Sunday, January 15, 2012

How to become exceptional

From SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner:
"A lot of people believe there are some inherent limits they were born with," he says. "But there is surprisingly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of exceptional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it." Or, put another way, expert performers -- whether in soccer or piano playing, surgery or computer programming -- are nearly always made, not born.

And yes, just as your grandmother always told you, practice does make perfect. But not just willy-nilly practice. Mastery arrives through what Ericsson calls "deliberate practice." This entails more than simply playing a C-minor scale a hundred times or hitting tennis serves until your shoulder pops out of its socket. Deliberate practice has three key components: setting specific goals; obtaining immediate feedback; and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.

The people who become excellent at a given thing aren't necessarily the same ones who seemed to be "gifted" at a young age. This suggests that when it comes to choosing a life path, people should do what they love -- yes, your nana told you this too -- because if you don't love what you're doing, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good at it.
I'm not sure how this applies to little kids, they have no idea what they love. A wise person recently told me, "Kids tend to like things they're good at."

Those last two paragraphs sound contradictory, but I have a feeling they're just true at different times in people's lives.

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