Thursday, February 12, 2009


Anders Ericsson is the basis of this article. Ericsson's research is on deliberate practice and how, with some narrow exceptions, there is no such thing as natural talent:

Ericsson's theories confound the beliefs of thousands of years. Now as Conradi eminent scholar at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where he has been based since 1992, his basic argument is that there's probably no such thing as innate talent or, if there is, it's overrated. The only thing he will allow is that very occasionally certain physical gifts, such as height in a basketballer, will help. But in every other case, what's at work in such massive successes as golfer Woods is a complex cognitive process that pushes the body and mind to extraordinary heights.

And almost anyone can do it. He says with the careful syntax of a true boffin: "With the exception of the influence of height and body size in some sports, no characteristic of the brain or body has yet been shown to constrain an individual from reaching an expert level."

Deliberate practice, whether it's applied to sport or business or the arts, begins in the brain. This isn't a child doing an hour of piano scales every day while imagining the fun they will have afterwards. Instead, what makes someone spectacular in their field - and keeps them there - is training via a kind of focused, repetitive practice in which the subject is always monitoring his or her performance, correcting, experimenting, listening to immediate and constant feedback, and always pushing beyond what has already been achieved.

Ericsson's theory has enormous ramifications for parents, students, teachers and managers. It also puts the kybosh on the idea that critical feedback is damaging.

"If you're in an accepting world, then people don't develop or get better," he states. "They're in a kind of time warp." Of the way star performances often look so easy, he says: "For expert performers, there's always effort. Improvement is never effortless."

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