Posts Tagged ‘talent’

What makes good practice?

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016 | Success & Productivity


Anders Ericsson is a Swedish psychologist who researches why super talented people are so good at what they do. His research has formed the basis of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated. Whether you buy into their interpretation or not, it is clear that practice, specifically deliberate practice as Ericsson defines it, is a cornerstone of learning skills.

But what makes good practice? In an interview with Stephen J. Dubner he laid out some important points.

You should be focused and self-examining

Practice cannot simply be sloppy. You need to focus on what you are doing. You need to consider what you are doing and how you could improve. You need to be self-critical. That feedback needs to come straight away so that you can learn from it.

Once you are doing something on autopilot, you are no longer improving, Take driving for example. Once you can drive, you don’t really think about it. So it doesn’t matter if you have been driving 30 years, that doesn’t make you a better driver than someone who has been driving one year (unless you have really been focusing on improving your driving).

Ericcson quotes one study that shows that GPs who have been practicing for long periods are not better (actually they were worse) at diagnosing chest conditions than new doctors were. This is because those thirty years do not necessarily represent deliberate practice, and because the feedback they get on the accuracy of their diagnoses is not immediate.

It should be outside your comfort zone

If practice is fun, you are probably not doing it to the full effect. It is easy to fall into this trap. I regularly play my guitar, but often I just plan the songs I already know. This is not improving my guitar skills because I am not pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

You should have a teacher

You can self-teach, as many great musicians have. However, if you want to learn and practice in the most efficient way possible, you need a teacher. Someone who can give you external feedback, someone who already knows the ropes and is familiar with the established best-practice way of teaching a skill.

You should break it down

Your practice should have very specific goals. For example, just “playing some guitar” is not real practice. I need to practice a specific skill: timing, a riff, a certain technique. I need to focus in one particular area and come up with exercises to improve that in isolation, then later practice putting it all together.

Talent is Overrated

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 | Books

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else is a book by Geoff Colvin.

I read it after I was recommended it by a friend. He is a member of my Toastmasters club and is a lovely and funny guy. But several of his talks have irked the sceptic in me. In one unlucky incident, for example, he gave a talk on neuro-linguistic programming, a field that has now been completed debunked. Unfortunately for him, I was his formal evaluator that way, and was quite outspoken in my evaluation speech!

In another speech he spoke about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, which again is probably nonsense. I challenged him on it and he recommended I read “Talent is Overrated”. So, after that extended backstory, here I am having read it with my usual attempt to keep an open, yet appropriately-sceptical mind.

The central theme of the book is that you do not need “talent” to be good at something, you just need lots of time. It challenges the idea that there is a correlation between IQ and success. Research does not support these suggestions.

However, it does make an important point about the quality of practice. It says it is very important, and it is. One of the biggest criticism’s about Gladwell’s 10,000 hours is that he largely ignores quality of practice whereas Colvin stresses it is the most important thing.

The second half of the book turns into a management handbook for motivating your staff. This makes a good point that staff are your most valuable asset. However, some of it felt a little confused. For example it claims you need to have a long-term plan and talks about Panasonic’s 500 year plan. Then it talks about having to reinvent your business model every 3-4 years. How do we reconcile long term plans with the increasingly uncertain future?

The book finishes off by going back to the original topic of why are highly successful people so successful. It discusses age-related degrading of talents and suggests that while we do degrade as we get older, if we continue to push our skills they tend not to degrade much at all (but the rest of our bodies will). I’m not sure on the research on this, though I might just choose to believe it because it sounds pleasing. Ah the bliss of ignorance.

It also puts forward the idea that if you want to be truly amazing at something you need to start really young. This is probably a controversial point, that is probably true. Thus entirely justifying living out your dreams through your kids…

Talent is overrated

10,000 hours of golf

Saturday, March 15th, 2014 | Sport

When I started learning guitar, I took some heart from research showing that natural ability was not that important. The key factor, at least according to the research, was the amount of time spent practising. This was good news because despite not having a natural aptitude for practical tasks, I could just apply a simple equation of time x structured practice = success.

Of course, the jury renames out on the results for me so far.

However, BBC News ran an article earlier this month about a guy who was rubbish at golf, so quit his job to play full time to see if he could achieve greatness. He is only half way through his experience but is already showing great results. You can follow his progress on his blog.

On the down side, his team does include a chiropractor.