Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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Mozart wasn't born with perfect pitch. Most athletes are not born with any natural advantage. Three world-class chess players were sisters whose success was planned by their parents before they were even born.
Anders Ericsson has spent 30 years studying the special ones - the geniuses, sports stars and musical prodigies. And his remarkable finding, revealed in Peak, is that their special abilities are acquired through training. The innate 'gift' of talent is a myth. Exceptional individuals are born with just one unique ability, shared by us all - the ability to develop our brains and bodies through our own efforts.
Anders Ericsson's research was the inspiration for the popular '10,000-hour rule', but, he tells us, this rule is only the beginning of the story. It's not just the hours that are important but how you use them. We all have the seeds of excellence within us - it's merely a question of how to make them grow.
With a bit of guidance, you'll be amazed at what the average person can achieve. The astonishing stories in Peak prove that potential is what you make it.
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|Listening Length||10 hours and 40 minutes|
|Author||Robert Pool, Anders Ericsson|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||May 12, 2016|
|Publisher||Random House Audiobooks|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #111,515 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#75 in Memory Improvement (Audible Books & Originals)
#479 in Memory Improvement Self-Help
#511 in Stress Management (Audible Books & Originals)
Reviewed in the United States on July 5, 2019
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I mention this because it enables me to speak from my own experience, findings from a wide cross-section of researchers, and, most importantly (I hope), the biographies of how people achieved greatness.
My Own Story
Around ten years ago was when I first read Ericsson's academic paper on "The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance." A colleague of mine at the time told me that he used its principles to train his son in baseball and that it was instrumental getting his son a baseball scholarship.
I didn't think about it much at that time.
Seven years later, I decided to teach myself to play piano as a side hobby. Initially, I was a textbook case of "doing everything wrong" in that I would merely learn by repeating the same phrases over and over again until I reached a point of acceptable mediocrity. What that meant is that I could play well in enough amuse myself, but was nowhere near good enough play in public.
Frustrated, I remembered what I had learned years ago from Ericsson's published research. From the books mentioned below, I learned about deliberate practice techniques. At the risk of oversimplification, I learned that, in my case super-slow, but perfect execution, is better than normal speed with mistakes. Indeed, that is how they teach even the most gifted prodigies at Julliard.
I now play pretty well.
That said, people are not naturally inclined to do that. Deliberate practice does not feel good. It is not intuitive. It feels awkward and is the antithesis of what attracted me to the piano, i.e. FUN. I do not think I would be practicing in this manner if it had not been for Ericcson's research that has now been widely disseminated. Plus, its principles have bled over into my performance in my business and other areas of my life.
So I am a huge proponent of Ericsson's research.
I think Ericsson is far from being able to disprove that natural talent derived from the gene pool is not a significant factor in the success in any area of endeavor.
For one thing, the small sample size of individuals whose brilliance he explains being purely the result of deliberate practice is small. There's the Polgar Sisters, Mozart, Paganini and a few others. Plus, the case he makes about Mozart is far from being proof.
There are far too many well-documented instances where we hear very young children of apparently normal parents, whose genius that cannot be explained, other than by genetic lottery.
When I read the biographies of folks like Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, it's commonplace that I see some edge by way of their parents and/or education, or gene pool that has nothing to do with deliberate practice.
Elon Musk had intelligent, somewhat offbeat parents and was beat up a few times in school. That can be said of many kids, however. None of this remotely explains the Elon Musk we see today.
Andre Agassi's father played a strong role in this success as a tennis pro. I would say he's a beneficiary principles taught in Ericsson's book. However, it's hard to say it's the only factor.
Bruce Springsteen had no role model or guidance. He liked Elvis and wanted to be like him. His natural talent got him there.
There was nothing remarkable about Jeff Bezo's childhood. He did not have any edge other than that which was innate. But his business smarts was evident on Wall Street before he founded Amazon.
Before Arnold Schwarzenegger became a movie star, was already successful in real estate. It was due to his prowess in math and the ability to make projections in his head about how much houses would be worth after they were fixed up. Nothing in his childhood foreshadowed his success.
Einstein? Well, that is another case in which he had no special training or advantage when he was as a child.
4.5 Stars, if that was possible
What Ericsson gets right is far more important than what is subject to debate.
The bottom line is this, in the absence a nurturing environment or generous genetic endowment, deliberate practice is one thing that can go a long way to leveling the playing field.
Here are books I've read that prior to Ericsson's book that are related to his findings on deliberate practice:
The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Anything , The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills , The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life , Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance , Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success , The Practice of Practice: Get Better Faster and others.
Here are some bios I've read which lead to me believe that there are variables outside of deliberate practice contribute outcomes:
Open: An Autobiography about Andre Agassi , Born to Run about Bruce Springsteen , Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story , Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future , Einstein: His Life and Universe , The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon and many others.
Reviewed in the United States on July 5, 2019
In the first part of the book Ericsson dispels the myth that most "prodigies" or experts achieve what they do by innate talent. I thought he was a bit biased against the truly brilliant individuals like Mozart which humanity has produced, but he makes the good point that even Mozart adopted certain strategies and worked very hard - often helped by his father - to become famous. Similarly Ericsson examines several other extraordinary individuals mainly in the realm of sports, music and recreational arithmetic such as Paginini, Picasso and Bobby Fischer and tells us of their intense and often grueling routine of practice. What he perhaps fails to mention is that even the intense ability to focus or to work repeatedly with improvement has an innate component to it. I would have appreciated his take on recent neuroscience studies investigating factors like concentration and mental stamina.
Once the myth of some kind of an innate, unreachable genius is put to rest, Ericsson explains the difference between 'ordinary' practice and 'deliberate' practice. In this difference lies the seed for the rest of the book. When it comes to deliberate practice, the key words are focus, feedback, specific goals and mental representations. Unlike 'naive' practice which involves doing the same thing again and again and expecting improvement, deliberate practice involves setting specific goals for oneself, breaking down complex tasks into chunks, making mental representations of paths leading to success, getting out of your comfort zone and getting constant feedback.
Much of the book focuses on those key last three factors. Mental representations are patterns or heuristics that allow you to become successful in a task and do it repeatedly with improvement. Ericsson provides examples from calculating prodigies and chess grandmasters to illustrate the utility and power of mental representations. Getting out of your comfort zone may sound obvious but it's equally important; helped in his narrative by neuroscience studies which illustrate how the brain strengthens neural connections in certain areas when you push yourself, Ericsson provides good tips for exerting yourself just a little bit more than you did the previous time when you attempt to get better at a task.
Lastly, he shows us how getting constant feedback on results is of paramount importance in becoming an expert. Ericsson calls this the 'Top Gun' method based on a reference to the elite US Navy pilots who became much better when they got feedback on their combat maneuvers at the Navy's Top Gun flight school. The lack of feedback can explain many seemingly paradoxical results. For instance Ericsson spends several pages describing studies showing that more experienced doctors aren't always necessarily better at diagnosis, mainly because they often work alone, don't change their methods and have no peers to provide feedback; in a nutshell, the work they put in daily contributes to ordinary practice but not deliberate practice. Doctors who made positive changes in all three areas were much better, and so can the rest of us. In fact it is startling to realize how little feedback we get from our daily work. Other studies from the areas of motivational speaking and business management showed similar trends; breaking up jobs into parcels and getting regular feedback on these can make an enormous difference.
As an aside, Ericsson offers a good critique of Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" in which Gladwell made the "ten thousand hour rule" so popular; Ericsson cautions us that Gladwell misunderstood many details of that rule including its limited utility as an average and its inapplicability to some of the examples he cites in his book.
Overall I found the book very readable and interesting, with scores of recognizable and thought-provoking examples thrown in. The only caveat to deliberate practice is one Ericsson himself states in the middle of the book: it is mainly applicable only to "highly developed fields" like sports or music where there have been hundreds of years of published and known case studies and data and widely agreed upon metrics for the field, and where there are several world-class experts to whom one can compare themselves when trying to improve. Ericsson himself states that the principles for deliberate practice don't work as well for professions like "engineer, teacher, consultant, electrician and business manager". I would think that these professional titles apply to millions of people around the planet, so those people will probably benefit a bit less from Ericsson's principles. Nonetheless, in a world constantly competing with itself, Ericsson's book offers some timely and well-researched advice for self-improvement.
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Why did I love it? Because I read a LOT of books of this kind (self-help, psychology, business, etc.) and while lots of others provide good ideas or insights, this book provides a completely new way of looking at the world. That's why it's a game changer for me. From the way I am learning to dance to the way I work at my desk, the principles highlighted in this book are relevant and applicable. They say there are two tests for a good book: 1. Will I remember it in a month? and 2. Does it change the way I think about the world? This book is a resounding yes.
A fascinating read. This book gives a compelling argument against the old adage of "natural talent". In fact, there is no such thing as natural talent. Only deliberate practice leads to outstanding performance. Having read the examples and research in this book, I agree with the authors.