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Expertise-on-Demand - 7 Steps to Hacking the 10,000 Hours of Deliberate Practice Rule

Becoming an expert, or at a minimum very competent, in many skills for an entrepreneur is very important. In the beginning of a startup’s life you will find many holes as far as the needs of your business and what your current team is capable of achieving. These holes need to be addressed to continue moving your business forward. Part of the process of addressing your startup's holes is determining what to insource vs outsource vs do-it-yourself. You, inevitably as a founding startup team member will eventually need to do something you are not an expert on. In fact, you may have never touched this part of a business or product before in your life.

To me this is the fun part of being in a startup. You find yourself boldly taking on responsibilities that are well beyond those you would be associated with in a typical large corporation. Personally I find myself juggling roles from growth marketing, to chairman of the board, to product strategist, to lawyer, to financier, to accountant, to manager, to HR manager, to janitor, and beyond — most times I will go through many roles within a single day.

Furthermore, as a company executive I’m also responsible for signing-off on documents that bind my startup as far as financial, partnership, and equity obligations. These obligations I’m negotiating and signing-off on are mostly new territory for me. I need to ensure I’m always on top of understanding and negotiating points so I can ensure I get the best possible deals for my startup. The documents I sign (and don’t sign) can have a dramatic effect on the direction of my company.

To ensure I’m doing all I can to obtain the best possible results for the business I need to ensure I’m going deep in understanding every part of the business that I have a hand-in or signing authority for. It’s impossible to become an expert in every domain, however targeted expertise is achievable - more on this point later in the post.

It was Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University that stated that it takes 10,000 hours, on average, to become an expert at something. Now as a founding team member you are thinking two things, (1) we don’t have the cash to hire an expert to do everything we need, and (2) I just don’t have time to attempt becoming an expert in every domain I have the responsibility to address. That brings me to the idea of hacking your way to success through thoughtful and targeted expertise.

I personally think of the idea of thought targeted expertise like “Expertise-on-Demand” (EoD). I borrowed the idea of EoD from the operations management world were “Product-on-Demand” (PoD) is the idea of building products as your customer orders them. For those not familiar, PoD is the no waste inventory management concept of ensuring customer products are built when an order is placed - rather than trying to create inventory for every possible permutation a customer may wish for.

EoD is similar to the PoD concept because it is about efficiency of building or order. With EoD it is far more efficient to do deep targeted learning - rather than foolishly trying to accomplish the impossible task of trying to be an expert at everything. EoD requires that you know exactly what is being required and then developing the expertise in that narrowly defined single-thing to ensure a quality decision is reached in the shortest possible time.

It’s a given that founding team members need to be flexible and adaptable to evolving business needs so I’ve put together some ideas that may help you in your EoD challenges. These ideas are gathered from observation on how I and others I’ve observed manage business challenges - which hacks the 10k rule of deliberate practice.

Step 1: Break it up - Pragmatically breakdown the problem into the bits you need to solve for. An expert would need to know all the intricate nuances of how to solve the problem from every possible angle. Your job is ensure the challenge ahead of you is as narrowly defined as possible. This is more art than science because many times you need to be creative in asking questions that could possibly unhinge your narrowly defined challenge.

Now that you have your challenge defined it will allow you to solve your issue and move forward with precision and confidence in the research you will be doing.

Step 2: Research - This is when you take the narrowly defined challenge from Step one and search for understanding and answers. I’m always amazed by the abundance of quality information you can get for free on the internet, when you know what and where to look. The sources I use most are typically found using Google - which helps me to find applicable content from places like Youtube, Blogs, Quora, etc. It’s important to understand what a quality source of information looks like. Ensure your mind stays focused on the objective at hand and don’t be fooled by misleading and perverse incentives the author may have.

After you are well researched in this narrowly defined subject you need to develop your position and supporting rationale for your chosen solution.

Step 3: Collaborate - Now that you have enough research to give you confidence in your selected solution it is time to have it challenged. This is when you present your solution to those that will question every assumption and conclusion you make in your proposal. The question-challenges could come from your team, co-founders, mentors, friends, significant others, family, investors, etc. You will have your ideas questioned and vetted to the extent that you feel is necessary - based on the magnitude of the decision’s impact will be on your company.

Step 4: Result Forecast - This is an often overlooked part of making a decision. The idea is to determine what you expect from the execution of the decision you are going to make. It’s always best when you can make both qualitative and quantitive forecasts that can be measured and learned from later.

Step 5: Execute the Plan - Do the thing you said you were going to do! Yeh, execution is always king so ensure you do everything you planned.

Step 6: Evaluate Outcome - This is when you take that results forecast from step four and compare with reality. This is important because this is where you will do your learning. Don’t skip this step because without this step you are exposed to potentially committing the ultimate startup sin - which is to commit the same mistake twice! As they say at The Facebook, “Move fast and break things, but don’t make the same mistake twice.”

Step 7: Repeat as Required - Like every good workflow, this process has a feedback loop that could take multiple iterations to get right. In a startup (or any business) be sure to keep your options open to the furthest extent you can. The worst thing you can do is lock yourself into a contract or process you cannot modify with minor effort later. In other-words, always look to minimize risk whenever possible.


Use some form of EoD to ensure you can adapt to any challenge your company (or life) might face. You don’t need to be an expert at everything however, you should be able to become an expert in narrowly defined problem-sets as long as you put your mind to it. Keep your thinking structured to ensure you and your company are continually moving forward and growing.

Thanks for reading. My question to you is which tips and tricks do you use most to analyze challenges and make decisions?

About me: I’m mostly focused on internet growth, culture, and startups and am the COO at Wafer Inc. When I can find time between being a co-founder and life I enjoy writing, mostly here and occasionally on Linkedin. If you enjoy my writing, subscribe or follow me on LinkedIn to see more in the future.


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