In pretty much any area of human endeavor, people have a tremendous capacity to improve their performance, as long as they train in the right way.
Want to improve your tennis game? Deliberate practice. Your writing? Deliberate practice. Your sales skills? Deliberate practice.
Because deliberate practice was developed specifically to help people become among the best in the world at what they do and not merely to become “good enough,” it is the most powerful approach to learning that has yet been discovered.
Gladwell did get one thing right, and it is worth repeating because it’s crucial: becoming accomplished in any field in which there is a well-established history of people working to become experts requires a tremendous amount of effort exerted over many years. It may not require exactly ten thousand hours, but it will take a lot.
From Peak: The New Science of Expertise
We’ve heard about the 10,000 hour rule ever since Malcolm Gladwell popularized it in his book Outliers. But now, we have some needed clarification, a much more comprehensive treatment, and much more, in Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. Mr. Ericsson is the real “father of the 10,000 hour rule,” though he did not use that phrase himself. I presented my synopsis of this book at the July 8 First Friday Book Synopsis.
Let me start with this: this is the book that explains how people get good at something. Really, get good at anything. His formula of “deliberate practice” can be applied to any new skill development. Well, make that any new “measurable” skill. (Mr. Ericsson does not have much trust in the “expertise” of folks who function in “subjective” areas of expertise. You really should read his description of “wine experts.”).
I begin my synopsis handouts with this section: “Why is this book worth our time?” Here’s what I said about this book:
#1 – For personal growth, for business effectiveness, we all need to know how to get “good” at something. This book provides tangible steps to help.
#2 – The science of expertise is transferable to areas not yet using such science. This book will help us think about getting good in areas not-yet-thought- about (in other words, not just chess, or athletics, or…).
#3 – This book will help us understand that everyone – yes, everyone – can develop genuine expertise.
The book is filled with stories to reinforce his central premise, from a 69 year old who took up the pursuit of a black belt in karate (he made it to a blue belt), to a 30 year old non-golfer who decided to become a professional golfer, to the rigorous training undertaken by London taxi drivers, to fighter pilot training, to doctors and companies who build in skill development in their regular routines, to chess grandmasters, and tennis greats, and many more, this book shows how the same approach is transferable across disciplines.
Hera are some of my summary points from the book:
It works like this
- It takes time; lots of time (“10,000” hours of time – not a precise rule, but… a lot! of time; a whole!!! lot!!! of time)
- BUT/AND… that time has to be spent in purposeful, deliberate practice
- The Three “Fs” – Focus; Feedback; Fix it
And, maybe his greatest contribution is his call for “purposeful,” and then “deliberate practice.”
Purposeful practice involves:
• Purposeful practice has well-defined, specific goals.
• Purposeful practice is all about putting a bunch of baby steps together to reach a longer-term goal.
• Purposeful practice is focused.
• Purposeful practice involves feedback.
• Purposeful practice requires getting out of one’s comfort zone.
And then you add “Deliberate Practice” elements, like:
First, it requires a field that is already reasonably well developed…
Second, deliberate practice requires a teacher who can provide practice activities designed to help a student improve his or her performance.
I ended my synopsis with these six lessons and takeaways:
#1 — You need something to “deliberately practice” – something to work at, over the long haul, with purposeful, deliberate practice.
#2 — You need a knowledgeable, skilled, expert who is also good at teaching/coaching, to help you improve.
#3 — You need to follow the path of “deliberate practice.”
#4 — You need to enhance “doing,” don’t just increase “knowing” (the old “knowing-doing gap).
#5 — Can I recommend this question – “what are you bad at?” – and, be honest with yourself.
#6 — Develop your “next steps” – choose a skill to work on; find a good teacher (one-on-one is far more effective than group sessions); schedule solitary practice, regularly! (one hour a day, minimum…); work on incremental, identifiable progress steps, just outside your comfort zone; keep your schedule.
Here’s what I think. It takes work to develop expertise. (“Maybe not 10,000 hours but a lot!). This book provides a road map to do that in any “measurable” field. And, it provides an explanation of why so many people get to the barely adequate stage, and quit getting better.
Maybe we have an epidemic of “barely adequate,” and this book is a call to rise much higher than such a low level.
Do read this book. More importantly, put deliberate practice into practice in your life, and in your organization. If many of us do that, we will get closer to that peak of genuine expertise.