December 28, 2013,
People look at people we call geniuses, people who are at the very, very top of their field and think what do they have? They must have some kind of quality that all these other people don’t have and they must have been born with that because you can’t see what it is.
That’s what this researcher named Anders Erickson wanted to know and it’s been the subject of his own lifetime of study. He has built an army of researchers to study the invisible processes of acquiring skills and going from mediocrity to being really good at stuff.
It turns out that it’s a kind of persistence and a way of embracing failure, which Erickson calls deliberate practice. The idea is you push yourself slightly beyond your skill level and you want to fail. The idea is when you’re practicing the violin you’re not just trying to reinforce what you already can do. You are reinforcing what you already can do and then trying to do it faster or better or with more emotion or more dynamism or whatever you’re shooting for and you’re pushing yourself until you find a place where you can’t quite get there. And then you work at that and you work at that and you work at that and it’s not that enjoyable. Erickson really emphasizes it’s not the enjoyable part of practice.
The difference in personalities between people who get good at stuff or get great at stuff is the people who get great at stuff really enjoy, not in a fun way, but they really find this kind of satisfaction in this constant pushing process.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.