Deliberate Practice Breeds Genius

I ini­tially thought that this was just going to be anoth­er super­flu­ous vari­ation on the 10,000 hours theme (from Mal­colm Glad­well­’s latest, Out­liers).

OK, so while it actu­ally is that, Dav­id Brooks’ look at how to forge mod­ern cre­at­ive geni­us is still fairly inter­est­ing.

Coyle describes a ten­nis academy in Rus­sia where they enact ral­lies without a ball. The aim is to focus metic­u­lously on tech­nique. (Try to slow down your golf swing so it takes 90 seconds to fin­ish. See how many errors you detect.)

By prac­ti­cing in this way, per­formers delay the auto­mat­iz­ing pro­cess. The mind wants to turn delib­er­ate, newly learned skills into uncon­scious, auto­mat­ic­ally per­formed skills. But the mind is sloppy and will settle for good enough. By prac­ti­cing slowly, by break­ing skills down into tiny parts and repeat­ing, the strenu­ous stu­dent forces the brain to intern­al­ize a bet­ter pat­tern of per­form­ance.

I par­tic­u­larly liked this anec­dote:

Accord­ing to Colv­in, Ben Frank­lin would take essays from The Spec­tat­or magazine and trans­late them into verse. Then he’d trans­late his verse back into prose and exam­ine, sen­tence by sen­tence, where his essay was inferi­or to The Spec­tat­or’s ori­gin­al.

An inter­est­ing learn­ing meth­od… reverse engin­eer­ing some­thing you con­sider excel­lent or per­fect, recon­struct­ing it your­self and finally examin­ing the two end products.

2 thoughts on “Deliberate Practice Breeds Genius

  1. Paul

    It’s still an exten­sion of what Glad­well says in Out­liers.

    In that book, Glad­well­’s prin­cip­al point – the one he wants us to take away, which he very care­fully exam­ines, is the rela­tion­ship between effort and reward.

    For most of us, that rela­tion­ship waxes and wanes. Some­times it’s good some­times it’s bad – but most import­antly, it’s not that good most of the time for most of us. For “out­liers” in their envir­on­ment though, there is a very dir­ect rela­tion­ship between effort and reward.

    Think of the gym­nasts in the last chapter of his book – they firstly thank their par­ents and their coaches at the loc­al gym, not because they are some­how being mod­est, but because they are being truth­ful.

    The reas­on these people spend so much time reverse engin­eer­ing and slow motion prac­tising their sport is because they (and their coaches) know it will bring rewards, and this is logic­al.

    After all, there’s no point reverse engin­eer­ing a bad piece of prose or slow motion prac­tising a bad stroke. And how did people learn to dis­tin­guish that good from bad? Envir­on­ment and oppor­tun­ity. Which leads us straight back to the core argu­ment of Glad­well­’s book.

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