Nutshelled is a series of posts that will be summarising books that I’ve read, extracting the most significant points to be taken.
BOUNCE is a book written by Matthew Syed – a three-time Commonwealth table-tennis champion and award-winning sports journalist – that over and over again highlights how talent is overrated and the most successful people such David Beckham, The Beatles, Bill Gates or Mozart weren’t “naturally gifted“.
Mum, what’s talent?
- Prodigies aren’t born, they’re made. Oh, and there’s also no such thing as talent. What actually matters in makes a difference is practice. It’s the amount of meaningful hours you clock-up in striving to improve.
- But how many hours do you need to achieve excellence? Researchers calculated the amount of time the most successful have took in order to reach their current level, and the the results say approximately 10 years. It’s around 1,000 hours a year, so it’s 10,000 hours. This is called the 10,000-hour rule.
- Study has proven that there’s a direct correlation between practice and brain development through myelin, such as the enhancement of some sections and the building of new neural connections. For example, the region responsible for finger control grows correspondingly with the number of years a young musician trains.
- Basically, what practice does is make your action hardwired, to the point that you can do it without thinking after repeating enough. Beckham doesn’t really know how he does his kicks.
I should be typing at lightning speed right now!
- It’s not only the total amount that matters, but the quality of the practice as well.
- Think about this: despite the amount of time you’ve spent your life poking the keys of keyboards, has your typing speed significantly improved? The practice has to be purposeful – doing it on “autopilot” doesn’t do much.
Stefan Szymanski and Simon Kuper did a research on international soccer performance and found that Brazil outperformed other major nations by a large margin. This was a mystery, until Simon Clifford hailing from England decided to take a trip to the country himself. There, futsal was everywhere. The idea is that it’s pretty much a condensed form of soccer, more intense, allows players to touch the ball more often, and the smaller, heavier ball also pushes them to be more precise. Dr. Miranda of University of São Paolo sums it up as ‘No time plus no space equals better skills. Futsal is our national laboratory of improvisation’. Story cut short, Clifford brings futsal back to England and performances soared.
So basically, do lots of purposeful practice right?
- Not quite. Why do you think humans are still generally superior to computers? It’s because we have the knowledge and experience. They’re only not junk because we endow them with these elements through programming. It’s also in knowledge and experience that a person may perform better than another, as he or she might know of a more efficient technique or encountered a similar problem, therefore more familiar to it.
- “If you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, you can never know what you’re doing right” – Chen Xinhua. Fail as much as possible while you can and push your boundaries. This provides you with the necessary input that will be able to propel you forward.
- The environment and your opportunities is probable the most determining factor. If Bill Gates didn’t go to a private school that was one of the first to install a computer that didn’t use punchcard programming, he wouldn’t have had access to clock up his practice hours. If 12-year-old Steve Jobs hadn’t asked Hewlett-Packard for parts for his school project, he wouldn’t have landed his summer job there, and probably wouldn’t have gone to become the co-founder of Apple.
How to encourage, and not be discouraged
- Praise people for their hard work, and not their talent. Research has shown that children you praise for their effort rather than dubbing them as “naturally smart” or the sorts end up trying harder and longer for difficult tasks, aren’t discouraged by failure and eventually result with them achieving more.
- You know those critical moments when you swear not to mess up, but end up messing up anyway? You choked, and it sucks big time. Practice stores your expertise in your implicit memory where you’re able to naturally execute it without thinking. When you start focusing too much, you force your skill to your explicit memory and you break down the action, causing you to choke.
- Choking is mostly only applicable to complex and more technical tasks, such as dancing or returning a fast serve. For example, using your explicit memory to focus on balancing a tray of food will actually do you good.
BOUNCE has managed to change my views on practice and the idea of talent, and its those influence points that I focused on in this post. It’s quite a motivating book, and I wish I had read it earlier in my life. Anyway, I hope this post has at least enlightened you with the wonders of practice and convinced you to stop praising children for their talent.