As I rediscovered reading books 7 years ago through audiobooks and dramatically increased the number of books I’ve been reading these past years, every now and then I stumble upon a book that’s worth recommending to others through this blog - and Peak by Anders Ericsson totally changed the way I approach learning now. Here’s why:
Book review: Peak by Anders Ericsson - Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
The premise of the book is very simple. Talent is overrated. It hardly exists. You are not born with the skills, you acquire and develop them through practice. And not just any kind of practice - through “deliberate practice” which leverages the adptability of our brain.
This reminds me of the famous scene from the movie “Taken”:
I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.
Yes, you acquire skills - and it takes more than a long career to get them - it takes a special kind of practice:
It’s not about reaching your potential but it’s about developing your potential.
Our brain is flexible enough to learn new things and re-wire itself for us to be whatever we want to be. Genetics can help but its exposure to things that creates our abilities. The right sort of practice carried out over sufficient amount of time helps. Nothing else.
It starts with purposeful practice - you should be regularly getting out of your comfort zone, setting goals and finding ways to achieve them. Monitor your progress and find ways to stay motivated.
Honing a skill requires a mental representation of it and a mental representation helps hone the skill. This is a vicious circle but it works - to achieve perfection we have to know what perfection looks like.
Deliberate practice is also about getting to know the best expert advice, do set of exercises, get feedback and address issues that need fixing, get back to try again. Fix things, rinse, repeat.
It’s not about knowledge it’s about skills!
Deliberate practice is about improving your skills, not knowledge. Knowledge is passive and can be given, but the skill must be developed. And developing skills takes time. And lots of hours of work.
That’s why talent is overrated. Talent, especially physical conditions give you an early edge and a start, but if you don’t practice, you won’t succeed. The book shows how smarter (IQ-wise) chess players were better chess players in the beginning but later were outsmarted by these who had lower IQs but practiced more.
It’s not about 10,000 hours - it’s the quality of these hours that counts!
Malcom Gladwell in his book “Outliers” explained that you needed 10,000 hours to become an expert in something. Well, he was right that it takes lots of hours to get better but it’s the quality of these ours, it’s the quality of the practice that counts! But yes, to become a master you need lots of hours of practice. Yet the best ones are the ones that spend solo time practicing.
NoOffice is one of the keys to success :-)
With the emergence of new cool and hip “startup offices” with “open spaces” it’s increasingly difficult to spend focused time working on something. The key to deliberate practice is working alone, having solo time and focusing on a set of exercieses that help develop our skills. And how do you want to achieve that in an “open space” where at any moment in time somebody can interrupt you?!
TGIF and Nozbe reunions as practice sessions
On Fridays, after we’ve done our Weekly Review (feel free to use my template for it) we can do whatever we want and recently we’ve talked in the team that we should encourage each other to doing some sort of “deliberate practice sessions” - meaning - to practice working on something and learning or developing new skills. The same applies to our reunions where we encourage people to prepare presentations and learn to become better presenters.
How I use deliberate practice to improve my swimming
I’m an amateur triathlete and out of all these three sports, I’m particularly slow at swimming so I decided to improve my swimming skills. What I didn’t do is just sign up for a group swimming class to do lots of laps every other day. This would be practice, but not deliberate one… so here’s how I approached it:
- I go swimming twice a week - Mondays and Fridays
- I swim alone and practice specific exercieses each of these days
- at some point I record a few laps on video with a waterproof camera
- I send this video to my coach after each sessions along with my own impressions
- I get feedback from my coach, get new exercises and practice again
I’ve been doing this for the last 3 months and I’ve had quite a success with it. My speed hasn’t improved so much just yet, but my technique is a lot better and a lot automatic. I have a long way to go, but I see improvements on every session. And as you can see, these are all solo sessions where I work on my skills.
Yes, every now and then I swim with someone to compare myself and just have more fun, but I really improve when I work alone focused on improving my skills.
You see, I love team sports like basketball, football, etc… but to be a really good player it’s not enough to just play with others. You’ve got to have time to develop your skills with a delibrate solo practice.
Music, or why I’m not deaf after all…
When I was young, I was told authoritatively by a school teacher I was tone-deaf and because of that I never learned to play any instrument. This belief marked me for life. It defined me. Which is crazy. And dangerous. And BS. The author of this book gives example of people who developed perfect pitch in their 30s just using specific exercises. Now I know I could have learned to play something. I’m not deaf. After all, I’m a great ballroom dancer and how could I be one if I was tone-deaf?
It’s all about the skills, and once you’ve developed them, they’ll serve you for life!
Now that I know what I know by reading this book, I’m really focused on developing new skills or perfecting the ones I’ve got already thanks to deliberate practice sessions.
It comes down to finding an expert, getting specific exercieses done, recording your progress and getting feedback on it and correcting mistakes. And doing as many solo hours as possible. Rinse and repeat.
I’ve developed all my goals for this year like this - I’m not focusing on the outcome (goals) so much as on the ways to get there (skills) as these will serve me for the years to come even if I don’t achieve exactly what I want this year.
- We discussed this book Peak on episode 80 of The Podcast
- We further discussed the concept of Deliberate Practice on episode 81 of The Podcast
- My co-host Radek has also some very good notes on this book
Question: How do you learn? How do you practice sessions look like?
Looking for more books to read? Check out complete and updated list of books I recommend