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Summary of “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise”

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General Leadership

The book answers the question: How do we develop expertise?


The premise is: We develop excellence through deliberate practice.

Context: This is Anders Ericsson and Robert Pools’ mainstream distillation of The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, which was made famous through Gladwell’s reference of the “10,000 Hour Rule” in Outliers. I am sold on the idea of deliberate practice and did not need to be convinced, however, there is plenty here to persuade the reader to adopt the author’s point of view.


The primary instructions I took away:

  1.  Identify an expert in the field you wish to develop expertise
  2. Identify what this person does differently that explains superior performance (specifically, adopting the mental models the expert uses when practicing)
  3. Practice with this influence
  4. Adjust based on results
  5. When possible, work with a coach or teacher that can objectify your practice for you


What helps you succeed with deliberate practice?

A belief you can succeed. The results you experience after getting through a plateau. Minimizing interference, distractions, and obstacles. A desire to improve (generally a passion or purpose for developing the skill). Pushing your comfort zone. Surround yourself with people that will encourage and support you. Create general social reinforcement Create or define stages of improvement so growth can be measured in time.


Three Myths That Hinder Improvement:

  1. The belief that one’s abilities are limited by character traits. I am not this way or that way
  2. If you do something long enough you will get better. Without deliberate practice, this leads to getting good at being mediocre.
  3. All it takes to get better is hard work or effort. If you want to be a better (fill in the blank), just try harder.


Finally, build better mental models:

  1. Learn more about the topic through study and from teachers and coaches
  2. Apply the mental model to hone the skill
  3. Honing the skill improves the mental model
  4. This creates a virtuous cycle


This final idea, mental models, is tricky in leadership development versus say, playing the classical violin or hitting a baseball. This is one of the challenges we face at Stagen Leadership Academy; how do we objectify what is subjective in the experience of world-class leaders?

In summary, Peak asserts that we have greater mental adaptability than we generally acknowledge; we have enamored ourselves with the idea of “talent” and this cripples our ability to pursue excellence. Deliberate practice, not natural proclivity, creates masters of form and technique.