“The preponderance of psychological evidence indicates that experts are made, not born.” This is the conclusion from Scientific Am., Vol. 295, Aug. 2006 at 64, 71. The article explains how very accomplished thinkers have at the mental ready more “chunked” knowledge – knowledge stored efficiently as patterns and templates – than do lesser thinkers. It is not analysis that makes certain chess players and doctors stand out, but this richer store of structured knowledge (See my post of June 12 , 2005 on Herbert Simon’s 10-year rule on expertise; and July 15, 2005 on how to increase “deep smarts.”).
More than intellectual firepower, to achieve structured knowledge the key is “effortful study” continued over time. It is effortful study when you push yourself to practice, deliberately learn, and try to get better. “Experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind’s box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby encourage the standards set by leaders in their fields.” Each and every in-house counsel can pursue effortful study in their field.
More important than innate talent, support for which as the cause of expertise lacks hard evidence, is motivation. Hence, if you want to develop expertise in an area of law, code patterns in your mind, study with diligent purpose over time, and crave the success that expertise will eventually bring.