ICE Book Review: Peak – Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

By Rob Cooney 

The 10,000-hour rule. Are you familiar with it? It’s a simple concept popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. Gladwell went on to illustrate how many experts had put in at least 10,000 hours of practice: the Beatles, Bill Gates, etc. Where did he come up with this rule? The rule was based on the work of Dr. K. Anders Ericsson. As educators, hopefully you are already familiar with Eriksson’s work. His research into the acquisition of expertise gave rise to the concept of deliberate practice. See here and here.

Now, for the first time, Anders Eriksson has written about his work in a format directed at mainstream readers.

Peak takes readers through the author’s research into the concept of deliberate practice. He begins by walking readers through the process of learning. Many of us, when learning new skills, will approach the task at a very basic level until our skills reach a level at which we are comfortable. It is at this level that we remain without significant improvements. In fact, remaining at this level is often a recipe for getting worse over time. Anders Ericsson then walks the reader through the difference between the “usual” approach and purposeful practice and, ultimately, deliberate practice.

Further chapters are dedicated to the plasticity of the human brain followed by our current understanding of mental representations and how our representations influence our ability to learn and perform. From here, he goes on to explore deliberate practice in depth. He explains the 10,000-hour rule and how it’s not really a “rule” and, in fact, really only represented an average amount of practice performed by early career high performers. Finally, he takes the reader through the application of deliberate practice to work, everyday life, and the ultimate goal: achieving mastery.  Throughout his book, Dr. Ericsson attempts to address criticisms of his work but also to dispel many of the myths that surround the acquisition of expertise, especially the role of genetics or innate talent. (Check out KeyLIME Episode 88 for more discussion on the nature v. nurture debate in performance.)

The writing is well referenced and includes some fun studies that show how in some fields expertise cannot be achieved through deliberate practice, or likely at all, as the experts cannot replicate their own skills (sommeliers).

Overall, Peak makes Ericsson’s vast body of research accessible. Clinician educators who are directly responsible for teaching and coaching should include this book on their bookshelf and begin to apply the principles to identify learning tasks that can be improved by deliberate practice.