Notes & Quotes: Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

The following are my favorite quotes from Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool's Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.
  1. While in normal circumstances only one in every ten thousand people develops perfect pitch, every single one of Sakakibara's students did. The clear implication is that perfect pitch, far from being a gift bestowed upon only a lucky few, is an ability that pretty much anyone can develop with the right exposure and training.
  2. Since the 1990s, brain researchers have come to realize that the brain -- even the adult brain -- is far more adaptable than anyone ever imagined, and this gives us a tremendous amount of control over what our brains are able to do. In particular, the brain responds to the right sorts of triggers by rewiring itself in various ways. New connections are made between neurons, while existing connections can be strengthened or weakened, and in some parts of the brain it is even possible for new neurons to grow.
  3. No matter what role innate genetic endowment may play in the achievements of "gifted" people, the main gift that these people have is the same one we all have -- the adaptability of the human brain and body, which they have taken advantage of more than the rest of us.
  4. We have far more power than we ever realized to take control of our own lives.
  5. Purposeful practice is, as the term implies, much more purposeful, thoughtful, and focused than this sort of naive practice. In particular, it has the following characteristics:
    1. Purposeful practice is focused.
    2. Purposeful practice involves feedback.
    3. Purposeful practice requires getting out of one's comfort zone.
  6. The reason that most people don't possess these extraordinary physical capabilities isn't because they don't have the capacity for them, but rather because they're satisfied to live in the comfortable rut of homeostasis and never do the work that is required to get out of it. They live in the world of "good enough."
  7. The main thing that sets experts apart from the rest of us is that their years of practice have changed the neural circuitry in their brains to produce highly specialized mental representations, which in turn make possible the incredible memory, pattern recognition, problem solving, and other sorts of advanced abilities needed to excel in their particular specialties.
  8. In pretty much every area, a hallmark of expert performances is the ability to see patterns in a collection of things that would seem random or confusing to people with less well developed mental representations. In other words, experts see the forest when everyone else sees only trees.
  9. To write well, develop a mental representation ahead of time to guide your efforts, then monitor and evaluate your efforts and be ready to modify that representation as necessary.
  10. Deliberate practice. It is the gold standard, the ideal to which anyone learning a skill should aspire.
  11. Deliberate practice is different from other sorts of purposeful practice in two important ways: First, it requires a field that is already reasonably well developed - that is, a field in which the best performers have attained a level of performance that clearly sets them apart from people who are just entering the field. Second, deliberate practice requires a teacher who can provide practice activities designed to help a student improve his or her performance.
  12. The first step toward enhancing performance in an organization is realizing that improvement is possible only if participants abandon business-as-usual practices. Doing so requires recognizing and rejecting three prevailing myths:
    1. The belief that one's abilities are limited by one's genetically prescribed characteristics. That belief manifests itself in all sorts of "I can't" or "I'm not" statements: "I'm just not very creative." "I can't manage people." "I'm not any good with numbers." "I can't do much better than this." But, the right sort of practice can help pretty much anyone improve in just about any area they choose to focus on. We can shape our own potential. 
    2. If you do something for long enough, you're bound to get better at it. Again, we know better. Doing the same thing over and over again in exactly the same way is not a recipe for improvement; it is a recipe for stagnation and gradual decline.
    3. The third myth states that all it takes to improve is effort. If you just try hard enough, you'll get better. If you want to be a better manager, try harder. If you want to generate more sales, try harder. If you want to improve teamwork, try harder. The reality is, however, that all of these things -- managing, selling, teamwork -- are specialized skills, and unless you are using practice techniques specifically designed to improve those particular skills, trying hard will not get you very far.
  13. When you look at how people are trained in the professional and business worlds, you find a tendency to focus on knowledge at the expense of skills. The main reasons are tradition and convenience: it is much easier to present knowledge to a large group of people than it is to set up conditions under which individuals can develop skills through practice.
  14. One of the most important things a teacher can do is to help you develop your own mental representations so that you can monitor and correct your own performance.
  15. This is a key to getting the maximum benefit out of any sort of practice, from private or group lessons to solitary practice and even to games or competitions: whatever you are doing, focus on it.
  16. Focus and concentration are crucial so shorter training sessions with clearer goals are the best way to develop new skills faster. It is better to train at 100 percent effort for less time than at 70 percent effort for a longer period. Once you find you can no longer focus effectively, end the session. And make sure you get enough sleep so that you can train with maximum concentration.
  17. The hallmark of purposeful or deliberate practice is that you try to do something you cannot do -- that takes you out of your comfort zone -- and that you practice it over and over again, focusing on exactly how you are doing it, where you are falling short, and how you can get better.
  18. Pure mental analysis is not nearly enough. We can only form effective mental representations when we try to reproduce what the expert performer can do, fail, figure out why we failed, try again, and repeat -- over and over again.
  19. This is what you should try when other techniques for getting past a plateau have failed. First, figure out exactly what is holding you back. What mistakes are you making, and when? Push yourself well outside of your comfort zone and see what breaks down first. Then design a practice technique aimed at improving that particular weakness. Once you've figured out what the problem is, you may be able to fix it yourself, or you may need to go to an experienced coach or teacher for suggestions. Either way, pay attention to what happens when you practice; if you are not improving, you will need to try something else. 
  20. There is little scientific evidence for the existence of a general "willpower" that can be applied in any situation.
  21. As a rule of thumb, I think that anyone who hopes to improve skill in a particular area should devote an hour or more each day to practice that can be done with full concentration. Maintaining the motivation that enables such a regimen has two parts: reasons to keep going and reasons to stop. When you quit something that you had initially wanted to do, it's because the reasons to stop eventually came to outweigh the reasons to continue. Thus, to maintain your motivation you can either strengthen the reasons to keep going or weaken the reasons to quit. Successful motivation efforts generally include both.
  22. Limit the length of your practice sessions to about an hour. You can't maintain intense concentration for much longer than that -- and when you're first starting out, it's likely to be less. If you want to practice longer than an hour, go for an hour and take a break.
  23. One of the best ways to create and sustain social motivation is to surround yourself with people who will encourage and support and challenge you in your endeavors.
  24. At its core, deliberate practice is a lonely pursuit. While you may collect a group of like-minded individuals for support and encouragement, still much of your improvement will depend on practice you do on your own.
  25. One of the best bits of advice is to set things up so that you are constantly seeing concrete signs of improvement, even if it is not always major improvement. Break your long journey into a manageable series of goals and focus on them one at a time -- perhaps even giving yourself a small reward each time you reach a goal.
  26. There is no reason not to follow your dream. Deliberate practice can open the door to a world of possibilities that you may have been convinced were out of reach. Open that door.
  27. In the first stage, children are introduced in a playful way to what will eventually become their field of interest... Once a future expert performer becomes interested and shows some promise in an area, the typical next step is to take lessons from a coach or teacher... Finally, as the students continue to improve, they started to seek out better-qualified teachers and coaches who would take them to the next level... Generally when they're in their early or mid teens, the future experts make a major commitment to becoming the best that they can be. This commitment is the third stage... Now students will often seek out the best teachers or schools for their training, even if it requires moving across the country...[Later] This is the fourth stage of expert performance, where some people move beyond the existing knowledge in their field and make unique creative contributions. It is the least well understood of the four stages and the most intriguing.
  28. There are no big leaps, only developments that look like big leaps to people from the outside because they haven't seen all of the little steps that comprise them.
  29. Expert performers develop their extraordinary ability through years and years of dedicated practice, improving step by step in a long, laborious process. There are no shortcuts.
  30. People do not stop learning and improving because they have reached some innate limits on their performance; they stop learning and improving because, for whatever reasons, they stopped practicing -- or never started.
  31. That is just the beginning of the story -- and it is the end of the story that truly tells the tale.
  32. In the long run it is the ones who practice more who prevail, not the ones who had some initial advantage in intelligence or some other talent.
  33. We do know -- and this is important -- that among those people who have practiced enough and have reached a certain level of skill in their chosen field, there is no evidence that any genetically determined abilities play a role in deciding who will be among the best.
  34. The major difference between the deliberate-practice approach and the traditional approach to learning lies with the emphasis placed on skills versus knowledge -- what you can do versus what you know. Deliberate practice is all about the skills. You pick up the necessary knowledge in order to develop the skills; knowledge should never be an end in itself.