Category Archives: Experts


The Hungry Mind

brain_in_profile_Clipart_FreeI recently read an article by Kaufman, Openness to Experience and Creative Achievement, that stated that “Openness to experience– the drive for cognitive exploration of inner and outer experience– is the personality trait most consistently associated with creativity.”

He ran a variety of tests to determine several aspects of openness, two of which seemed most pertinent to creativity in science/inventions: IQ, and Intellectual Engagement.

He defined Intellectual Engagement as those with a “drive to engage in ideas, rational thought, and the search for truth.”  and stated that these types of individuals tend to be more industrious, assertive, and persevering, and are more likely to seek out variety, question traditions, try new food/activities, appreciate reading, solve puzzles, and debating.

The surprising result of his research was that while IQ and Intellectual Engagement were related, it was Intellectual Engagement that was the better predictor of creativity.  In other words, just because you are smart, doesn’t mean that you are creativity, whereas, if you are constantly seeking out knowledge, you’re more likely to be creative, regardless of IQ.  (But it certainly helps to have both a high IQ and a high level of Intellectual Engagement).

This same conclusion was reached in the academic environment, by von Stumm, Hell and Chamorro-Premuzic (2011), The Hungry Mind : Intellectual Curiosity Is the Third Pillar of Academic Performance

If you’d like to test your own openness, try this quiz at:

10 Tricks to Improve Memory

MethodofLociI found this short article and kept forgetting to post it! There are a couple of fun tips to improving your memory–some of them based on significant research and repeated results. Based on what I’ve read, the best is the “Method of Loci”.  Read the article here.

Learn Anything in 20 Hours

I recently watched a TED talk by Josh Kaufman on how to learn anything in 20 hours. This thinking seems to directly contradict previous research that has postulated that 10,000 hours are needed. However, the two are one in the same. To become an expert at something (world-class or well-known in your field), you need to spend about 10,000 hours.  However, to go from knowing nothing about a topic to become somewhat proficient, you only need 20 hours.  This may not seem like a lot of time, but it is–about 45 minutes a day for a month.   In some respects, he is applying the 80-20 rule in his learning, arguing that you can get to the 80% proficiency level with about 20% of effort.  His 20 hours spent also has a few caveats as well to make the learning process more efficient.

He suggests that there are 4 steps:

  1. Deconstruct the skill:  By this he means that you need to find the most important things to practice first.  For example, in learning how to play the ukulele, he discovers that you really only have to learn 4 major chords, and that most every song during the last several decades can be played with just those 4 chords.  In my opinion, this is probably the most difficult element of his approach because it requires some advanced thinking.  He had to some digging to discover that only 4 chords were required and which chords they were.  Without this “nugget” he would have faced a daunting task learning thousands of chords.
  2. Self-correct:  Once you start practicing, you need to know when you make a mistake so that you can stop and correct yourself.  With a musical instrument, you need to ability to determine whether the notes you are playing sound right.  If you were learning a foreign language, you would need to hear the words repeated properly.  To self-correct, you need references and other materials.
  3. Remove the barriers to learning:  You need to eliminate distractions from your study time.  While not explicitly stated, the study time should be uninterrupted.  Remove yourself from your phone, the internet, television, and other distractions.   Your brain needs to be completely absorbed by the practice.
  4. Practice at least 20 hours:  My guess is that spreading the learning out over a month is probably the right amount of time for your brain to process the new information.  45 minutes per day for a month is not too time consuming, but does allow for enough practice.  In another blog post I wrote, Practice makes perfect, the research suggested that switching learning methods after a similar duration was effective in the same way.

Of course, should you want to improve your skills, then the same amount of studying time will yield smaller and smaller improvements–but that is why 10,000 hours are required to get the other 20% of the 80-20 rule.  I would guess that if you stopped practicing after your 20 hours, that you would rapidly lose the knowledge that you’ve gained during the process.  Finally, Josh mentions this in his talk, but he states that the major barrier to learning a new skill is emotion and not intelligence.  This implies that you are highly motivated to learn the new skill.  In this talk, he played the ukulele, completing his 20th hour of practice.  He stated a strong desire to learn to play the ukulele, and I imagine since he “practiced” in front of live audience while giving a TED talk, he was highly motivated to make a good impression.  You would have to have similar motivation for success in 20 hours.

Learning Strategies

In a study  by Nandagopal and Ericsson trying to determine how and why high performing student succeed, the authors looked at the use of self-regulated learning strategies in a group of advanced undergraduate students.  They selected students/courses that indicated that the students were actively picking in-depth study in order to eliminate unmotivated students.  (They selected advanced bioscience students/courses as opposed to entry level students/courses).

They asked the students to keep daily study diaries, and then grouped the study strategies into  six main categories: self-regulating (self-assessing, goal-setting, and planning), organizing, seeking information, mnemonic usage, seeking social assistance (for instance, seeking assistance from peers, tutors, and professors), and reviewing(reviewing prior problems, notes, textbook, and such). They compared the diary entries between high, average, and low-achieving students (as indicated by their GPA).

While they found that high-achieving students tended to employ a larger number of learning strategies, the most important strategies for predicting final grades were:

  1. Seeking information,
  2. Reviewing the textbook, and
  3. Seeking assistance from peers during the midterm week.

Here is a summary of the learning strategies as adapted by Zimmerman, B. J., & Martinez-Pons, M. (1986). Development of a structured interview for assessing student use of self-regulated learning strategies. American Educational Research Journal, 23, 614–628:

1) Self-evaluating: Statements indicating student-initiated evaluations of the quality of progress of their work, i.e., I check over my work to make sure I did it right.

2) Organizing and transforming: Statements indicating student-initiated overt or covert rearrangement of instructional materials to improve on learning, e.g., I make an outline before I write my paper.

3) Goal setting and planning: Statements indicating students setting of educational goals or sub-goals and planning for sequencing, timing and completing activities related to those goals, e.g., First I start studying 2 weeks before exams, and I pace myself.

4) Seeking information: Statements indicating student-initiated efforts to secure further task information from nonsocial sources when undertaking an assignment, e.g., Before beginning to write the paper, I go to the library to get as much information as possible concerning the topic.

5) Keeping records and monitoring: Statements indicating student-initiated efforts to record events or results, e.g., I took notes of the class discussion. I kept a list of the words I got wrong.

6) Environment restructuring: Statements indicating student-initiated efforts to select or arrange the physical setting to make learning easier, e.g., I turned off the radio so I can concentrate on what I’m doing.

7) Self-consequences: Statements indicating arrangement or imagination of rewards or punishment for success or failure, e.g., If I do well on a test, I treat myself to a movie.

8) Rehearsing and memorizing: Statements indicating student-initiated efforts to memorize material by overt or covert practice, e.g., In preparing for a math test, I keep writing the formula down until I remember it.

9–11) Seeking social assistance: Statements indicating student-initiated efforts to solicit help from peers (9), teacher (10), and adults (11), e.g., If I have problems with the math assignments, I ask a friend to help.

12–14) Reviewing records: Statements indicating student-initiated efforts to re-read tests (12), notes (13), or textbook (14) to prepare for class or further testing, e.g., When preparing for a test, I review my notes.

Practice makes perfect

Practice creates expertise

Practice creates expertise

I found an interesting research paper about the effect practicing (learning) has on expertise. The paper analyzed the differences between good and excellent violin players, considering all types of variables such as practice time, teachers, frequency, and success. While you might expect that more practice would yield greater results, it was only partially true. They found that top performers practiced no more than 4 hours per day, in no more than 80-120 minute sessions, with a break between sessions. Those who practiced more, did not get “better”, but rather burned out–so knowing your limits is important. When looking at all areas (not just violin players), they also found that athletes work most intensely in the mid-afternoon, and that scientists and novelists almost uniformly prefer the morning. I think this research also confirms, to some extent, the need to balance work and play, as they demonstrated that practicing more actually yielded less. However, the “play” time for most of the top people was spent within the domain of expertise. So, while the violin players weren’t practicing more than 4 hours per day, they were spending their other time in other related activities such as competitions, or group playing.

In another article discussing the same types of skills needed to become an expert, they found that although natural talent is helpful in achieving expertise, that overall determination and practice time is a better determinant in success.


There are very few companies in the world that have had more success than Microsoft, headed by the worlds richest man. Thinking about this company is to think about everything that it has touched, and it still innovates the way that we consider software. Without Microsoft, there would be fewer applications for computers, and a lot less people who have made genius out of some of the products that this corporation has engineered.

If one is to examine the PC, one will easily find that nearly all of their applications are engineered by Microsoft. Above this, there is something to be said about the management, which is comprised of some of the most brilliant minds the industry will know. Another thing about the corporation is that they do not have fear in expanding into newer markets. Consider their foray into the video game industry with the Xbox. At the time, this was a field dominated by Nintendo and Sony, yet the Xbox debuted and held its own with improved graphical performance.

Something else noteworthy about Microsoft is that they are very willing to change strategies according to the market, and this is performed in a way that is unparalleled and uncontested in the case of similar corporations.

Innovation Requires “Me” Time

What creates an atmosphere where creative ideas can flow? Where innovation is second nature? It can feel impossible to innovate because we are so preoccupied with the mundane daily tasks that fill our time.

It’s important to take care of payroll and be sure people are paid. It may be important to talk with product development and keep a handle on what’s going on there are all kinds of things that take our time in the day-to-day functioning of the business.

However, it’s impossible to really think creatively with so much noise going on all of the time. You also need to take some “me” time, or some time off from the routine, and contemplate your problems with an innovative mindset.

Innovation is by definition a creative process. Being too caught up in just staying ahead of the next meeting means that we never get to step back from problems and consider innovative solutions.

That’s why, even when it seems too busy, a good manager, a good innovator, will take some time for him/her self and just step back to mull things over.
Write the problem down, brainstorm with yourself, and bring someone else in, if it helps. Give yourself time to simply stew over it. You’ll come up with ideas and new approaches that you won’t think of in the midst of a rush.
Take time to be innovative.

How to Successfully Lead Innovation

Leading innovation requires a mindset of a facilitator. Nearly every corporation says they need change and innovation in order to survive in today’s business climate, but innovation won’t just happen on its own.

Leading innovation is not something that comes naturally or easily to most leaders. It is challenging to have a broad focus to innovation concede that it can and should emanate from any area in the organization while still channeling and motivating people to look critically at each structure in the company.

Leaders need to remember that innovation is not a separate job description, but is rather something that should be on the minds of everyone. For example, George B. Weathersby notes examples of companies that now have negative energy costs because they found a way to use fuel materials that other businesses paid to dispose of.

Weathersby says leaders should be able to:
Teach employees what attributes of innovation are most valuable to the company
Empower employees to know the role they have in the innovation process
Lead by example show what their priorities are through the way they behave, not just the words they say
Provide the tools necessary for innovation to the people who need them