Friday, May 1, 2020

Peak Book Report: Rebecca Mauro


By: Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

Intro: Peak is a book written by a psychological scientist and a science writer. The two have done countless research and studies focusing on "expertise science." Their goal was to find how experts and the best of the best got to their leading position. They discuss their theory of deliberate practice, the main theme of the book. The book breaks down the steps of deliberate practice and how it is set above the classic methods of repetitive practice, alone. Using examples of some of the greatest figures in fields from chess to London's taxi drivers, they solidify how forms of deliberate practice were used to get them to the top, or peak success.

Chapter 3, Mental Representations: The authors stress the significance of mental representations over and over again in the book. They often explain that working with and strengthening one's ability to mentally represent a task is one of the key pieces to becoming an expert. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, many studies have looked in the brains of London's taxi cab drivers. Since their job is so lucrative, the career is competitive. These "cabbies" have to pass an extensive test to be licensed for the job including memorizing landmarks, streets and best possible routes. Those studying for the test have to form a mental representation of the streets of London, and almost recreate a mental map, becoming a human GPS. The body's adaptability is astounding and is a concept covered in the book as well. Mental representations are also covered using the example of a blind-folded chess player who created such significant mental representations of the game, he could win without seeing the board. The most interesting example used to solidify mental representations was in the medical field. The best surgeons often use mental representations before performing an important surgery. They practice every step of the surgery in their head to identify potential problems they could encounter to plan strategies if the problems were to occur in real time.

(This is a quick example of mental representations)

Chapter 4, The Gold Standard: This chapter dives into the dimensions of deliberate practice. In the chapter prior to this one, the author discuss the concept of purposeful practice. Although this concept is interesting, it lacks some aspects which define deliberate practice as "the gold standard." The chapter is very important to the rest of the book as it lays groundwork for understanding the ways deliberate practice can be applied. The chapter even includes a list of characteristics of deliberate practice. I will list some of the characteristics to give an idea of what makes deliberate practice so special and groundbreaking:

  1. Takes place outside of one's comfort zone, requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his/her current abilities
  2. Requires full attention and conscious actions towards a well-defined specific goal
  3. Involves feedback and modification of efforts in response to the feedback
  4. Building upon previously acquired skills by focusing and working on specific aspects which call for improvement
The authors stress further that a student needs a teacher who is familiar with the skills for expertise in a specific field. The feedback someone with extensive knowledge of the field is important because they can modify the learning structure to fit/improve on the student's abilities. Stepping outside of one's comfort zone little by little is something everyone knows is vital to improvement. For example, when one is training with weights, they can feel when it is time to shift out of the comfort zone of a specific weight size and increase it to improve their skills.

Chapter 7, The Road to Extraordinary: This chapter looks at defining moments on "the road to extraordinary." In this chapter they conclude there are 4 major milestones to becoming an expert and what age a student usually is at the time of the milestone. The most important theme of this chapter is all about timing. They also circle back to the concept of the brains adaptability and its relationship to development. The authors include a story about a researcher who decided to test some theories he had about expertise. He had 3 daughters and decided to all play around with the theories to making them become chess champions. The daughters changed the way women were involved in international chess competitions! Two takeaways from this example was that starting a child at a young age is a must. Creating a sense of enjoyment using play at a young age can motivate them to want to pursue the task, in this case, chess. Another takeaway, and shown in this example, was the youngest child usually becomes the most successful. This can be because the parents modify their methods and because the youngest child looked up to the older sisters interest and involvement of the task. 
(Another interesting point in the chapter was certain actions can only be obtained through practice at a young age because the body can only develop it to a certain point. They even included bones can adapt if practiced in a specific manner, helping the student more than if they waited until full development to practice a certain movement. The body is crazy!)

Chapter 8, But What About Natural Talent?: I found this chapter important because natural talent is an argument of so many when countering the extent to which a person can become an expert through deliberate practice. The researchers/authors of this book studied so many child prodigies including Mozart and found they were able to accomplish things at younger ages because there was sufficient evidence to show they spent long hours practicing. They cover that there are indeed innate characteristics which can contribute to expertise, such as height, weight, and pure enjoyment of a specific task/field. Some of these, such as IQ, can have advantages when first learning a skill, but can only get a person so far without deliberate practice. Often this phenomenon of "natural talent" is self perpetuated. If someone is initially good at a task, it is noted. They go on to receive more focus, extra attention and opportunities than those who were not initially good at a task. This leads them to more practice which, of course, can allow them to advance to expertise.

Conclusion: I absolutely would recommend this book. It offers a lot good information about the research. The subjects and concepts never get boring or too wordy because the authors offered wildly interesting examples. The examples given blew my mind at the adaptability and capability of humans. They note that expertise is also something not everyone can achieve simply because of the lack of resources. The time consumption and expense of travelling, tournaments, and especially hiring of a teach is extremely costly. These things are definitely a privilege, but the authors hope that one day deliberate practice can become a norm in the educational system. This could help reach all audiences and expertise could be more accessible if taught in school. The implications provided in this book sound utopian, but maybe one day society could get there. This book was educational, informative and very entertaining!

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