Have you ever wanted to learn a language or pick up an instrument, only to become too daunted by the task at hand? Expert performance guru Anders Ericsson has made a career studying chess champions, violin virtuosos, star athletes, and memory mavens.
Peak condenses three decades of original research to introduce an incredibly powerful approach to learning that is fundamentally different from the way people traditionally think about acquiring a skill.
Why should the teaching techniques used to turn aspiring musicians into concert pianists have anything to do with the training that a dancer must go through to become a prima ballerina or the study that a chess player must undertake to become a grandmaster?
The answer is that the most effective and most powerful types of practice in any field work by harnessing the adaptability of the human body and brain to create, step by step, the ability to do things that were previously not possible.
If you wish to develop a truly effective training method for anything–creating world-class gymnasts, for instance, or even something like teaching doctors to perform laparoscopic surgery–that method will need to take into account what works and what doesn’t in driving changes in the body and brain. Thus, all truly effective practice techniques work in essentially the same way.
These advances are all accomplished through trial and error. In Antifragile, Nassim N. Taleb explains that,
If every trial provides you with information about what does not work, you start zooming in on a solution–so every attempt becomes more valuable, more like an expense than an error. And of course you make discoveries along the way.
Why a particular training method might be effective
The practicioners in the various fields built their bodies of knowledge in isolation, with no sense that all of this was interconnected–that the ice-skater who was working on a triple axel was following the same set of general principles as, say, the pianist working to perfect a Mozart sonata.
So imagine what might be possible with efforts that are inspired and directed by a clear scientific understanding of the best ways to build expertise. And imagine what might be possible if we applied the techniques that have proved to be so effective in sports and music and chess to all the different types of learning that people do, from the education of schoolchildren to the training of doctors, engineers, pilots, businesspeople, and workers of every sort.
Purposeful-practice vs Deliberate-practice
We all follow pretty much the same pattern with any skill we learn, from baking a pie to writing a descriptive paragraph. We start off with a general idea of what we want to do, get some instruction from a teacher or a coach or a book or a website, practice until we reach an acceptable level, and then let it become automatic.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
For much of what we do in life, it’s perfectly fine to reach a middling level of performance and just leave it like that.
But there is one important thing to understand here: once you have reached this satisfactory skill level and automated your performance–your driving, your tennis playing, your baking of pies–you have stopped improving.
[bluebox]Here is the key difference between the traditional approach to learning and the purposeful-practice or deliberate-practice approaches:
The traditional practice is not designed to challenge homeostasis. It assumes, consciously or not, that learning is all about fulfilling your innate potential and that you can develop a particular skill or ability without getting too far out of your comfort zone. In this view, all that you are doing with practice–indeed, all that you can do–is to reach a fixed potential.
With deliberate practice, however, the goal is not just to reach your potential but to build it, to make things possible that were not possible before. This requires challenging homeostasis–getting out of your comfort zone–and forcing your brain or your body to adapt. But once you do this, learning is no longer just a way of fullfilling some genetic destiny; it becomes a way of taking control of your destiny and shaping your potential in ways that you choose.[/bluebox]