peakbyandersericssonHow many pushups can you do in a row?

10, 20? Could you do 100?

And you’d have to be a freak if you could do 500 in a row, right?

Well, no.

You’d just be human.

In 1980 Minoru Yoshida of Japan did 10,057 pushups nonstop.

In 1993 Charles Servizio of the good old USA did 46,001 pushups in 21 hours and 21 minutes.

In 2016 David Escojido of the USA did 2,298 pushup in 1 hour.

You might think that these folks must be oddities. They must be gifted. They must have some weird thing in their DNA allowing them to do these things.

But you’d be wrong.

None of these people were born that way. In fact, what researchers are finding is that most of the folks that we think are prodigies—folks like Mozart, Tiger Woods, chess masters who can play 20 games at once without even looking at a board—the biggest thing that separates them from the rest of us isn’t DNA.

Anders Ericsson, a researcher at Florida State University, has spent the last 30 years studying what gives experts their edge. And he reveals in Peak: The New Science of Expertise that he and other researchers have found that while there are some physical traits like height and size that definitely make a difference in some physical activities (notice how all the top gymnasts are short), what really sets people apart is how much of a certain type of practice they’ve done.

Not just practice, but a certain type of practice.

Practicing “hard” doesn’t do much for you. Putting in a lot of hours doesn’t do much either. Instead, you need to practice in a way that has been shown to lead people to actually improve their performance. You still have to put in a lot of time practicing—there is no shortcut—but only the type of practice he explains in the book seems to lead to the increase of performance.

Is he saying that anyone can do anything?

No. When I first looked into his research, one of my big issues was that it seemed he was claiming anyone could do anything with 10,000 hours of practice.
But he’s not saying that.

Is he saying genetics has no influence?

It can, but what he’s found is that it doesn’t have the role we normally think of when we think of top performance. And, most importantly, we place artificial limits on ourselves by thinking people are born to this or that activity.

There is far too much to post here. What you need to know is that what he shares in this book is fascinating, compelling, and surprising. I’ve been training people for over thirty years. And I found myself enlightened. If you’re at all interested in education, or getting better at some activity (from parenting to golf), or helping your kids get better, you’ll want to read this book. Highly recommended.

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2 Responses to Peak

  1. Formflow1 says:

    This book has been a great listen. Thanks for the recommendation. Have you found ways ta writer can incorporate deliberate practice. I could see using this to learn to type faster. (I am a painfully slow typist)

    • John Brown says:

      I don’t know that you can do deliberate practice as he describes it for writing. But even that’s not accurate because I don’t think what you want to focus on is writing.

      I mean, if you want to type faster, there are all sorts of programs that have been proven to work. And lots of people have learned to type fast, but that doesn’t mean they can develop and tell stories.

      What we want are great stories. What you’re trying to learn is how to develop and tell stories that entertain, provoke, and move.

      But what would prevent us from doing deliberate practice of story development and telling?

      Ericsson divides practice up into three types:

      1. Naive practice

      2. Purposeful practice

      3. Deliberate practice

      He says that “Deliberate practice develops skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques have been established. The practice regimen should be designed and overseen by a teacher or coach who is familiar with the abilities of expert performers and with how those abilities can best be developed” (p99).

      He states further that “You need a teacher or coach who assigns practice techniques designed to help you improve on very specific skills. That teacher or coach must draw from a highly developed body of knowledge about the best way to teach these skills. And the field itself must have a highly developed set of skills that are available to be taught” (p100).

      It’s not that there are no teachers and coaches. It’s that I don’t think there’s a highly developed body of knowledge about the best way, or even more effective ways, to teach story development and telling.

      If you think about how pianists and Olympians train, they are put through programs that measure progress. They know that this type of practice leads to these gains.

      When you look at storytelling, I don’t see any of that. I don’t see anyone measuring methods of training against performance goals.

      Furthermore, a lot of the training that takes place isn’t about what top performers DO. It’s about concepts–what is plot, what makes characters interesting, what is the three act structure, etc.

      Those concepts are all important. But deliberate practice is about DOING something.

      And that doing isn’t really typing. Yes, you’ve got to type. But its the development of the story that matters. That’s the goal. And the way the story is told so that it’s clear, believable, and interesting, triggering the emotional reactions that we love.

      The only person I’ve taken a class from that really did this to any noticeable degree was Orson Card in his boot camp. There may be other programs, but I haven’t seen them personally.

      So I don’t know that we have a lot of deliberate practice options in the strict sense of the term.

      However, we do have lots of purposeful practice opportunities. And the key, Ericsson says, is to try to get it as close to deliberate practice as possible.

      And to do that you would:

      1. Identify the expert performers.

      2. Figure out what they DO that makes them so good. And remember that we’re talking about being good at DEVELOPING stories (identifying and developing ideas) and TELLING stories.

      3. Come up with training techniques that allow you to do it too.

      Yes, you’ll need to learn concepts and principles along the way, but we want to focus on what these folks DO.

      I have some ideas on that, but no time right now to make suggestions other than:

      1. Identify 1-3 books you just love. That give you a great experience.

      2. Identify what in those books triggers your interest and pleasure, whatever that is. What parts do you savor and anticipate? What was it that you think triggered that response in you? What about the experience as a whole–what do you think made it so satisfying?

      3. What did they do in the telling that made it clear?

      4. What did they do in the telling that made it believable?

      5. What did they do that transported you to the scenes? And that transported you into the character’s head?

      6. Break the books down. Analyze them. The sequence of things told to the reader and the effect. The content included.

      7. Identify how they generate the ideas. This is mental work. How do they do it? What are ways that will work to help you generate the ideas and develop them into a story?