The book “Peak”, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool shows “[h]ow all of us can achieve extraordinary things.” In this post I summarize the insights I found most interesting.
The deliberate-practice mindset advocated in the book says that “anyone can improve, but it requires the right approach.” Lack of improvement does not mean a lack of talent, but practicing wrong.
“Expert performers develop their extraordinary abilities through years and years of dedicated practice, improving step by step in a long laborious process. There are no shortcuts. Various sorts of practice can be effective, but the most effective of all is deliberate practice. Deliberate practice takes advantage of the natural adaptability of the human bran and body to create new abilities. Most of these abilities are created with the help of detailed mental representations, which allow us to analyze and respond to situations much more effectively than we could otherwise.”
“While people with certain innate characteristics[, like IQ,] may have an advantage when first learning a skill, that advantage gets smaller over time, and eventually the amount and the quality of practice take on a much larger role in determining how skilled a person becomes.”
Deliberate practice is “purposeful and informed” practice and aims to improve mental representations. Through deliberate practice mental representations become more and more detailed, and should tell the person practicing what went well and what to improve. Deliberate practice develops skills others have figured out already, and for which, as a consequence, training techniques exists. It means you are pushing the boundaries of your current skills, which is not particularly enjoyable, and requires your full attention. Deliberate practice aims to improve, each time, a specific part of a skill to reach overall better performance. This also means the fundamentals need be good, first. Feedback is an important part of deliberate practice, coming from a teacher first, and later from the mental representations acquired.
Without a teacher “keep in mind three Fs: Focus. Feedback. Fix it.” Choose a specific part of a skill to improve, analyze the (lack of) improvement and your weaknesses, and then find a way to work on those weaknesses.
“[W]hen you reach a point at which you are having difficulty getting better,” you need to figure out which specific part of the skill is “holding you back.” To do that, “you need to find a way to push yourself a little – not a lot – harder than usual.” As a manager, “pay attention to what goes wrong when things get busy or chaotic – those problems are not anomalies but rather indications of weaknesses that were probably there all the time but were usually less obvious.”
A particular approach to implement deliberate practice in our busy days is called “learning while real work gets done,” by Art Turock. It means you turn ordinary business activities into opportunities to improve and learn. For example a presentation can be turned into a learning experience by the presenter choosing a specific skill to focus on during that presentation and asking everyone in the room to give feedback on that afterwards.
“[T]o maintain your motivation you can either strengthen the reasons to keep going or weaken the reasons to quit.” Create a fixed time for practice, devoid of “other obligations and distractions.” Also, if your smart phone distracts you, turn it off. Once this habit is built, it will keep motivation up, and lessen the pain of practice.
Starting out with children to achieve extraordinary things, become experts in their field, is to introduce them to this field in a playful manner. “The parents of children destined for more intellectual pursuits (…) were more likely to discuss intellectual topics with their kids, and they emphasized the importance of school and learning.” Once a child “becomes interested and shows some promise in an area, the typical next step is to take lessons from a coach or teacher.” “The best teachers [in mathematics don’t] focus on the rules for solving particular problems but rather encouraged their students to think about general patterns and processes – the why more than the how.”