform limits their ability to perform at a high level for hours on end.


How Long Experts Spend Practicing


Experts will often spend only a few hours a day deliberately working on their craft. Scientists, athletes, teachers, musicians set out a small part of their day for their most mentally demanding activities. While it’s a relatively short amount of time, it is around three hours a day, practicing every day, which leads to expert performance. The consistency adds up to over 1000 hours in one year. Over time, the experience leads to an increase in performance. The type of practice we apply represents how often we will see our performance improve. It makes you wonder if working to societies norm of 40 hours a week is beneficial?


If You Are Seeking Expertise


Of all current experts in their fields, they seem to focus on three things:

– Expanding their skillset: Many people take action, but their action applies to what they only know. Experts will continue to expand on their knowledge and skills to build off what they currently have.
– Practice the fundamentals: Experts will continue to practice the fundamentals. A professional boxer will shadowbox at training to stay sharp in the ring- A fundamental they learned when they were first taught how to box. Experts never lose sight in practicing the skills that got them to where they are.
– There is no finish line: An expert never considers their work done. They will continually strive for more knowledge, continue to practice their skillset and continue on their path- the definition of an expert.


Start Small


Expertise is never a race. It requires dedicated practice to build your skillset. Humans are remarkable in the sense of having the ability to perform in nearly any area of their life if they dedicate themselves the correct way. However, It is hard to act on. The required concentration of deliberate practice requires your commitment to always be experimenting and exploring. The trick is to start small, but be consistent. It is better to build up your focus than to spend a whole day attempting to become an expert.