Peak – a synthesis – The 200 words project

(continued from parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) – This is a synthesis of the series of posts from the book “Peak” by Anders Ericsson.

Brooke Macnamara, David Hambrick, and Frederick Oswald reviewed a large number of studies since Anders Ericsson’s seminal 1993 paper. They found that a sheer amount of deliberate practice does not explain all variation in expert performance. They also found that it varies by context – more applicable for more predictable activities like games and sports.

deliberate-practice-variation(light gray = explained variation, dark gray = unexplained)

While this can seem discouraging, it ties into an intuitive idea – deliberate practice alone doesn’t explain all expert performance. There are many other personal and environment factors that interact with each other in making experts. However, “innate talent” is not one such factor.

What does this all mean for us? First, stop using innate talent as an excuse. Second, where possible, actively find ways to integrate the principles of deliberate practice into how we teach and learn – take the help of a coach and push ourselves beyond our comfort zone. For example, we could use regular meetings to try out new ideas and practice taking initiative or test our presentation skills.

At its core, deliberate practice is about learning how to learn and to approach what we do as enthusiastic and committed students. So, here’s to that.

This is not a pie chart (above) of talent vs. practice. All traits, including the ability to deliberately practice, involve a mix of nature and nurture. In fact, there is no such thing as innate talent. That’s a myth that is constantly perpetuated, despite the fact that most psychologists recognize that all skills require practice and support for their development– even though there are certainly genetic influences. – Scott Barry Kaufmann


Source and thanks to: Peak by Anders Ericsson, Practice alone does not make perfect – Scientific American

(The 200 words project involves sharing a story from a book/blog/article I’ve read within 200 words)

Ineffective Lectures – The 200 words project

(continued from parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
Anders Ericsson’s research on deliberate practice has been extensively in training elite athletes and musicians. But, what about in universities?

Nobel prize winning Physicist Carl Weiman from Stanford university collaborated with a Post Doc and a Graduate student from the University of British Columbia to experiment with redesigning a Physics course. Weiman believed that Professor centered lectures in universities have been ineffective for centuries and he has been on a quest to make things better.

For this course, Weiman and team focused on teaching skills versus disseminating knowledge. So, they redesigned the class to mimic a fast-paced athletic training session centered around the students. They broke a lecture down into various concepts. Each concept had a series of multiple choice questions that students answered in groups using clickers. They got immediate feedback followed by a short instructor led debrief and then moved to the next concept. The results? A 20 point improvement in attendance and a 15 point improvement in scores.

Weiman conducted the experimented both in UBC and the University of Boulder and both universities have begun redesigning courses to offer this format. How can we apply this in how we teach and learn?

Cognitive scientists have found that learning only happens when you have this intense engagement. It’s almost certainly the case that lectures have been ineffective for centuries. But now we’ve figured out a better way to teach” that makes students an active participant in the process. – Prof Carl Weiman


Source and thanks to: Peak by Anders Ericsson, Carl Weiman’s paper on the experiment, ScienceMag’s article
We’ve spent 6 weeks with Prof Ericsson’s work on deliberate practice. Next week will involve a final post providing what might seem like a counter point to his work (but isn’t – spoiler).. And what we might take away from all of this.

The dangers of innate talent – The 200 words project

(continued from parts 1, 2, 3, 4).
In the many examples mentioned in past weeks, we’ve seen that “talent” is developed by deliberate practice. If you were wondering if it applied to sports, Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” starts with an interesting insight into how sports talent is picked. Gladwell analyzed data on professional athletes to show that the overwhelming majority are born in the second half of the year. Since this means they fall in the older half of the class, they tend to be physically better developed in their age group when they are young. This gets them selected for intensive practice and the rest is history.

Ericsson’s research supports this – for some sports, one could speculate about some minimum talent requirements – e.g. height and body size. Beyond that, however, practice seems to trump everything else. We also have strong reason to believe that early practice shapes our physical and mental attributes. So, we might be born with a preference for music over sports, for example. But, that counts for little if we don’t practice it.

And, therein lies the dark side of the innate talent hypothesis – believing in innate talent, we tend to write kids off before they have a chance to practice.

Nobody questions that Mozart’s achievements were extraordinary compared with those of his contemporaries. What’s often forgotten, however, is that his development was equally exceptional for his time. His musical tutelage started before he was four years old, and his father, also a skilled composer, was a famous music teacher and had written one of the first books on violin instruction. Like other world-class performers, Mozart was not born an expert—he became one. – Anders Ericsson


Source and thanks to: Peak by Anders Ericsson

The case against innate talent – The 200 words project

(continued from parts 1, 2, 3).
Researcher K Anders Ericsson has researched expert performance for the past 30+ years. In every case, his analysis has revealed one thread – every innate talent/prodigy story can be deconstructed to reveal “deliberate practice.”

Deliberate practice is practice that is typically guided by a coach that has specific goals, involves continuous stretching of the body and mind and, by nature, is hard. If you’ve felt the challenge when learning a new skill (whether it is a tennis swing or the guitar) from a coach, you’ve tasted deliberate practice. And, behind every great prodigy such as a Mozart or a Tiger Woods, there was typically a coach (in their case, dad) who developed their skills early. These practice techniques have been refined over time to the delight of competitive parents globally. Search for “child prodigy” on YouTube and you’ll notice the increase in the number of child prodigies over the years.

Often, kids with innate talent – be it IQ’s in mental tasks or better physical attributes in physical tasks – may get a head start. But, it doesn’t count for much without deliberate practice.

If innate talent isn’t everything we thought, what are the dangers of the belief?

While there is a huge benefit to starting young, it is only too late if the field doesn’t allow for participation based on age. Today’s octogenarian athletes are fitter than ever before. In 2015, Don Pellman became the first 100 year old to run a 100 meters in less than 27 seconds. – Anders Ericsson paraphrased


Source and thanks to: Peak by Anders Ericsson, The deliberate practice research paper

(The 200 words project involves sharing a story from a book/blog/article I’ve read within 200 words)

Deliberate practice minus the 10,000 hour rule – The 200 words project

(continued from parts 1, 2).
The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea of 10,000 hours required to become an expert . There were, however, two issues with the 10,000 hour rule.

First, there is no magic number for the number of hours required to become an expert. It varies by field. 10,000 hours could be a good approximation but nothing more than that. Second and more important, experience does not result in expertise. Spending thousands of hours “practicing” golf by yourself will not make you an expert. Spending all those hours in “deliberate practice” under an expert coach is what you will need. It isn’t about the time you spend – it is about what you do with it.

This, then, leads us back to innate talent. Ericsson conducted years of research with expert violin players in Germany only to find that there was no visible link between innate talent and the performance of the best violinists. Instead, the two predictors were (you guessed it) – hours and intensity of practice.

If this is the case, perhaps there is a case to be made against the idea of innate talent?

People always said I had a natural swing. They thought I wasn’t a hard worker. But when I was young, I’d play and practice all day, then practice more at night by my car’s headlights. My hands bled. Nobody worked harder at golf than I did. – Sam Snead – once called “the best natural player ever” from Anders’ article on HBR


Source and thanks to: Peak by Anders Ericsson

(The 200 words project involves sharing a story from a book/blog/article I’ve read within 200 words)

Testing for a relationship between innate talent and expertise – The 200 words project

(continued from part 1)
We measure innate talent in the mind with “IQ”. IQ had no relation with the London taxi drivers who passed the qualification test.

While the average IQ of scientists is higher than the average person, there is no correlation between IQ and scientific productivity either. Richard Feynman, one of the most brilliant physicists of all time, didn’t make it to the top 5%. Researchers have suggested that the minimum requirements for performing capably as a scientist is around 110 (top 25%). Beyond that, there is little or no additional benefit.

Similarly, dental students’ early success was found to be related to their existing level of visuospatial ability. But again, this trend disappeared with residents.

And, a study of 91 fifth grade students who were given piano instruction for 6 months found that students with higher IQs performed better at the end of the 6 months. However, as years of study increased, the correlation between IQ and music performance got smaller and smaller.This finding is similar to other studies of this nature.

If there isn’t an observable link between “innate talent” and expertise, do we explain expertise with the 10,000 hour rule?

Coming up next week.

It is unclear if the IQ requirement in research is for one to succeed as a scientist or to do the writing and admission tests required to get a PhD. – Anders Ericsson


Source and thanks to: Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

(The 200 words project involves sharing a story from a book/blog/article I’ve read within 200 words)

The London taxi driver study – The 200 words project

In a lengthy study, Eleanor Maguire and Katherine Woollett from the neuroimaging center at University College London followed a group of 79 trainee taxi drivers and 31 controls (people who weren’t in training). Over time, they took snapshots of their brain structure using MRI and studied their performance on memory tasks.

The trainee taxi drivers had to memorize a map of London with all 25,000 streets and thousands of landmarks to pass; one of the toughest qualification tests in the world. As a result, only 39 of the trainee taxi drivers passed the test.

The researchers famously saw a greater volume of cells in the successful drivers’ hippocampus. This is the area of the brain associated with spatial memory. Over time, it also showed that the longer the driver’s experience, the larger the hippocampus. And, on the flip side, as time passed after a driver retired, the hippocampus shrunk to normal size.

This hippocampus study famously pushed us to consider the hypothesis that our brains develop with exercise and are not “fixed” as was previously assumed.

So, all this leads us to a big question we’ll tackle next week. Did the taxi drivers who passed have some innate talent or genetic predisposition that enabled them to pass the test?

The human brain remains ‘plastic‘ even in adult life, allowing it to adapt when we learn new tasks. – Eleanor Maguire


Source and thanks to: Peak by Anders Ericsson, The Hippocampus study, Wired’s article on the study

(The 200 words project involves sharing a story from a book/blog/article I’ve read within 200 words)