Usual Storyline

oeuvre

Expertise

Expertise is not a single skill; it is a collection of skills, and the same professional may be highly expert in some of the tasks in her domain while remaining a novice in others. By the time chess players become experts, they have “seen everything” (or almost everything), but chess is an exception in this regard. Surgeons can be much more proficient in some operations than in others. Furthermore, some aspects of any professional’s tasks are much easier to learn than others.

Psychotherapists have many opportunities to observe the immediate reactions of patients to what they say. The feedback enables them to develop the intuitive skill to find the words and the tone that will calm anger, forge confidence, or focus the patient’s attention. On the other hand, therapists do not have a chance to identify which general treatment approach is most suitable for different patients. The feedback they receive from their patients’ long-term outcomes is sparse, delayed, or (usually) nonexistent, and in any case too ambiguous to support learning from experience.

Some regularities in the environment are easier to discover and apply than others. Think of how you developed your style of using the brakes on your car. As you were mastering the skill of taking curves, you gradually learned when to let go of the accelerator and when and how hard to use the brakes.

Curves differ, and the variability you experienced while learning ensures that you are now ready to brake at the right time and strength for any curve you encounter. The conditions for learning this skill are ideal, because you receive immediate and unambiguous feedback every time you go around a bend: the mild reward of a comfortable turn or the mild punishment of some difficulty in handling the car if you brake either too hard or not quite hard enough.

The situations that face a harbor pilot maneuvering large ships are no less regular, but skill is much more difficult to acquire by sheer experience because of the long delay between actions and their manoticeable outcomes. Whether professionals have a chance to develop intuitive expertise depends essentially on the quality and speed of feedback, as well as on sufficient opportunity to practice.

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Jutta Kleinschmidt, 2001 Paris Dakar Champion

Kahneman, Daniel; Thinking Fast and Slow, 234

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This entry was posted on December 25, 2015 by in Review.
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