Peak - Ericsson and Pool

Ericsson, A., & Pool, R. (2016). Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (1 edition). Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Authors: {Anders Ericsson} and {Robert Pool}
Publication year: {2016}


1. The Power of Purposeful Practice

2. Harnessing Adaptability

3. Mental Representations

4. The Gold Standard

This chapter (well, the whole book, but especially this chapter) is mostly a pop recap of Ericsson et al - The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.

  • Some kinds of purposeful practice are much more effective than others. The authors say the most effective type is “deliberate practice”
    • Must be objective performance measurements
    • Performers must have strong incentive to practice and improve (generally via competition)
    • Fields are well-understood, skills standardized developed over long periods
    • Some performers serve as coaches; they have powerful training techniques
      • New training techniques unlock new levels of achievement and so on
  • Key examples:
    • music (especially violin and piano): see Ericsson, Tesch-Römer, Krampe 1990 and 1993
      • solitary practice time largely determined performance
        • in particular thousands of hours of practice were a necessary ingredient: “no shortcuts and no ‘prodigies’”
      • even top students saw practice as not-fun and didn’t enjoy the work they did to improve
        • motivation came from the desire to increase performance
    • ballet
      • likewise, solitary practice time largely determined performance
        • “we found no sign of anyone born with the sort of talent that would make it possible to reach the upper levels of ballet without working as hard or harder than anyone else”
    • chess
      • “no one reaches the level of grandmaster with less than a decade of intense study”
  • Becoming an expert in these fields requires an instructor’s help.
  • Students are able to become prodigies at younger ages because of advances in training techniques
  • How deliberate practice works (p. 97) (see E, T-R, K ’93)
    • students meet with teachers a small number of times per week
    • teachers assign practice activities
      • developing those activities requires that someone has achieved a level of performance where they could develop those practice activities and pass them on
      • “skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques have been established.”
      • these activities encode a theory about what expert performers do to excel
    • those practice activities are tailored to ZPD
    • requires legibility for the the student: they must be able to see their progress
    • like purposeful practice, requires focus, feedback, good incremental goals, mental representations
    • sounds like drilling is a core part: “Deliberate practice nearly always involves building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working to improve them specifically; over time this step-by-step improvement will eventually lead to expert performance.” (p. 100)
  • Authors claim (p. 98) that there’s no deliberate practice for being a manager or an engineer because there are no objective criteria for superior performance. This doesn’t make sense to me.
  • In fields where deliberate practice is not possible, get as close as you can (p. 103).
    • “First, identify the expert performers, then figure out what they do that makes them so good, then come up with training techniques that allow you to do it, too.”
    • But it’s hard to identify experts in fields without objective metrics
    • “If you have a psychological bent, it may be worthwhile to talk to the expert performers and try to get a sense of how they approach tasks and why. Even with that approach, however, you’re likely to uncover just a small part of what makes them special, for often even they don’t know.”
    • Alternately, just figure out what sets their training apart (p. 107, example with runner)
  • Good coaches don’t just grade you: they understand your mental representations and suggest how to think about the problem more effectively
  • The 10,000 hour rule isn’t a rule
    • The number varies from field to field
    • In some sense, it’s a lower bound: pro pianists probably spend 25k hours by the time they win int’l competitions
    • It’s also certainly not a sufficient criterion. If anything, it’s probably more of a necessary condition.
    • But the key thing that is true is that becoming an expert requires a huge amount of time and effort over many years.
    • You have to look at time spent in deliberate practice, not just time spent in the field