Article Date: 2/1/2010

Yes, You Can Become An Expert
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Yes, You Can Become An Expert

All you'll need is 10,000 hours. But what if that's too much time?


Are you an expert? According to Malcolm Gladwell, you very well may be if you've put in at least three hours a day, seven days a week for 10 years — about 10,000 hours. While few of us work seven days a week, most probably reach the magical 10,000th hour in about five years. And Gladwell points to research that implies a genuine expert must put in 10,000 hours of time.

Now, let's talk about practice building. How many hours have you devoted today to building your practice? How about last week? Last month? If you're like most practitioners, the amount of non-clinical, non-administrative time that is spent on practice growth and development is on the order of about four hours per month. At that pace, it would take more than 200 years to reach Gladwell's definition of an expert. Of course, by the time you're 200 years old, you probably won't feel much like practicing anyway.

So, what are we to do?

It takes time

Admittedly, I've done minimal research on Gladwell's premise. But, if we assume it's true, or at least assume, like the examples he cites in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success (Little, Brown and Company), that a genuine, focused commitment to perfecting your skill is able to overcome possible genetic “deficiencies” — meaning you don't have to be born a computer whiz to wind up like Bill Gates — then our first step is to devote more time to our practices.

Of course, just like the Beatles couldn't simply pick up guitars and become famous, complacency won't build a practice. I advocate setting aside one full day per week, with no patient care distractions. If your schedule won't permit this, try two half days per week. However, once you start getting down to the (common) level of “a few minutes each day,” you lose the ability to have big enough chunks of time to get productive work done. How would your clinical education have turned out if it was done “a few minutes each day”? Business building requires the same focus.

When posing the above, I'm often met with the resistance of, “I need every day for patient care.” In a very busy practice, that's probably true — if you're less than 80% to 90% booked, it's probably not.

If you can't commit…

But, if you really can't commit the time, or simply don't have the desire, farm out the task. Just like you (hopefully) don't do your own taxes but hire a bona fide expert, do the same thing with this critically important task. You can quarterback projects yourself and hire someone to work in your office, delegate some of the tasks to staff, or call in outside experts — real experts with real experience.

Finally, realize that just like you can't make every patient happy, you shouldn't have to be an expert in multiple areas of your practice. You might be a contact lens wizard but refer out even simple low vision cases. You do this in the interest of what's best for your patients. As for what's best for your practice, don't be afraid to carefully “refer out” those tasks that are necessary to help it grow and develop. This might involve a marketing, advertising, public relations or HR duties — all of which should be real experts in their particular disciplines.

In short – don't be afraid to ask for help building your practice – just like you would with a complex retinal case. OM


Optometric Management, Issue: February 2010