Recent reviews (Ericsson, 1996, 1998b, 2001; Ericsson & Lehmann, 1996) dispel the common belief that “talented” expert performers attain very high levels of performance virtually automatically through cumulative domain-related experience.
Instead, empirical evidence strongly implies that even the most “talented” individuals in a domain must spend over ten years actively engaging in particular practice activities (deliberate practice) that lead to gradual improvements in skill and adaptations that increase performance.
The acquisition of expert performance can be described as a sequence of mastered challenges with increasing levels of difficulty, such as playing pieces of music, performing challenging gymnastic routines, and solving complex mathematical problems. Different levels of mastery present the learner with different kinds of problems that must be solved for the skill to develop further. And each individual’s path toward skilled performance is distinct; it depends on when technical challenges were encountered and the specific methods used to help the individuals continue their development.
When beginners are first introduced to a domain of expertise they can successfully perform only the most simple tasks and activities. With the aid of instruction and training many individuals are able to master increasingly difficult tasks, thus gradually improving and slowly approaching the level of expert performers.
The incremental nature of gaining mastery means that tasks that were initially impossible to perform can be executed effortlessly as increased skill is attained. When an individual attempts to perform a task that is too difficult, his or her available repertoire of methods and skills is insufficient to perform the task successfully. When motivated individuals strive to overcome obstacles and master prerequisite aspects of a given task, they must engage in problem solvingExcerpt from Davidson, J., & Sternberg, R. (Eds.). (2003). The Psychology of Problem Solving. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511615771