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Book Reviews

1 Great Book to Read

by Joseph Dancy
LSGI Advisors, Inc.
November 3, 2006

The Road to Excellence: The Acquisition of Expert Performance
in the Arts, Sciences, Sports and Games

by K. Anders Ericsson
350 pages, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; (June 1996)
List: $49.95; $46.45 at Amazon.com

Last month we read the following books that might be of interest:

Motivation. What makes Warren Buffett such a gifted investor? Or Tiger Woods such a good golfer? Some argue that experts possess unique talents, intelligence, or gifts, while others argue that other factors are at work. K. Anders Ericsson edits a compilation of papers on what factors explain expert performance in �The Road to Excellence: The Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts, Sciences, Sports and Games� (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates (1996), 350 pages).

According to Ericsson, and many of the experts included in his book, several traits or characteristics are common in individuals who excel. This is the case whether the success is measured on a �world class� basis like Tiger Woods, or defined as those in the top ten percent of the population skill-wise. These characteristics include the following traits or habits:

�There is a strong correlation between the amount of �deliberate practice� an individual invests and the ultimate level of expertise. Deliberate practice is defined as: (1) a well defined practice task with a (2) appropriate difficulty level that (3) requires concentration and multiple repetitive actions which (4) provide informative feedback allowing the (5) opportunity for the correction of errors. In a review of data the researchers found in general the higher level of attained performance the larger amount of defined practice.

�Due to the amount of time required to perfect skills, and the requirement for vast amounts of �deliberate practice�, the individual must have a supportive environment in which to pursue their interest. Many top performers begin their pursuit with the encouragement of their parents at ages as young as 5 years.

�In most domains of expertise the vast majority of individuals do not spontaneously engage in deliberate practice after they have achieved an acceptable level of performance. Individuals who reach the highest levels of performance expend large amount of time on focused and intense deliberate practice, in some cases approaching the maximum possible human effort.

�According to the experts the deliberate practice activities in themselves are not especially enjoyable, but the end results flowing from the practice is deemed as inherently enjoyable by the individual.

�Many individuals who excel � whether in sports, chess, drawing, or academic activity have taken at least 10 years to develop their expertise. Some world class performers have taken considerably longer.

�In sports peak performers will many times reach their highest levels of performance years after physical maturity has been achieved. Objective measures in the last century indicate a dramatic increase in athletic performance. In some cases world records have been improved by nearly 50%. Olympic performances attained by an elite few a century ago can be attained by thousands of amateur athletes today.

�The excellent performer will store vast amounts of knowledge acquired during the learning process. They process this knowledge much quicker than non-experts, and can quickly ascertain patterns of information helpful to enhancing their performance. For example a skilled chess player will recognize certain positions, and can quickly think ahead and develop a strategy of how to respond to that situation. Skilled ice hockey and soccer players have been shown in testing to anticipate opponent�s actions much quicker than less skilled players, giving them extra time to adjust their responses.

�An expert will process information much faster than non-experts in their domain of excellence, but once out of their area of expertise these individuals will generally have average skill in areas they have not trained for. So a skilled chess player, for example, would not necessarily excel at video games due to the different knowledge set.

The book and topic are quite interesting, although many of the academic papers included are highly technical and difficult to easily digest. The bottom line, according to Professor Ericsson, is that practice plays a major role at developing expertise � and individuals who are most dedicated and adept at the process of deliberate practice will tend to excel in their field.


© 2006 Joseph Dancy
Bio & Archive

Web Note:   Also hear Jim Puplava's interview with the author, James O. O'Shaughnessy.

Contact Information
Joseph Dancy, Adjunct Professor
Oil & Gas Law, SMU School of Law
Advisor, LSGI Market Letter
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