Anders Ericsson, co-author of the new book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, has spent a lifetime studying what it takes to become an expert. His work was cited in the best-selling book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, who used Ericsson’s research on expert violinists as the basis for his “10,000-hour rule.”
According to this rule, if you practice for 10,000 hours, you will become an expert. Gladwell’s rule is an oversimplification of his research, Ericsson argues, although Gladwell does get the general concept correctly: To become an expert, it takes a huge number of hours of practice.
At first glance, this rather unsurprising assertion hides a deeper and more controversial implication: No one is born with vastly superior talent. Just to be clear, Ericsson launches his book with the poster child for innate superior talent: Mozart. As everyone knows, Mozart was a musical genius — both as a performer and a composer — at an age when most children were focused on playing with their tiny (lead, at that time) toy soldiers.
While not discounting the talent of young Mozart, Ericsson and his co-author, science writer Robert Pool, argue in Peak that Mozart would not have been Mozart had he been born the son of a cobbler. Thankfully, for the world, Mozart was born the son of a musician, whose apartment was filled with all kinds of musical instruments — all of which Mozart learned to play beginning at the age of four. Mozart, it turns out, practiced for thousands of hours just like the other experts in Ericsson’s book.
Of course, not all practicing is equal. Ericsson identifies three different types of practicing. The most basic type of practicing is naïve practice, the generic rather mediocre practicing that children muddle through as they go from piano lesson to piano lesson. They will not become star performers, nor do they intend to.
A much more effective type of practice is what Ericsson calls purposeful practice. Purposeful practice is ….