Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

Book review for Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool.

peak

This fascinating book takes a deep dive into how to harness the adaptability of your brain and body to achieve abilities that would otherwise be out of reach.

Focused and concise, illustrated with research, and bringing new science to light, I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning and improving.

The main premise is to explain that what we think about acquiring abilities is probably wrong. Are gifted people at a natural advantage to become experts? Can anyone apply certain techniques to achieve the same results as others? Does high IQ play a role?

Answers abound. There is no such thing as natural ability; anyone can become an expert by putting in the time. Illustrated with exploring prodigies through history, their skills reduce down to two questions: 1) What is the exact nature of the ability? 2) What sorts of training made it possible? Traits favorable to a task help at the beginning but don’t make a difference at high levels; it all comes down to your own effort.

But not just any effort. The 10,000-hour “rule” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success is not the full story—the how long isn’t as important as how. Just practicing over and over doesn’t lead to mastery as you’ll soon plateau and stop improving. Important to know that you aren’t reaching a set potential, you are developing your potential because it’s not a fixed state. Surprising to read about many studies showing adult brain plasticity and adaptability. The brain’s adaptability is incredible.

The key piece is deliberate practice: training with expert teachers, eliminating your weaknesses by forming mental representations that drive you consistently to great performance, and spending lots of time in private practice on the right things.

The best among us in various areas do not occupy that perch because they were born with some innate talent but rather because they have developed their abilities through years of practice, taking advantage of the adaptability of the human body and brain.

Since there are no shortcuts to expertise, and you aren’t born with natural advantages, to improve you must engage with your training and stick with it, getting out of your comfort zone to reach the next level. You can control your environment, and adapt to changes by learning new skills.

Deliberate practice is knowing where to go, and how to get there.

Dvorak Redux

An update on my Dvorak learning experience, one year later. I switched one year ago, over Thanksgiving break.

When I started, my goal was to get to 40 WPM to feel comfortable getting my daily work done. With that goal accomplished, I ran drills continually with the MasterKey software, and watched my milestones go by: 50, 60, 70.

Today my average speed in drills—with accuracy—is 75 WPM, very close to what I was with QWERTY before the switch. What I lost in time and energy learning the new layout I’ve gained back in bunches with touch-typing skills and typing confidence. I’ve learned to use the top number row (and its related symbols) much better now, and rarely look down.

I don’t have efficiency stats to compare before and after, but my confidence and speed in typing make me feel great about this decision.

Verdict: typing is fun. Just like any tool I use, I’m aiming to master it—and I’ve found it’s more fun when done with confidence and expertise. Every day is stronger, faster, better.