In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell used Anders Ericsson’s research (with Ralf Krampe and Clemens Tesch-Römer) as the basis for the “ten thousand hour rule”. By this rule, it takes some ten thousand hours of practice to master a practice/field. With Peak, Ericsson vigorously defends his work against this mischaracterization. Ericsson carefully dismantles the notion that time or talent are all it takes to make it to the top of the game, be the game chess, memory competitions, running, writing, tennis, or pretty much any endeavor.
Ericsson packs a lot of ideas in Peak. He starts with a systematic refutation of the notion of “perfect pitch” as a rare and mysterious gift only available to a few. It turns out that there’s a pretty reliable way to teach perfect pitch to 2-6 year olds. (There are some methods for adults, too, which can get you most of the way there.) Peak is full of delightful anecdotes of Eastern European psychologists who coach their daughters to become chess grandmasters and how Ben Franklin taught himself to write good. Ericsson outlines his research into how the best become the best. The secret is the worst secret imaginable: lots and lots of hard work.
I know, right? So disappointing.
Even at the upper echelons, in ballet, in violin, in chess, those who practice more beat out everyone else. It turns out that practice means a lot, but after a certain point, more practice hours aren’t the answer. This is the nuance Gladwell missed and Ericsson hopes to impress upon the reader: the road to improvement (and surpassing the competition) is through deliberate practice, practice that’s uncomfortable and requires focus. To be useful, one must be actively engaged in a goal with each and every practice session. Putting in three hours on the violin does little; putting in an hour working on a specific bowing technique changes things. Along the way, Ericsson offers advice on how to make your own practice more deliberate and effective so you can get the most from your time.