Deliberate Practise and the Dangerous Child

To Become a Master, Only the Right Type of Practise Will Do

…think about the future of a world that applies deliberate practice on a regular basis and its impact on education, medicine, health, and relationships. Imagine a world where performance in every area of life gets better and better. __ C

Deliberate Practise, to be Specific

Deliberate practice is when you work on a skill that requires 1 to 3 practice sessions to master. If it takes longer than that, then you are working on something that is too complex.

Once you master this tiny behavior, you can move on to practicing the next small task that will take 1 to 3 sessions to master. Repeat this process for 10,000 hours. That is deliberate practice. __ Kathy Sierra (2012) as quoted by James Clear

There is a lot more to “deliberate practise” than breaking complex tasks into masterable pieces. But any coach, tutor, or instructor must understand how to “break things down” for each individual learner — who will usually put them together himself, once having mastered the pieces in the proper way, in good order. More complex skills are built upon the simpler skills that preceded them.

Deliberate Practise is Smart Practise
Deliberate Practise is Smart Practise

Is Mastery Innate or Acquired?

Some level of talent and ability must be present to give the learner a starting foundation. And the more natural talent, the more quickly the student can progress — at least in particular phases of the training. The mistake that is too often made is attempting to train so quickly that crucial fundamental skills and competencies are left out of the process. This mistake is most often made in training those who appear most talented in the beginning, who then expect everything that comes afterward to be easy.

when scientists began measuring the experts’ supposedly superior powers of speed, memory and intelligence with psychometric tests, no general superiority was found — the demonstrated superiority was domain specific. For example, the superiority of the chess experts’ memory was constrained to regular chess positions and did not generalize to other types of materials (Djakow, Petrowski & Rudik, 1927). Not even IQ could distinguish the best among chessplayers (Doll & Mayr, 1987) nor the most successful and creative among artists and scientists (Taylor, 1975). In a recent review, Ericsson and Lehmann (1996) found that (1) measures of general basic capacities do not predict success in a domain, (2) the superior performance of experts is often very domain specific and transfer outside their narrow area of expertise is surprisingly limited and (3) systematic differences between experts and less proficient individuals nearly always reflect attributes acquired by the experts during their lengthy training. __ K. Anders Ericsson

Of course we would not expect IQ to be the deciding factor in distinguishing among elite chess players, artists or scientists. If one is looking exclusively at elite levels, several other factors come into play that are more likely to distinguish the best of the best other than a score on an IQ test. Ambition, persistence, sustained energy levels and reserves, smart practise, ego strength to break out of consensual groupthink, conscientiousness, emotional stability and control, and many other qualities that augment and reinforce simple cognitive skills when moving from simple mastery to innovative mastery.

More on deliberate practise:

Deliberate practice is different from work, play and simple repetition of a task. It requires effort, it has no monetary reward, and it is not inherently enjoyable.

When you engage in deliberate practice, improving your performance over time is your goal and motivation. __ Source

Whether deliberate practise is inherently enjoyable or not, is likely to depend upon the person and how his deliberate practise is designed and carried out.

The recent advances in our understanding of the complex representations, knowledge and skills that mediate the superior performance of experts derive primarily from studies where experts are instructed to think aloud while completing representative tasks in their domains, such as chess, music, physics, sports and medicine (Chi, Glaser & Farr, 1988; Ericsson & Smith, 1991; Starkes & Allard, 1993). For appropriate challenging problems experts don’t just automatically extract patterns and retrieve their response directly from memory. Instead they 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. Less skilled subjects’ knowledge, in contrast, is encoded using everyday concepts that make the retrieval of even their limited relevant knowledge difficult and unreliable. Furthermore, experts have acquired domain-specific memory skills that allow them to rely on long-term memory (Long-Term Working Memory, Ericsson & Kintsch, 1995) to dramatically expand the amount of information that can be kept accessible during planning and during reasoning about alternative courses of action. The superior quality of the experts’ mental representations allow them to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances and anticipate future events in advance. The same acquired representations appear to be essential for experts’ ability to monitor and evaluate their own performance (Ericsson, 1996; Glaser, 1996) so they can keep improving their own performance by designing their own training and assimilating new knowledge.

__ K. Anders Ericsson

Pioneering 1993 PDF paper by Ericsson on Deliberate Practise

Professor Ericsson recently published a book on the topic of deliberate practice, entitled “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.”

Book Outline by Chapter:


The opening question “Why are some people so amazingly good at what they do?” sets the stage for the whole book. Ever since I was in third grade I’ve read biographies and autobiographies to understand how people achieved great success. I was always more interested in learning about the journey than to know what it was like on the mountaintop. This book explains in detail the journey that expert performers go on to reach the mountaintop.

Chapter One

This chapter explains the value of purposeful expanding your physical and mental capacity for generating greater achievements in the future. It emphasizes the importance of taking small steps on a regular basis and gathering feedback on what you are doing effectively and ineffectively.

Chapter Two

Here you will learn how to specifically harness your mental adaptability to develop new skills and move beyond the status quo way of doing things. It also explains how your potential is not fixed, but rather is something that can be continually expanded.

Chapter Three

You learn the importance of mental representations, of actually seeing the level of performance that you are aspiring to reach. By visualizing the details of what needs to happen, you are able to see the pieces and patterns that are necessary for a great performance.

Chapter Four

This chapter explains in great detail the steps involved in deliberate practice, which is the absolute best way to improve your performance in any type of activity. I would try to explain my interpretation of deliberate practice here, but I think you would benefit a great deal more by really studying this chapter and learning the insights that Anders Ericsson developed over a lifetime of studying deliberate practice.

Chapter Five

A great explanation of how deliberate practice can be used in actual job situations regardless of the type of work that you do. I’ve found in my executive coaching sessions that guiding people through the steps of deliberate practice and showing how the principles of deliberate practice connect with their work situations helps them to move forward in a more intentional and effective way.

Chapter Six

This chapter shows how deliberate practice can be applied in everyday life situations whether you’re exercising, parenting, or enjoying a hobby. Literally anything you do you can learn to do it better the next time.

Chapter Seven

If you were ever wondering what it takes for a young person to go on to be world-class in any activity, this chapter explains what is involved. And it’s not for the faint of heart. Literally thousands and thousands of hours of deliberate practice over many years are required to become the best of the best at what you do. But if you’re goal is to be world-class, then this chapter explains how to do it.

Chapter Eight

This chapter explodes the myth of natural talent. It shows in detail that great performers always got there through extraordinary practice.

Chapter Nine

In this closing chapter, Ericsson and Pool guide the reader to think about the future of a world that applies deliberate practice on a regular basis and its impact on education, medicine, health, and relationships. Imagine a world where performance in every area of life gets better and better. They close their book with a new concept, Homo exercens rather than Homo sapiens. They wrote, “Perhaps a better to see ourselves would be as Homo exercens, or ‘practicing man,’ the species that takes control of its life through practice and makes of itself what it will.”


Chapter 9 of Ericsson and Pool’s book suggests that a world that applies deliberate practise regularly, would be a better world in many ways. That is probably true. But in the modern world where virtually every institution of government, education, media, foundations, and other cultural institutions are irredeemably corrupt and self-serving, how can productive disruptive change be implemented on a broad scale?

The answer is, it probably cannot be implemented on a broad scale in any meaningful sense — without dumbing it down to impotence.

Sure, if a billionaire such as Sergey Brin, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Tom Steyer, Richard Branson, or one of the other “usual suspects” would stop squandering resources on delusional green boondoggles, and begin to invest on the future minds and competencies of new generations, things would likely change. But such billionaires — and virtually all men of power and influence — are corrupted by the taint of groupthink and government rent-seeking. Institutional rot exists not only in large institutions, but also infects all products and forms of output from such institutions.

What is to be done, then? What indeed.

Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. It is never too late to have a Dangerous Childhood. Best to start the formation of networked Dangerous Communities as soon as practicable.


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