Day #239:How Good Can You Get?

Thirty years ago, two Hungarian educators, László and Klara Polgár, decided to challenge the popular assumption that women don’t succeed in areas requiring spatial thinking, such as chess. They wanted to make a point about the power of education. The Polgárs home-schooled their three daughters, and as part of their education the girls started playing chess with their parents at a very young age. Their systematic training and daily practice paid off. By 2000, all three daughters had been ranked in the top ten female players in the world. The youngest, Judit, had become a grand master at age 15, breaking the previous record for the youngest person to earn that title, held by Bobby Fischer, by a month. Today Judit is one of the world’s top players and has defeated almost all the best male players.

Which raises the question, what determines how good you become in a given area of specialization? Is it genes,hard work or is it just the 10,000 hours you put in,as made popular by Malcolm Gladwell’s The Outliers?

To learn any new skill or gain expertise you need to practice, practice, practice. There isn’t much debate about that.

But here’s what you might not know: scientific research shows that the quality of your practice is just as important as the quantity.

And, more interestingly, these scientists also believe that expert-level performance is primarily the result of expert-level practice NOT due to innate talent.

According to  K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist and scientific researcher out of Florida State University in the paper titled The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance:

We agree that expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance and even that expert performers have characteristics and abilities that are qualitatively different from or at least outside the range of those of normal adults. However, we deny that these differences are immutable, that is, due to innate talent. Only a few exceptions, most notably height, are genetically prescribed. Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.

Experts then, aren’t people with freakish natural abilities in a particular domain. Experts are experts at maintaining high-levels of practice and improving performance.

In other words, it’s not about what you’re born with. It’s about how consistently and deliberately you can work to improve your performance.

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