January 22, 2015

Playing a cello

Research shows that practice really does make perfect. Credit: nosha / Flickr Creative Commons

Sure, everyone marvels at child prodigies – those kids writing operas and playing expert-level chess in elementary school.
 
But Geoff Colvin, author of Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, has combed through the research and found that most child prodigies do not become world-class adult performers.

“They’re good for being seven years old, but they are not threatening the great adult performers at that age.”
 
The reverse is also true: Of the world-class adult performers today, “in most cases there was no way to predict when they were 10 years old, who was going to be the world-class great and who was not going to be,” says Colvin.
 
If innate talent isn’t responsible for success, then what is?
 
Deliberate practice, suggests Colvin, separates the elite from everybody else. It's about a lot more than sitting in a chair for hours a day: Colvin explains there are four components that make up deliberate practice:

1. It’s customized for a specific person at a particular moment in their development, not one-size-fits-all.

2. The practice pushes people just beyond their current abilities. “It doesn’t push you way beyond, because then you’re simply lost, and it doesn’t let you operate within your current abilities – because then you don’t grow.
 
3. It can – and should – be repeated over and over again.
 
4. Constant feedback is vital. “You can’t get better if you don’t know how you’re doing.”
 
And it’s not just the Yo-Yo Mas and Tom Bradys of the world that benefit from deliberate practice. Even traditional office workers and business executives can fold these deliberate practice strategies into their daily lives.  
 
“It’s more work than most people do. You have to think about it – before, during, and after – that takes extra time. But, it’s incredibly effective.”

Body and Mind, deliberate practice, Geoff Colvin

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