The Problems With Deliberate Practice

Written — Updated
  • Author: Cedric Chin
  • Full Title: The Problems With Deliberate Practice
  • Source: https://commoncog.com/blog/the-problems-with-deliberate-practice/
  • Research on deliberate practice claims that anyone can become good at a skill with enough high-quality practice.
    • Specifically, it says that innate talent or affinity for a task is not important, and the effect size of practice overwhelms other factors.
    • It also says that practice must be difficult to be useful. Performing tasks at a non-challenging level doesn't help you get better.
  • Applicability of Deliberate Practice
    • Some claim that deliberate practice can be used to improve any skill, but the more rigorous coverage of deliberate practice points to a need for structured training with standardized methods.
    • Many fields don't have these sorts of training, and the knowledge to create them is difficult to develop.
    • Tacit knowledge makes deliberate practice difficult.
  • Talent vs. Practice
    • There is tremendous variability in progress gained from practicing.
    • In one example, a study done on chess players found a player who took 26 years to reach master level, and another who needed only 2 years. Some players estimated they had performed more than 10,000 hours of deliberate practice yet still struggled to grow their rating.
    • Genetics is not only known to have a large effect on ability, but it also leads to a self-selection, so that those who are success stories for deliberate practice are also the ones who were more likely to be good at the field in the first place.
      • A study on athletes bears this out, in which top-rated sprinters recall being faster than their peers as children, while top-rated throwers recall being stronger in their youth.
  • Deliberate Practice vs. Normal Practice
    • In general, yes it does work, but if someone else hasn't already developed a program of deliberate practice then you're probably going to have a difficult time of doing that yourself.
    • In Peak, Ericsson differentiates "purposeful practice" from deliberate practice.
    • Purposeful practice:
      • Is focused on the task without distractions
      • Is difficult and pushes your boundaries
      • Provides feedback on well-defined goals.
    • For practice to be "deliberate":
      • It must be in a field with known methods of structured training
      • The practice must be peformed with a coach (at ifrst, at least)
      • It must focus on improving specific facets of the skill in a session, rather than only focusing on the skill as a whole. Think of training specifically on chess endgames rather than just playing a lot of chess.
    • So this precludes deliberate practice from even being possible in many fields.
    • But in some fields, you may still be able to perform deliberate practice on subsets of the skill, even if not every facet can be trained in that way.
    • Challenges of Deliberate Practice
      • Breaking down a skill into sub-skills. These aren't always well-defined.
      • Lack of feedback -- Coaches or mentors are great, but not always available. Virtual mentors can be a substitute if you have to, emulating the work of masters through their writings, records, etc.
      • Lack of practice opportunities
      • Frustration with lack of progress
        • This often results from trying to train on too much at once. Narrowing the scope of the practice, lowering the difficulty of the practice, or getting feedback from an expert can help here.
  • Designing a Deliberate Practice Program
    • In Badass: Making Users Awesome, author Kathy Sierra lays out a method for developing your own practice methods.
    • You want to create exercises that focus on a particular goal in a small subset of the skill.
      • Within three sessions of 45-90 minutes each, you should be able to achieve that goal 95% of the time.
      • If you can't accomplish this, then either split the task into multiple subtasks and just train them one at a time, or make the goal easier so that you can reach the 95% level on that goal. Then you can move back up to the harder goal.
  • Highlights first synced by Readwise August 26th, 2020
    • it claims that talent is overrated. Ericsson et all truly believe that expert performance in the vast majority of fields may be explained by differences in the quantity and quality of deliberate practice — in fact, that the effect sizes from deliberate practice far dominate when compared against innate talent, genetics, or other factors.
    • the deliberate practice tradition claims that there is a right way and wrong way to practice in the pursuit of mastery. The most striking result from this second claim is the idea that ‘practicing’ via rote repetition — e.g. playing a familiar piece from start to finish, starting a new, bog-standard programming project, completing a typical college essay — does not result in improvements of the sort that is necessary to achieve mastery in a problem domain.
    • Is deliberate practice good enough to work? My opinion — one that’s informed by painful experience attempting to implement the results of Ericsson’s research — is that, yes, deliberate practice does work, but it’s really difficult to turn the principles into a practice program if you are in a field where no ‘highly-developed, broadly accepted training methods’ exist.
  • New highlights added August 28th, 2020 at 12:16 AM
    • I find the assertion that Ericsson’s critics level against him a lot more believable: at the highest levels of performance, genetics and innate factors matter because everyone is practicing the same amount; in other fields and at lower levels of performance a combination of genetics, opportunities, and environment affect individual performance just as much as the number of hours spent in effective practice.
    • Deliberate practice requires you to break your domain down into sub skills, and then train these sub skills systematically. Often sub skills are dependent on other sub skills; a self learner would have to figure out the dependencies on her own.
    • Self-learning means lack of feedback from a teacher, which means substituting feedback gained via other methods. This demands great creativity. Ericsson mentions that a common training technique used by chess players is to study a chess position from an actual game, and then attempt to make the next move as a grandmaster would.
    • Deliberate practice in the sorts of skills that we rely on in our careers is hard, because coming up with effective training methods is hard.

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