Monday, March 03, 2014

Cracking on through "Bounce"

To people who have never reached a national or international level of competition, it may appear that excellence is simply the result of practicing daily for years or even decades. However, living in a cave does not make you a geologist. 
I came across this quote in a paper by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely called: The Making of an Expert. I read the article because I'd also read a piece on the BBC website around the topic of practice and excellence because I'm working my way steadily through Matthew Syed's book, and very interesting it is too. While it would be a rather reductionist simplification of the book, the basic premise is rather simple: Practice not talent makes for excellence.

From what else I've read, the 10,000 hours principle of purposeful practice is both a generalised average, some achieved excellence with fewer hours and some with considerably more, and really only the beginning of understanding the path to doing something well. Other evidence does appear to suggest that there are factors other than practice that contribute to one's overall ability to achieve your goals. For example, some research suggests that visual acuity is better is better performing athletes where their sport involves what we might call hand-eye coordination.
It is however quite clear that too often we buy into the talent myth, and limit our own potential on the basis of our perceived lack of talent. Most of us don't like practicing things we find difficult to do, and, when we do try something harder, we are quicker to declare that we can't do it than we are to encourage ourselves to persevere.

Perhaps the truth lies somewhere along a continuum of complex abilities married to purposeful, deliberate practice. Practice that stretches and challenges our abilities from a position of what we can do towards what we can learn to do better.

The truth is that if you reduce either Ericsson's research or Syed's book to a simple algorithm, then you miss the point. If I want to improve the percentage of forehand's I make in a game, then I have to measure both my success rate and the repeatability of those successes. In other words, when I practice I have to have a goal in mind and I need some form metric to apply. That metic not only needs to take into account how many shots I make but how "good" my technique is when I make the shot.

Reading Matthew Syed's book carefully, thoughtfully and critically will draw you to those conclusions. Read it superficially and you'll probably be disappointed in ten years time when you've practiced for all the required hours and still not achieved greatness!

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