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From the world's reigning expert on expertise comes a powerful new approach to mastering almost any skill.
Have you ever wanted to learn a language or pick up an instrument, only to become too daunted by the task at hand? Expert performance guru Anders Ericsson has made a career of studying chess champions, violin virtuosos, star athletes, and memory mavens. Peak condenses three decades of original research to introduce an incredibly powerful approach to learning that is fundamentally different from the way people traditionally think about acquiring a skill.
Ericsson's findings have been lauded and debated but never properly explained. So the idea of expertise still intimidates us - we believe we need innate talent to excel or think excelling seems prohibitively difficult.
Peak belies both of these notions, proving that almost all of us have the seeds of excellence within us - it's just a question of nurturing them by reducing expertise to a discrete series of attainable practices. Peak offers invaluable, often counterintuitive advice on setting goals, getting feedback, identifying patterns, and motivating yourself. Whether you want to stand out at work or help your kid achieve academic goals, Ericsson's revolutionary methods will show you how to master nearly anything.
Ostensibly, Peak is about how the best become the best and how you can achieve new heights too. If this were all it was, it would be a great book.
But I gleaned more from it than that. At this book's heart is a distinction between real practice and merely repeating things. Real "deliberative" practice requires identifying your weaknesses and finding exercises specifically target them. Once you have it in focus, you have to push yourself beyond your comfort level, forcing your brain or body (or both) to adapt, which changes and improves them in the process.
It brings to mind trying to straighten a stiff metal wire with a blunt object: unless you can get it situated and hit it from just the right angle, you'll just push it around without making progress. Most of us feel like we can't improve much at a lot of what we do because we spend our whole life just pushing the wire around. Without knowing how to isolate our weaknesses and hammer them until they are better, we never become better.
I recently took up climbing. Within 8 months, I have progressed through four distinct levels of difficulty in climbing and can do things I hardly thought were possible a year ago. I did that, as he points out in the book, because climbing is perfectly setup for deliberative practice: you can repeat problems over and over (which means you're always working on weaknesses) and it's most fun to climb at the edge of your ability (so you're always pushing your comfort zone).
In that same period I did not make 4 levels of progress in processing emails efficiently, producing funding applications, coordinating my time, or any of the other many things I'm required to do at work. I used to assume I just had a genetic level of aptitude at these things. Now I know it is more that they are difficult to practice deliberatively.
Those aptitudes I have improved—such as writing—I improved because I do get feedback and I can focus more easily on my weaknesses. The book has made me realize why I improve at some things and stagnate at others.
The book was also deeply frustrating however. I used to think I couldn't do math because I was born that way. Now that I know I just wasn't practicing correctly, I wish I could go back and start a career in science.
If I would criticize the book for one thing, it would be fore underplaying the role of physical limitations. Three foot tall people can't learn to do slam dunks no matter how much they practice. There likely exist similar mental limitations, which he lends little credence.
46 of 48 people found this review helpful
The mid chapters got a bit tedious and the point was sometimes lost in the audiobook as there were too many examples. More concise writing would favor this format. That said, I found the content of the book excellent and will be ordering the paperback.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
My headline is probably too demanding. The authors successfully convinced me that expertise is something that can be acquired by almost anyone, barring physical limitations if the expertise you're looking for is in an area that requires the body more than the mind. Most will have heard about the 10000 hour thing, where dedicating 10000 hours to an activity will produce an expert. It's not that simple. Repeating the same thing for 10000 hours may make you an expert at that one, limited trick, but not skillful in an entire field.
Deliberate practice, where one is pushing oneself past a comfort zone, seems to be the missing variable. This is one among many valuable points the book raises. Experiments have shown that almost anything can be improved with deliberate practice, and that innate talent is not necessary. People bad at math aren't really so, they were just discouraged at a key time in their life from putting in the time. Why bother? They "knew" they were bad at math.
The book is worth the entry price, but lacks a specific blueprint on how to improve other than it has to be deliberate practice. Obviously, this will be different depending the subject matter, but it still feels like a lack. The audio delivery was easy to listen to and did not distract from the content. These sorts of books will fail if the audio actor is subpar, and ask if they're too good. This one was just right.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
They're not really secrets since the idea of dedicated practice to become an expert has been around for a while. The author makes an interesting point - when people practice/work on something, they reach a level of acceptable proficiency and then stops improving. People mistakenly think that if they do the same thing over and over for years, they have gotten as good as they're going to get. For example, a person types 40 words per minute and has done it for years. She figures that's the fastest she can type. She doesn't do deliberate practice to overcome the hard parts, like identify letter combinations that slows her down and practice typing words with those letter combinations over and over. It's tedious but that's what it takes to get past the barrier and move up to the next level.
Whether it's mental or physical, the human body adapts to the demands placed on it. Muscles are built and this becomes the new normal for the body. The task that was once hard now feels natural and comfortable to perform. It is amazing that through steady and methodical training, there are people who can memorize thousands of digits of pi and play blind chess (having the moves told to them) for over 40 games going on simultaneously.
57 of 63 people found this review helpful
As a physics teacher and amateur violinist I found the information and conclusions of the book very convincing and motivating. Many "expert" teachers will not be comfortable with the results, but evidence is evidence!
18 of 20 people found this review helpful
If you could sum up Peak in three words, what would they be?
Practice Makes Perfect
What did you like best about this story?
Balance of research and real life stories that show it is possible for anyone, with ample motivation, goals and dedication, can make significant improvements.
What does Sean Runnette bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
Runnette is one of the best Audible narrators. His voice is authoritative and clear yet full of emotion.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
YES! I increased the speed, I was so eager to learn more.
Any additional comments?
Appreciated the reality checks on the 10,000 hours to mastery as well as the myth of innate ability and the sober conclusions about how society harms children by too quickly categorizing their ability to learn particular skills.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
follow the path of all experts and maybe learn how to shorten that trip. This will dispel old myths which could be holding you back from significant progress in the field of your choice
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
if you have kids it's a great book, it relates to how you should set up practice to get to an expert level. I was interested in it to help me in my career and it offered little help on that front
7 of 8 people found this review helpful
When I read Malcolm Gladwell on this topic, my head exploded. I've read Ericsson's papers, so I thought I had a pretty good grasp of the idea of deliberate practice. This is both fascinating and instructive. Ericsson corrects done errors Gladwell made, as well as adds new information. You can become the Beatles in less than 2000 hours, ( but it would probably take three other people.)
I don't think self-help books will ever be the same after this.
10 of 13 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to Peak the most enjoyable?
Oh this was a very dry listen. Just had to grind through it because of the valuable lessons.
What did you like best about this story?
Very well laid out an methodical presentation.
What didn’t you like about Sean Runnette’s performance?
Dry and monotone.
What insight do you think you’ll apply from Peak?
What it REALLY takes to be good and even great at something.
Any additional comments?
Someone PLEASE sponsor a town hall meeting with Anders Ericsson, Angela Duckworth<br/>and Cal Newport. The three of them would lead to a very interesting and uplifting conversation.
8 of 11 people found this review helpful