I’m a sucker for science, but I’m always a little bit wary of books that proport to explain deeply complex subjects in simple terms. My years working at Wired and MIT’s Technology Review taught that answers are rarely so simple.
Still, I was cautiously excited to read K. Anders Ericsson‘s Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. There’s a good chance that you’ve heard of Ericsson, a cognitive psychologist at Florida State University, or at least his work. Malcolm Gladwell used it as the basis for his 10,000 hour rule, which says that it takes roughly that long to become an expert in something. (If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy Ericsson’s correction of Gladwell’s interpretation of his work.)
I’ll say this of the book: Ericsson does a masterful job of both explaining what we know about how we achieve success and explaining the conditions under which those forces do (and don’t) work. Spoiler: 10,000 hours doesn’t get you there. In fact, 10,000 hours isn’t even really a thing.
This isn’t to say that extended practice isn’t important. It is. But that’s only one small piece (and there’s no quantifying exactly how much is enough). Another small piece is the concept of deliberate practice, which involves — among other things — repetition dedicated to working out small problems, immediate feedback from experts/coaches, and models for success that can be used in the problem solving process.
Of course, I can’t summarize the entire book’s premise here. (This is always the problem with writing about science.) What I can tell you is this: If you’re interested in understanding, and applying, the concept of perfect practice in order to become better at anything, I can’t recommend this book enough.