Book Review: Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise - by Anders Ericsson


The scientist who did all the research on 10,000 hours for mastery, deliberate practice etc etc. writes his own book on the topic. As I’d already read half a dozen books on the same subject, I didn’t get much new information from this one, but if you’d rather take it from the source, rather than other people’s popularisation of his research, this is the book to get.

My notes

There’s no such thing as a predefined ability.

The usual approach: Sstart off with an 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.

Once you have reached this satisfactory skill level and automated your performance, you have stopped improving.

Purposeful practice has well-defined, specific goals.

Break it down and make a plan: What exactly do you need to do.

You seldom improve much without giving the task your full attention.

Purposeful practice involves feedback. You have to know whether you are doing something right and, if not, how you’re going wrong.

Purposeful practice requires getting out of one’s comfort zone. This is perhaps the most important part.

The best way to get past any barrier is to come at it from a different direction.

Maintaining the focus and the effort required by purposeful practice is hard work, and it is generally not fun. So the issue of motivation inevitably comes up.

Purposeful practice in a nutshell: Get outside your comfort zone but do it in a focused way, with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor your progress. Oh, and figure out a way to maintain your motivation.

General pattern for how physical activity creating changes in the body: when a body system - certain muscles, the cardiovascular system, or something else - is stressed to the point that homeostasis can no longer be maintained, the body responds with changes that are intended to reestablish homeostasis. You have to keep upping the ante: run farther, run faster, run uphill. If you don’t keep pushing and pushing and pushing some more, the body will settle into homeostasis, albeit at a different level than before, and you will stop improving.

On the other hand, pushing too hard for too long can lead to burnout and ineffective learning. The brain, like the body, changes most quickly in that sweet spot where it is pushed outside - but not too far outside - its comfort zone.

Some activities have no standard training approaches. Whatever methods there are seem slapdash and produce unpredictable results. Other activities, like classical music performance, mathematics, and ballet, are blessed with highly developed, broadly accepted training methods. If one follows these methods carefully and diligently, one will almost surely become an expert.

These fields have several characteristics in common. There are always objective ways to measure performance such as the win/loss of a chess competition or a race. These fields tend to be competitive enough that performers have strong incentive to practice and improve.

Clear distinction between purposeful practice - in which a person tries very hard to push himself or herself to improve - and practice that is both purposeful and informed.

Deliberate practice requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities. Thus it demands near-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable.

If you want to improve in chess, you don’t do it by playing chess; you do it with solitary study of the grandmasters’ games. If you want to improve in darts, you don’t do it by going to the bar. You do it by spending some time alone working on reproducing your throwing motion exactly from one throw to the next.