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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