What is deliberate practice?

By | May 1, 2016

It takes more than 10,000 hours. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that people have to practice for 10,000+ hours before becoming experts. At the time, this dispelled the idea that it is just raw talent or genius at work. No, he concluded, it takes lots and lots of practice to be excellent at something.

Consultantsmind - Freakonomics

When listening to the most recent Freakonomics podcast here entitled How to Become Great at Just About Anything, I learned a few things:

  • It takes MORE than just volume of practice, but also deliberate practice to get better: rigorously pushing yourself to improve, stretching your abilities, pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone; embracing the suck and growing
  • Professor K. Anders Ericsson – professor of psychology at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida – actually has a few differing opinions from Malcolm Gladwell, who popularized his ideas of learned expertise
  • How you practice is more important that how much your practice . . .to the point that you can really teach yourself to be pretty damn good at most anything

Practice needs to be deliberate. Researchers have shown here that it takes continual feedback and deliberate effort to improve. More does not mean better. It takes structure, organization, feedback, testing, stress, and growth. It is like a muscle. Low-intensity, sloppy practice does not matter. It takes deliberate practice, usually with coaching.

Hence, continued improvements (changes) in achievement are not automatic consequences of more experience and in those domains where performance consistently increases aspiring experts seek out particular kinds of experience, that is deliberate practice (Ericsson, Krampe & Tesch-Römer, 1993)

This make sense right? We have seen all kinds of people in our professional life who reach competence many years ago, and since then, they are just coasting. You need to push to get to the next S-curve of progress.  It is not natural, but deliberate.

Experts “bucket” their learning. I am a big believer in structured thinking as one of the key consulting skills which make us useful. It helps us to get smart quickly on problems, and use hypothesis-based thinking. Experts organize and “bucket” information here and use their long-term memory to vastly expand their mental reach

Instead they [experts] select the relevant information and encode it in special representations in working memory that allow planning, evaluation and reasoning about alternative courses of action (Ericsson & Lehmann, 1996).

Hence, the difference between experts and less skilled subjects is not merely a matter of the amount and complexity of the accumulated knowledge; it also reflects qualitative differences in the organization of knowledge and its representation (Chi, Glaser & Rees, 1982)

Experts’ knowledge is encoded around key domain-related concepts and solution procedures that allow rapid and reliable retrieval whenever stored information is relevant.

Basically, experts have trained their brains and bodies to do more – through more effective categorization of information and faster retrieval. It’s like having a better operating system, hard disk AND central processing unit (CPU).

Is this encouraging? Yes, the title of the podcast is How to Become Great at Just About Anything, with an enormous emphasis on the idea that you can really craft the way you learn and become close-to-an-expert through effort. No excuses anymore. As an example, Bob Fisher – soil conservation technician – holds 14 world records for free throw shooting here.  2,371 free throws in 1 hour. 52 free throws in 1 minute.

Consultantsmind - Free Throw

What will you become an expert in? Are you willing to put in the dedication, time, discipline, coaching, and sacrifice? Speaking with my wife, this is something I need to think about. . . what am I willing to dedicate 1-2 hours EVERY DAY to get better at? Scary questions to ask yourself.

Related posts: