“The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance” edited by K. Anders Ericson, Neil Charness, Paul J. Feltovich and Robert R. Hoffman

“The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance”

A Book Review by Gary S. Smolker


Wayne Gretzky was the world’s greatest hockey player, yet his shot was only average.  What skill did he have?

Mica R. Endsley, the author of my favorite chapter  in this handbook, answers this question by directing us to a magazine story about  all-time leading hockey scorer Wayne Gretzky who set or tied 49 different National Hockey League records, including most goals, most points, and most assists.

 Gretsky doesn’t look like a hockey player….His shot is only average – or, nowadays, below average…Gretzy’s gift, his genius even, is for seeing…To most fans, and sometimes even to the players on the ice, hockey frequently looks like chaos: sticks flailing, bodies falling, the puck ricocheting just out of reach. Gretzky can discern the game’s underlying pattern and flow, and anticipate what’s going to happen faster and in more detail than anyone else in the building. Several times during a game you’ll see him making what seems to be aimless circles on the other side of the rink from the traffic, and then, as if answering a signal, he’ll dart ahead to a spot where, an instant later, the puck turns up.

In the words of Endsley: The critical attribute which placed Gretzky above his contemporaries was mental – his ability to understand what was happening in the game and to anticipate where the puck would be.  This superior situational awareness allowed him to be “ahead of the game” and outmatch bigger, faster, and better players.

Effective decision-making depends upon high levels of situational awareness and thus so does effective performance. People with high situational awareness act upon the material environment or upon other men in accordance with a plan.

Unlike Gretzky, a novice in any field of endeavor is a person who is either completely new to the systems and situations in a particular domain or a person who will never “get it”, a person who will be considerably overloaded in seeking to gather information, understand what it means, and formulate correct responses.

Without knowledge of the underlying relationships among system components, people who are not experts do not realize what information to seek out following receipt of other information. Non-experts suffer from poor information management strategies, including poorly directed information seeking-behaviors and scan patterns that will allow them to detect the most important information from amongst the large number of possibilities.

A person who does not have an expert’s ability to process the information perceived and to understand its significance to goals may fail to appreciate the importance or meaning of even the information that they do acquire.

The prototypical novice (and any person who is not an expert in a demanding field) is quickly overloaded, inefficient, and error prone. Decision making and performance are highly compromised as a result.

The inadequate abilities and knowledge and know how and frustrating experiences of the prototypical novice occur in all fields of endeavor including business, relationships (including marriage and love) and in living a fulfilling life.


In introductory chapters in this handbook, contributors set the stage for what will follow in succeeding chapters by reporting that becoming expert in anything requires years of work which someone will undertake only if they have some initial success, enjoy the work, and have early instruction by exceptional teachers and committed support by their families.

One reported biographical study of exceptional contributors to society, such as Einstein and Picasso, stresses how these contributors were able to be single-minded because they were supported by family,  friends, and colleagues, often at considerable expense.

At a less earthshaking level of expertise, it is also reported that the 2004 winner of the Wimbledon woman’s tennis tournament, Maria Sharapova, received a scholarship to a tennis academy at age eight.

Extensive experience does not, however, invariably lead to expert achievement.  Improvements are eventually limited by one’s basic endowments, such as abilities, mental capacities, and innate talents as well as whether is being continuously trained by an expert whose coaching helps you get to the next higher level of performance.

Becoming an expert, or doing anything with single-mindedness comes at a cost in relationships, especially in marital relationships.

For example: Often times a woman demands that her man be able to support her and a family. The man works long hard hours. The woman gets a nice house, a nice car, a boat, clothes, children and vacations — but she doesn’t get the attentions she “needs” from the man she married.  Inevitably, they grow apart, they get divorced.  This is not discussed in the handbook.

The handbook does not discuss the “secret” to love that lasts or principles for making marriage work.

It does not contain a practical guide for making relationships work.

None of the authors are a relationship expert.

Nowhere in the handbook is it discussed that every living creature is happy when (s)he fullfills his or her destiny, when (s)he is being that which in truth (s)he is.

Nowhere in this handbook is there a discussion of the existence of complex patterns of linkage and splitting between the nature of a man’s work and that of his private life.

None of the authors describe the human dimension of gratification one gets from being on the cutting edge of their field, or the balance of pleasure and pain in married life.

In “The Way Men Think”, published by Yale University Press, Liam Hudson and Bernadine Jacot discuss a study they made of eminent men in British universities, in which they found that the humanities, biology, and physical science each had their own patterns of marriage, fertility and divorce.

The following is a quote from “The Way Men Think”:

“Many eminent men in the humanities had remained single, as many as four out of every ten distinguished classical scholars recording themselves as childless. In contrast, nearly all the eminent biological and physical scientists had  followed a more conventional pattern, and were married with children.

“We also found that the rates of divorce varied strikingly from group to group, being six times as high, for instance among eminent physicists as among eminent chemists. The most marked differences though, occured among the biologists. Those who had risen to eminence through the roles they had played in the fusion of old-fashioned biology with mathematics and physical science — who had helped establish the modern discipline of genetics, for example — were some twenty-five times more likely to divorce than the biologists of the next decade who had implemented these pioneers’ discoveries.  It seems, in other words, that upheavals in the intellectual and personal spheres echo one another, serious matrimonial disturbance being most common for men in whom intellectual boundaries have been breached.”


“The  Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance” does not have a chapter on business start-ups, business success and/or entrepreneurial energy.  “Start-Up Nation” by Dan Sensor and Saul Singer, published by 12, is all about that.  It is a story of Israel’s economic miracle.

In “Start-Up Nation”  Dan Senor and Saul Singer give an explanation for how it is that Israel produces more start-up companies than large peaceful and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada, and the United Kingdom.  According to Senor and Singer: “… in addition to boasting the highest density of start-ups in the world (a total of 3,850 start-ups, one for every 1,844 Israelies), more Israeli companies are listed on the NASDAQ exchange that all companies from the entire European continent. In 2008, per capita venture capital investments in Israel were 2.5 times greater than in the United States, more than 30 times greater than in Europe, 80 times greater than in China, and 350 times tgreater han in India. Comparing absolute numbers, Israel — a country of just 7.1 million people — attracted close to $2 billion in venture capital, as much as flowed to the United Kingdom’s 61 million citizens or the the 145 million people living in Germany and France combined….After the United States, Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any country in the world, including India, China, Korea, Singapore and Ireland…Israel is the world leader in the percentage of the economy that is spent on research and development.”

Senor and Singer point out, “One explanation is that adversity, like necessity, breeds inventiveness.”  However, that is not Senor’s and/or Singer’s answer. Senor’s and Singer’s explanation of the economic miracle is broader and deeper…”it is a story not just of talent, but of tenacity, of insatiable questioning of authority, of determined informality, combined with a unique antitude toward failure, teamwork, mission, risk, and cross-disciplinary creativity.”

“Start-Up Nation” teaches that the key to entrepreneurial business success is a combination of collective sense of purpose, fire, amibition, determination to achieve  willingness to take risks, willingness to fail and looking at failure as a learning opportunity.  That is where Israeli entrepreneurial energy comes from.

“Start-Up Nation” is a wonderful book.  Here are a few quotes from “Start-Up Nation”:

  • “The notion that one should accumulate credentials before launching a venture simply does not exist.”
  • “…when you are in charge of something, you are responsible for everything that happens…and everything that does not happen.”
  • “The phase ‘It was not my fault’ does not exist in the military culture.”
  • “Explaining away a bad decision is unacceptable. ‘Defending stuff that you’ve done is just not popular. If you screwed up, your job is to show the lessons you’ve learned. Nobody learns from someone who is being defensive.”
  • “The key for leadership is the soldiers’ confidence in their commander. If you don’t trust him, if you’re not confident in him, you can’t follow him.”
  • “A bit of mayhem is not only healthy but critical.”
  • “Bitzu’ism is at the heart of the pioneering ethos and Israel’s entrepreneurial drive. ‘To call someone a bitzu’ist is to pay him or her a high compliment…”
  • Ben-Gurion was the classic bitzu’ist … A bitzu’ist is omeone who just gets things done.”

“Start-Up Nation” is unbelievably well written.

At the beginning of each chapter is a quote.  The quote at the beginning of the first chapter follows:

Four guys are standing on a street corner…an American, a Russian, a Chinese man, and an Israeli… A reporter comes up the group and says to them: “Excuse me…What’s your opinion on the meat shortage?” The American says: What’s a shortage? The Russian says: What’s meat? The Chinese man says: What’s an opinion? The Israeli says: What’s ‘Excuse me’?”

Senor and Singer point out, “Somewhere along the way — either at home, in school, or in the army — Israelis learn that assertiveness is the norm, reticence is something that risks you being left behind.”

The “tone” of pride in discussions and quotes in “Start-Up Nation” is nothing like the tone of  discussion in “The Cambridge Hanbook of Expertise and Expert Performance.”

I was introduced to the “term” team psychological safety in the chapter in “The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance” entitled “The Making of A Dream Team: When Expert Teams Do Best.”

The author of that chapter of the handbook discusses the fact that people in a relationship are not going to be a high performance team unless they feel “safe” to be themselves, feel safe to experiment, look upon failure as a learning opportunity and learn from their mistakes.

The author makes the point that a team’s engagement in learning behavior is strongly tied to a team’s level of psychological safety.

Studies show that a team in which the members feel safe to be themselves and where they are empowered to take risks and learn from mistakes and failures is a team where the members will progress to a higher level of performance.

I prefer to call “team psychological safety” “cultural tolerance for constructive failures or “intelligent failures.”

Senor and Singler point out, in “Start-Up Nation”, that a 2006 Harvard University study shows that entrepreneurs who have failed in their previous enterprise have an almost one-in-five chance of success in their next start-up, which is a higher success rate than that for first-time entrepreneurs and not far below that of entrepreneurs who have had a prior success.

In “The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance” there is a robust discussion in the chapter entitled “The Making A Dream Team: When Expert Teams Do Best” of the following additional factors which lead to top performance: (a) high performance teams have a clear and common purpose,  (b)  hold shared mental models of how their goals will be achieved, and (c) team members anticipate each other and communicate without communicating overtly because they understand their common goals, each other’s roles and how they fit together.

Most importantly: (d) they trust in the intentions of their fellow team members, (e)  they believe their teammate(s) care(s) about them, (f) they strongly believe in their team’s collective ability to succeed, (g) they communicate with each other often enough that fellow team members have the information they need to be able to contribute, (h) and work is distributed and assigned in a thoughtful manner, balancing task characteristics with individual expertise as well as overall workload.

The discussion in this chapter of the handbook is about when expert teams do best.  Maybe the handbook does not discuss marriages or “business” because most people don’t know how to invest their time and effort to become experts in being married and/or being an expert in “business” and/or there is nobody recognized by the editors of the handbook for being expert on the topic of how to make a successful marriage or how to become a success in business.

In that ships don’t sail into port without a pilot it would have been nice if  this handbook contained a chapter on principles for making a marriage work and another chapter on principles for making a business work.

However, the principles discussed in the the chapter entitled “The Making of A Dream Team: When Expret Teams Do Best”  parallel  the following principles I have read about or seen practiced in successful marriages.

Happily married couples know each other intimately — each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams.

They express their fondness for each other in little ways, day in and day out.

They stay in touch with each other in their daily lives.

The key to a happy marriage is finding someone with whom you mesh.

Hang ups don’t have to ruin a marriage.

Problems are inevitably part of a relationship.  What matters is how they are dealt with.

If you can accomodate each other’s needs and handle them with caring, affection and respect, your marriage can thrive.

The better you are able to understand, honor and respect each other and your marriage the more likely your marriage will be a happy one.

In the strongest marriages, Husband and Wife share a deep sense of meaning.  They don’t just “get along.” They also support each other’s hopes and aspirations and build a sense of purpose into their lives together.

In happy marriages, partners incorporate each other’s goals into their concept of what their marriage is about.

People are not made of numbers. They are made of hopes, dreams, passions, talents and tenacity.

Dreams, hopes, aspirations and wishes are part of a person’s identity and give meaning and purpose to a person’s life.

Helping each other realize their dreams is one of the goals of marriage.

The more shared meaning a married couple can find, the deeper, richer and more rewarding their relationship will be.

When either spouse doesn’t fully appreciate the importance of supporting his or her partner’s dreams, gridlock is almost inevitable.

Eighty percent of divorced men and women say their marriage broke up because they did not feel loved and appreciated; they gradually grew apart and lost a sense of closeness.

In that nothing characterizes us as much as our field of attention, I urge you to read  the story in “Start-Up Nation” of Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s visit to Shevach-Mofet high school in Israel.  This was their only stop in Israel, aside from the prime minister’s office.

What had brought the world’s most famous tech duo to this Israeli high school of all places?

The answer came as soon as Sergey Brin spoke. ‘Ladies and gentle, girs and boys’, he said in Russian, his choice of language prompting spontaneous applause. ‘I emigrated from Russia when I was six,’ Brin continued.  ‘I went to the United States. Similar to you I have standard Russian-Jewish parents. My dad was a math professor.  They have a certain attitude about studies.  And I think I can relate that here, because I’m told your school recently got seven out of the top ten places in a math competition throughout Israel.”

This time the students clapped for their own achievement. “But what I have to say,” Brin continued, cutting through the applause, “is what my father would say — ‘ What about the other three?'”

Most of the students at the Shevach-Mofet school were, like Brin, second generation Russian Jews. Shevach-Mofet is located in an industrial area of Tel Aviv, the poorer part of town.

Sergy Brin knew these students had absorbed the same ethos from their parents that he had absorbed from his parents. He knew this ethos was a source of the competitive drive for excellence that pervades Shevach-Mofet.

Sensor and Singer explain that the Israelis’ drive for success is both personal and national. “Israelis have a term for this davka, an untranslateable Hebrew word that means ‘despite’ with a ‘rub their nose in it’ twist. As if to say, ‘The more they attack us, the more we will succeed.”

Getting back to my observations and comments about having a successful marriage: Tell me where your attention lies and I will tell you who you are.

Since attention is the supreme instrument of personality; it is the apparatus which regulates our mental life, it follows that falling in love is a fixation of attention.

Therefore, pay attention to your spouse every day if you want to have a successful marriage.


The authors of the “situational awareness chapter”, in the handbook, point out that without basic perception of important information, the odds of forming an incorrect picture of the situation increase dramatically.

Situational awareness involves more than simple perception of information – it also demands that people understand the meaning and significance of what they have perceived.

The ability to forecast future situation events and dynamics marks individuals who have the highest level of understanding of the situation.


In one chapter of the handbook, the author, Robert W. Weisberg concludes that expertise is necessary for creative thinking.

In this chapter, Weisberg demonstrates that it took Mozart ten years of study to become expert.

“Consider Mozart’s earliest piano concertos, the first four written at the ripe old age of 11, and the next three written when he was 16. Those works contain no original music by Mozart; they are simply arrangements of music of other composers. Mozart’s father may have used others’ music as the basis for the practice by the young man in writing for groups of instruments. Furthermore, if some of the published works by the young  Mozart are based on the works of others, then Mozart’s private tutelage from his father must have also centered on study of  works of others. So Mozart learned his craft over many years, under the watchful eye of a professional teacher. This training is not different from that received today in schools of music by aspiring composers.

“Thus, whereas it is no doubt true that most composers will not match Mozart’s ultimate achievements, his early achievements are matched by many composers as they advance through music school. Recent analysis of other seminal classical composers — Bach, Beethoven, and Hayden — supports the findings from Mozart.”

By the way, the July 2011 issue of “Harvard Men’s Health Watch” contains a report on a study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine which investigated how listening to music affects cognitive function in general. In this study it was found that students who had spent 10 minutes listening to a Mozart piano concerto had their IQ scores boosted 8 to 9 IQ points.

The ten year rule is not an absolute. “For example, famous chess player Bobby Fisher required nine years of intense chess study before becoming recognized as a grand master in chess at age 16.”

In the  chapter in the handbook  entitled “Experience and Deliberate Practice”, K. Anders Ericsson points out that the number 10 is not magical and also discusses physical fitness.

Ericsson points out that increases in physical fitness do not simply result from wishful thinking. Instead people have to engage in intense aerobic exercise that pushes them well beyond the level of comfortable physical activity.

Ericsson describes what happens to the dormant genes in the DNA and the extraordinary physiological processes that are activated when the human body is put under exceptional strain.  According to Ericsson, these adaptations will eventually allow the individual to execute the given level of activity without greatly straining the physiological systems.  To gain further beneficial increases athletes need to increase or change their weekly training activities to introduce new and perhaps different types of strain on key physical systems.


Not to be preoccupied with life, is to let your life float rudderless, like a buoy without anchor chains, coming and going as it is pushed by social currents.

For the discovery of new things, intellectual keenest is not enough.

One must have an eagerness for this or for that type of possible things.

In short, one finds only what one seeks.

Athletic training involves pushing associated physiological systems outside the comfort zone to stimulate physiological growth and adaptation.

Deliberate practice is the basis of expertise, which in turn is responsible for superior performance.

Our idea of life is the inspiring and directing force of all our actions.

Purpose produces sociological consequences.

To seek is to assume the thing sought and indeed to have it by prevision.

To seek is to assume/anticipate a reality that is still nonexistent.

Man’s desire to live is inseparable from his desire to live well.

Man conceives of life not simply as being, but as well-being. Not being, but well-being, is the fundamental necessity of man, the necessity of necessities.

The essence of life consists precisely in longing for more life.  Living is to live even more, a desire to increase one’s own palpitations.

Only in proportion as we are desirous of living more do we really live.

An aspiration, a project of life is your true being.

You aspire to be this or that.

Your choices define who you are.

Living is something no one can do for you — life is not transferable — it is not an abstract concept, it is your most individual being.

Human life is not only a struggle with nature; it is also the struggle of man with his soul.

When I visited the graveyard at Normandy Beach, where allied forces landed on D-Day during World War II, the most inspiring marker I read at the Normandy American Cemetery read as follows:

You can manufacture weapons and your can purchase ammunition, but you can’t buy valor and you can’t pull heroes off an assembly line.

Being successful means filling your life with calls you want to return.


“The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance” provides exceptionally interessting coverage on many specific subjects, but fails to offer anything on major life subjects such as business, marriage and love.

There are 42 chapters in this 788 page handbook.

I found topics discussed in the following chapters exceptionally interesting:

  • “The Making of A Dream Team: When Expert Teams Do Best”
  • “Expertise and Situational Awareness”
  • “Studies of Expertiese from Psychological Perspectives”
  • “Decision Making Expertise”
  • “Expert Performance in Sport” A Cognitive Perspective”
  • “Artistic Performance: Acting, Ballet, and Contemporary Dance”
  • “Expertise in Chess”
  • “The Influence of Experience and Deliberate Practice on the Development of Superior Performance”
  • “Aging and Expertise”
  • “Social and Sociological Factors in Development of Expertise”
  • “Modes of Expertise in Creative Thinking: Evidence from Case Studies”

Happy reading.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Gary S. Smolker

About Gary S. Smolker

PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY: No enterprise can exist for itself alone. Every successful enterprise ministers to some great need, it performs some great service, not for itself, but for others. Otherwise, it ceases to be profitable and ceases to exist. Imagination, open mindedness and flexibility are the most important factors in unlocking potential. Those who embrace innovation, improvisation, continuous learning, time management, are action oriented, high energy, passionate, creative, purposeful and intense individuals are best equipped to succeed. We all have ideas and the ability to make progress by sharing information and our ideas and also by changing our ideas when appropriate. We should always be on the lookout for teaching and mentoring moments. We hold time like water in our hands; however tightly we clench our fingers, it drips away. But, if it falls on a seed, a seed may grow to become something that will have a positive social impact. PERSONAL INTERESTS: I have a passion to learn, to innovate, to lead, to mentor and to teach. I seek to write things worth reading and want to do things worth writing about. I enjoy (a) driving a fast car, (b) having intense conversations (c) teaching/mentoring, (d) reading and (e) being involved in productive activity. PERSONAL: I believe in cultivating and backing passionate people, innovation, and old fashioned good ideas. I love making human connections and spreading good ideas. I am strongly motivated to achieve in situations in which independence of thought and action are called for. PERSONAL GOALS: I want to live life vibrantly, to be as sharp as a tack until my last breath and to change the world by being me. My personal goal is to be fully engaged in life, to lead by example, to set high standards and to continue to amass firsthand experience and knowledge in all that interests me. PERSONALITY: I love fun and mischief. I relish absurdity. I have an irreverent, facetious and satiric disposition. I dread boredom. I have spent a lifetime reading. I have no bias against people who have lived successful and/or complicated lives. I write to release tension, to get things off my chest. SOCIAL MEDIA: I post articles on the "Gary S. Smolker Idea Exchange" blog at www.garysmolker.wordpress.com, and "Dude's Guide to Women's Shoes" at www.dudesguidetowomensshoes.com. I also post images and comments on Instagram @garyspassion. CONTACT INFORMATION: Gary Smolker, Smolker Law Firm, 16055 Ventura Blvd., Ste 525, Encino, California, 91436-2609, USA. Phone 1-818-788-7290, e-mail GSmolker@aol.com.

Posted on July 13, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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