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Learn the key ideas of the book by Robert Pool , Anders Ericsson


Talent is not enough if you want to be the best

Peak is the product of years of collaboration between a psychologist and a science journalist, and their conversations on the subject of excellence and intentional practice that took place over a number of years. The book explains how the idea of innate talent, strictly speaking, is only a myth; every skill, even the most peculiar, is the result of training. It is not just a case of how much time we spend practicing, but more importantly, the quality of the time spent honing a skill. Sport, music, study, work: everything can be trained and improved, and each of us is responsible for the results we obtain.

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Focused practice pushes you to constantly challenge your limits, and achieve goals you thought were impossible

Decade after decade, year after year, human performance continues to improve. Since the second half of the twentieth century in particular, we have seen a constant increase in the time that people devote to practicing a certain discipline, using increasingly sophisticated training techniques, and gradually producing better results.

This is evident in many disciplines from dance, to music, sport, and medicine. It may be that this improvement is not perceptible from one year to the next, but this progress becomes evident when we look back on what has been achieved after some time.

Practice elevates human ability, which appears to be limitless, and can continually improve. This is because our brain and body are adaptable, and able to develop skills that previously seemed impossible to us, step by step.

These discoveries are relatively recent, and were unknown to the professionals who made extraordinary improvements in performance over the last century. By making this information accessible to everyone, it can be applied by more people, helping them to achieve results at any level of learning, in the broadest sense of the term, whether it be during their schooling or in their professional careers.

The authors introduce us to the concept of targeted practice, which they contrast with that of naive practice, which consists simply of continuing to do something, in the hope that repetition alone will improve your performance. 

Targeted practice pushes us to do things that we didn't know how to do before, simply by engaging in a different way, because:

  • It has specific objectives, which are very well-defined. For example, if we are music students, one goal of our practice might be to play a piece from start to finish, at the right speed, three times in a row, without making any mistakes. By outlining specific objectives, we can evaluate the effectiveness of the activity we are engaging in;
  • it is focused: we improve when we are fully focused on what we are doing, free from distractions;
  • it requires feedback: we need to know if we are doing well or not, and possibly where we are going wrong;
  • it requires stepping out of your comfort zone: this is the most important aspect, because targeted practice starts from the assumption that everything can always be improved upon, and, therefore, constantly pushes us beyond our limits. A pianist who repeats the same songs over and over again, for years, not only fails to improve, but their performance will even deteriorate over time. 

The key ideas of "Peak"

Focused practice pushes you to constantly challenge your limits, and achieve goals you thought were impossible
You can take advantage of the brain's plasticity, which grows and changes in response to intense training
Mental representations help you manage information, understand it, analyse it, memorise it, and use it to make good decisions
If you want to learn how to do something well, intentional practice is the ideal learning model
You can have a "Top Gun" approach to improvement, which is to use work activities as opportunities for deliberate practice
Intentional practice is also aimed at anyone who has a dream, and wishes to take their life into their own hands
You only improve when you reject the status quo, and open yourself up to the possibility of being able to do things that, up until yesterday, seemed entirely impossible
Take-home message
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