by Leon Rosenshein

Experience -> Expertise -> Wisdom


practical contact with and observation of facts or events.
"he had already learned his lesson by painful experience"


expert skill or knowledge in a particular field.
"technical expertise"


the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.
"listen to his words of wisdom"

That’s the typical progression, right? You have experience(s). You gain expertise. You turn that into wisdom. That’s certainly the progression we all want, but is it typical? I’ve talked about the difference between data and wisdom before, but there’s a similar progression that isn’t about raw numbers and understanding.

The 10,000 hour rule, popularized in Outliers, says that to excel at something you need to spend 10,000 hours doing it. We can argue about the number of hours it takes, but what’s really key to that is not the number of hours of experience, but the amount of experience in those hours.

In the US people work about 50 weeks/year, and the workday is nominally 40 hours long, so each year is ~2000 work hours. By that logic, it would take 5 years to be an expert in whatever it is you do.

Now consider a worker on an assembly line. Putting wheels on a car. After 5 years that person has 10K hours and is an expert at putting wheels on a car. And probably putting nuts on bolts in general. But not putting the muffler on, let alone building a car. Or designing a car. Or driving a car. Because that 10K hours is really the same hour 10K times. It’s critical to getting the car correctly built and out the door, but from an experience standpoint, there’s really not much there.

To be an expert on building cars would require not just 10K hours on one task, but experience with all of the tasks required. Welding the frame. Building sub-assemblies. Installing them. Electrical work etc. To be an expert in automobile building you need not just hours of experience, but lots of different experiences. So after those 10K hours the worker has seen all of the common things that can go wrong, and many of the uncommon ones. They’ll have worked out ways of dealing with them and be able to work through them. That terson would be considered and expert in the field of automobile building.

Wisdom though, includes good judgment. Not just experience or expertise. It requires the ability to learn from your experiences, then realize what you’ve learned might not apply in some cases, and then learn something else. Something more general. Wisdom goes beyond the what and how into the why. You have to understand why something is being done, and be able to generalize how a seemingly unrelated action will have an impact on the end result. Learning how to learn, unlearn, relearn, generalize, and extrapolate is a whole different set of muscles than just being an expert. You could say you need 10,000 hours of being an expert and working with new and different experiences in differing contexts to turn expertise into wisdom.

That applies to knowledge work just as much as it does putting wheels on a car or building cars from parts. First you need to learn the tools, Then you need to spend time doing the work. Not just the same 10 or 100 hours over and over again, but new and different hours. Exposing you to new and different situations and constraints. 10,000 different hours. Which can take longer than 5 years. And that just gets you to the expert level. There’s still plenty of room for growth. And wisdom doesn’t magically appear after 10K hours of being an expert. It just starts small and narrowly scoped. As you gain more experience with your expertise the scope broadens. And that never stops. Your scope isn’t limited to your day job or even the art of software engineering in general.

So as you journey along the path of experience -> expertise -> wisdom keep looking for opportunities for new experiences. To expand your expertise and wisdom. To expand your scope.