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Peak Book Summary – Anders Ericsson

What you will learn from reading Peak:

– The truth behind exceptional performance and why talent doesn’t matter as much as you think.

– Why deliberate practice is the key to becoming great and how you can implement it in your life.

– How to create a practice driven mindset to improve in all aspects of your life.

Peak Book Summary:

Peak is a fascinating book. Anders Ericsson does a fantastic job of debunking the many myths that surround excellence in skilled performance. Peak is the story of how practice not talent creates excellence. Specifically deliberate, purposeful practice. 

If you’re interested in improving any skill in your life then this is the book for you!


The myth of Effortless Ability:

People want to believe that there is magic in life, that not everything has to abide by the staid, boring rules of the real world. And what could be more magical than being born with some incredible ability that doesn’t require hard work or discipline to develop?


The fundamental truth of exceptional performance:

Understand that there’s no such thing as a predefined ability. The brain is adaptable, and training can create skills — such as perfect pitch — that did not exist before. 

The right sort of practice carried out over a sufficient period of time leads to improvement. Nothing else. Gaining expertise is largely a matter of improving one’s mental processes (including, in some fields, the mental processes that control body movements). 

There is a growing body of evidence that both the structure and the function of the brain change in response to various sorts of mental training. Studies of brain plasticity in blind subjects — and similar studies in deaf subjects — tell us that the brain’s structure and function are not fixed. They change in response to use. 

Myths of Improvement:

The first myth is the myth that 10,000 hours of practice will make you an expert at anything, which satisfies the human desire to discover a simple cause-and-effect relationship: just put in ten thousand hours of practice at anything, and you will become a master. 

The second myth holds that if you do something for long enough, you’re bound to get better at it. Again, we know better. Doing the same thing over and over again in exactly the same way is not a recipe for improvement; it is a recipe for stagnation and gradual decline.

Improvement lies outside of automation:

But there is one very important thing to understand here: once you reach a satisfactory skill level and have automated your performance — your driving, your tennis playing, your baking of pies — you have stopped improving. 

How do you fix this? 

Naive Vs Purposeful Practice:

The phrases ” I just played it. I just swung the bat and tried to hit the ball. I just listened to the numbers and tried to remember them” is naive practice in a nutshell: 

Purposeful practice has well-defined, specific goals. Purposeful practice is all about putting a bunch of baby steps together to reach a longer-term goal. 

Break it down and make a plan: What exactly do you need to do to slice five strokes off your handicap? One goal might be to increase the number of drives landing in the fairway. That’s a reasonably specific goal, but you need to break it down even more: What exactly will you do to increase the number of successful drives? 

You seldom improve much without giving the task your full attention. Purposeful practice involves feedback. 

Purposeful practice requires getting out of one’s comfort zone. This is perhaps the most important part of purposeful practice. This is a fundamental truth about any sort of practice: If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve. So, get outside your comfort zone but do it in a focused way, with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor your progress. Oh, and figure out a way to maintain your motivation. 

Generally the solution is not “try harder” but rather “try differently.” It is a technique issue, in other words. 

The Obstacle is the way!

Whenever you’re trying to improve at something, you will run into such obstacles — points at which it seems impossible to progress, or at least where you have no idea what you should do in order to improve. This is natural. 

Generally speaking, meaningful positive feedback is one of the crucial factors in maintaining motivation. It can be internal feedback, such as the satisfaction of seeing yourself improve at something, or external feedback provided by others, 

Get outside of Homeostasis, set a new baseline:

The body is equipped with various feedback mechanisms that act to maintain the status quo. 

If you don’t keep pushing and pushing and pushing some more, the body will settle into homeostasis, albeit at a different level than before, and you will stop improving. 

Recent studies have shown that learning a new skill is much more effective at triggering structural changes in the brain than simply continuing to practice a skill that one has already learned. 

Although the specific details vary from skill to skill, the overall pattern is consistent: Regular training leads to changes in the parts of the brain that are challenged by the training.

With deliberate practice, however, the goal is not just to reach your potential but to build it, to make things possible that were not possible before. This requires challenging homeostasis — getting out of your comfort zone — and forcing your brain or your body to adapt.  

The role of mental representations:

Much of deliberate practice involves developing ever more efficient mental representations that you can use in whatever activity you are practicing. Better mental representations lead to better performance. 

This explains a crucial fact about expert performance in general: there is no such thing as developing a general skill. 

The main purpose of deliberate practice is to develop effective mental representations, and mental representations in turn play a key role in deliberate practice. 

In particular, you use mental representations in practice to provide your feedback so that you know how close you are to getting the performance right and what you need to do differently

This makes sense: if you don’t have an idea of what good performance is and no way to tell what changes would improve performance, then it is very difficult — often impossible — to develop effective training methods.

We can only form effective mental representations when we try to reproduce what the expert performer can do, fail, figure out why we failed, try again, and repeat — over and over again.

The most important lesson they gleaned from their teachers is the ability to improve on their own. As part of their training, their teachers helped them develop mental representations that they could use to monitor their own performances, figure out what needs improving, and come up with ways to realize that improvement. These mental representations, which they are constantly sharpening and augmenting, are what guides them toward greatness.

Experts consider multiple possibilities:

This ability to generate a number of likely diagnoses and carefully reason through them distinguishes expert diagnosticians from the rest. 

What is Deliberate Practice:

One of the main purposes of deliberate practice is to develop a set of effective mental representations that can guide your performance.

Deliberate practice involves well-defined, specific goals and often involves improving some aspect of the target performance; it is not aimed at some vague overall improvement. 

Deliberate practice is deliberate, that is, it requires a person’s full attention and conscious actions. 

Deliberate practice involves feedback and modification of efforts in response to that feedback. 

With time and experience students must learn to monitor themselves, spot mistakes, and adjust accordingly. Such self-monitoring requires effective mental representations. 

Deliberate practice both produces and depends on effective mental representations. 

Deliberate practice nearly always involves building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working to improve them specifically; over time this step-by-step improvement will eventually lead to expert performance. 

Create a practice driven mindset:

A practice-driven mindset is very similar to that of expert performers, who are constantly practicing and otherwise seeking ways to hone their skills.

So, look for opportunities throughout the day in which normal business activities can be transformed into practice activities. 

To effectively practice a skill without a teacher, it helps to keep in mind three Fs: Focus. Feedback. Fix it. Break the skill down into components that you can do repeatedly and analyze effectively, determine your weaknesses, and figure out ways to address them.

Look for Immediate feedback:

In short, this sort of training with immediate feedback — either from a mentor or even a carefully designed computer program — can be an incredibly powerful way to improve performance. 

Why information alone doesn’t help people improve:

From the perspective of deliberate practice, the problem is obvious: attending lectures, minicourses, and the like offers little or no feedback and little or no chance to try something new, make mistakes, correct the mistakes, and gradually develop a new skill. 

Remember: one of the most important things a teacher can do is to help you develop your own mental representations so that you can monitor and correct your own performance.

Some lessons and Reminders:

The Lesson – Be careful when identifying expert performers. Ideally you want some objective measure of performance with which to compare people’s abilities.

Lesson: Once you have identified an expert, identify what this person does differently from others that could explain the superior performance. This is exactly the sort of information that makes it possible to improve performance through designed practice. Knowing what the best laparoscopic surgeons do right, and knowing the most common mistakes, it should be possible to design training exercises outside the operating room to improve surgeons’ mental representations.

Remember: if your mind is wandering or you’re relaxed and just having fun, you probably won’t improve.

Strength in repetition:

By listening to the same dialogue over and over, they improved their ability to understand English much more quickly than if they’d simply watched a number of different movies.


How to become a creative genius:

Researchers who study how the creative geniuses in any field — science, art, music, sports, and so on — come up with their innovations have found that it is always a long, slow, iterative process. 

That’s how it always is. The creative, the restless, and the driven are not content with the status quo, and they look for ways to move forward, to do things that others have not. And once a pathfinder shows how something can be done, others can learn the technique and follow. 

Progress is made by those who are working on the frontiers of what is known and what is possible to do, not by those who haven’t put in the effort needed to reach that frontier. 

Be careful with what you read on the internet:

The Internet offers just about everything except quality control.


IQ gives a short-lived head start:

Studies have found that IQ was linked with greater chess skill in young players but not in adult tournament players and not in masters and grandmasters.
When children are just beginning to learn chess, their intelligence — that is, their performance on IQ tests — plays a role in how quickly they can learn the game and reach a certain minimal level of competence. Kids with higher IQ scores generally find it easier to learn and remember rules and to develop and carry out strategies; all of these things give them an advantage in the early stages of learning the game, when one plays by abstract thinking applied directly to the pieces on the board.
But we know that as children (or adults) study and learn the game, they develop sets of mental representations — in essence, mental shortcuts — that give them both a superior memory for the sorts of chess positions found in a game and an ability to quickly zero in on appropriate moves in a given situation.

With enough solitary practice, the mental representations become so useful and powerful in playing the game that the major thing separating two players is not their intelligence — their visuospatial abilities, or even their memory or processing speed — but rather the quality and quantity of their mental representations and how effectively they use them.