Michael Covel interviews Anders Ericsson. His new book is “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.” Starting around high school, Anders became interested in how he could best improve himself. When he got to college he studied how people could achieve above average performance. He did a study showing the number of digits average people could repeat back correctly. The average number was about 5-7 digits. After an hour of practice they were able to repeat about 20 digits correctly. With even more training one student was able to get 70 digits in a row. This showed Anders that the mind can improve with the right kind of practice. Performance is trainable and purposeful practice is key. One major component of successful practice is immediate feedback on whether you are accurate or not.
Michael moves onto a study Anders did on taxi drivers in London. They have to go through extensive training to drive the streets of London. They are average people, but train for many years to be able to pass this taxi driving test. After learning over 10,000 streets and different connections there brains actually changed. He compared bus drivers in London, who did not have to go through the same training, to the taxi drivers. The same changes did not occur in bus drivers brains like the taxi drivers. They did not have to master all the streets but rather just master certain routes. Michael asks, “If they stop their taxi driving profession, does the brain regress?” Anders says that yes, without practice your mind will revert back to the old state.
Next, Michael and Anders use Mozart as an example of nature vs. nurture. His father was a musician and taught young children how to play instruments. Mozart was able to learn many of the musical distinctions that he was famed for because he started so early, around age 3-4. Any child at that age is able to learn the things Mozart learned, however it is virtually impossible as an adult. This moves into the idea of brain plasticity. It is important to realize that you can’t push your child to learn longer than they want to learn for. About 30 minutes is their limit. Beyond that, they lose their capability for deliberate practice. Deliberate practice helps raise the bar and get you better than you were before.
The next example of extraordinary talent brought up are master chess players. They don’t look at pieces individually, but rather base their actions on pattern recognition. They see structure and see where attacks may be successful. Grandmaster chess players are able to play blindfolded and against 25 or so people simultaneously. These are skills that are acquired and practiced. Stephan Curry is also used as another great example of an extraordinary achiever. If you understand the practice an individual does then you can see their improvement over time. Michael asks, “Has anyone said that their improvement was easy?” Anders said that he has been studying this subject for over 30 years and about 50 people have said that improvement came easy, but after talking for a few hours, their answers change. Michael then asks about the validity of the idea that 10,000 hours makes you an expert. Anders says he hasn’t seen that 10,000 hours is a magical number. You need a lot of practice, but there are no magical boundaries. When people count the number of hours that they have done something, and it happens to add up to 10,000 hours, then that doesn’t make you an expert. For example, if you have driven 10,000 hours, that doesn’t make you an expert.
Lastly, Michael circles back to the importance of deliberate practice asking about the difference between youngsters and older people seeing the benefits of deliberate practice. Anders says that unfortunately most younger people that are so focused as a child in their performance don’t go on to have careers in the field they were pushed into. Those who chose and want to be in the sport they are in usually go on to continued success. Deliberate practice alone doesn’t make you successful. You need to have a sincere desire for what you are doing.
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