What Everyone Should Know about Deliberate Practice

flickr photo shared by Adam Jones under a CC (BY) license

flickr photo shared by Adam Jones under a CC (BY) license

True confession: I’m probably one of the few people out there who saw the movie Top Gun and never knew it was based on an actual military training program.

Well, that’s what books are for.

I’m reading Anders Ericsson’s book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. What a mind and what a researcher!

He’s the person behind the 10,000 hours research Malcolm Gladwell discussed (and made so viral) in Outliers. Oh, and Ericsson clears up some misconceptions about how those hours got discussed.

He’s made it his life’s work to uncover what it takes for someone to master a skill. The Top Gun Project comes up because the program is a great example of the kinds of teaching that helps students get there. I’m sure I’ll end up writing more about this in the near future, but what’s inspired me the most about Ericsson’s book is how intent he is on debunking the myth of innate talent and of making it clear that all of us – no matter our current age or abilities – can become expert at most everything we want to. The power to do so lies in our hands, provided we create the kinds of learning experiences he and other learning experts recommend.

So I’ll leave you with a quote from his book. It’s pretty inspiring. Oh, Dan is a 30 year old who decided to spend the next 5-6 years aiming to be a professional golfer. He has absolutely no golf experience, but he plans to employ all he’s learned from learning researchers like Ericsson:

When the writer asked why he was doing it, Dan gave an answer I really liked. He said he didn’t appreciate the attitude that only certain people can succeed in certain areas — that only those people who are logical and ‘good at math’ can go into mathematics, that only athletic people can go into sports, that only musically gifted people can become really good at playing an instrument. This sort of thinking just gave people an excuse not to pursue things that they might otherwise really enjoy and perhaps even be good at, and he didn’t want to fall into that trap. . . .

Even more than that statement, I liked Dan’s realization that deliberate practice isn’t just for kids who are beginning a life of training to become chess grandmasters or Olympic athletes or world-class musicians. Nor is it just for members of large organizations, like the U.S. Navy, that can afford to develop some high-intensity training program (Top Gun). Deliberate practice is for everyone who dreams. It’s for anyone who wants to learn how to draw, to write computer code, to juggle, to play saxophone, to pen ‘the Great American Novel.’ It’s for everyone who wants to improve their poker game, their softball skills, their salesmanship, their singing. It’s for all those people who want to take control of their lives and create their own potential and not buy into the idea that this right here, right now, is as good as it gets.