My takeaways below are by chapter:
- Power of Purposeful Practice: Banging our head against the wall doesn’t get us very far. Getting better requires purposeful practice: specific goals, focus, feedback, moving outside of comfort zones. One can get good results, up to a limit. This limit is not defined by inherited ability. Guided learning takes you the rest of the way.
- Harnessing Adaptability: Our brains have “plasticity” that results in changes as a response to external stimuli. In order for these changes to occur, homeostasis needs to be challenged. In particular, the brain is like a muscle. Most of us weren’t born with physical limits, it is the environment that created our current state.
- Mental Representations: Feats that appear to be memory or calculations or physically impossible (hitting a baseball) are really a set of mental representations built over years of purposeful practice that allow information to be put into context (a “container”) and digested so that reactions are more quickly informed.
- The Gold Standard: One must engage in deliberate practice, which is very specific, in order to become in the top percentile. It must be for an activity where success is quantifiable. Anyone who became good spent a lot of time doing it (10,000 hours “rule”). But you can’t just spend time doing it, the time has to be spent deliberately practicing, preferably with a teacher who has had success in that area.
- Principles of Deliberate Practice on the Job: The Top Gun program is an example of purposeful practice to get better at the job. Time and effort isn’t enough, the principles of purposeful practice (like feedback) is required. When those principles are available, we can “learn while the real work gets done”. This is the difference between Knowledge versus Skills.
- Principles of Deliberate Practice in Everyday Life: Find a good teacher and really engage - no autopilot when practicing. If it doesn’t hurt, you are not doing it right. Everyone hits plateaus, that is generally a part of the process. Teachers can help get past the hurdle, and generate the revelation needed to get the kink out of the hose. The limit isn’t set by anything fundamental, just the process needs changing. Maintaining motivation is a big part of the process, since by design, deliberate practice is tedious and rigorous.
- The Road to Extraordinary: Experts in their respective fields have generally followed a trend. At a young age, their interest was started with playful engagement, followed by serious study and then a lifestyle change commitment somewhere in their teens. Starting young in many fields is required for physical development and gives one a major advantage as the body and brain are more adaptable - but adults can still learn things. Pathbreaker’s are people have achieved expert status and then go beyond that into territory that no one ever achieved.
- But What About Natural Talent: Everyone has had to work hard for their talent, despite legends that suppose some geniuses were born with the talent. When looking for evidence of people who received natural talent, it hard to find pure evidence. There seems to be no way to avoid having to work hard and practicing. In some cases, our initial exposure and conditions result in a self-selection process that makes it appear that some our just born with skill while other aren’t. Individuals that have a strong aptitude can learn more quickly in the beginning, but this significantly slows down and practice/effort take over.