Collins lists 5 stages that someone must travel to become a contributory expert:
- Advanced Beginner
Rather than describe each stage in detail, let’s just paint a broad picture.
As someone moves from novice to expert, they move from entirely conscious operation to unconscious. The novice requires rules, because they don’t understand the tacit information required to make unconscious and intuitive choices. The expert, on the other hand, acts in such a way that rules are mostly irrelevant because the expert has internalized knowledge. The expert can act without self-consciousness.
Remember learning to drive? Rules rules rules. And once you’ve been driving awhile, the rules become unconscious impulses.
Consider singers. A novice or beginner must consciously decide to do everything, and often times this is done clumsily because it’s based entirely on rules. A true novice looks and sounds clumsy and is almost wholly self-conscious the entire time they’re singing.
That’s not meant as an insult, by the way. I was absolutely like that too.
An expert singer singing their best repertoire, on the other hand, can summon technique and voice seemingly at will in order to serve a piece of music. Dynamics, phrasing, legato and so on come more or less unconsciously from an expert singer to serve the emotional needs of a piece or whatever other artistic goal the singer has set. The expert singer moves and acts in unconscious ways that they themselves are often unaware of but are nevertheless important for the piece.
The expert can achieve what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “Flow”. It is goal-based rather than rule-based. He writes:
Although the flow experience appears to be effortless, it is far from being so. It often requires strenuous physical exertion, or highly disciplined mental activity. It does not happen without the application of skilled performance. Any lapse in concentration will erase it. And yet while it lasts consciousness works smoothly, action follows action seamlessly.2
This is what we’re after.