September: Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

by Anders Ericsson

Book Description

“Have you ever wanted to learn a language or pick up an instrument, only to become too daunted by the task at hand? Expert performance guru Anders Ericsson has made a career studying chess champions, violin virtuosos, star athletes, and memory mavens. Peak condenses three decades of original research to introduce an incredibly powerful approach to learning that is fundamentally different from the way people traditionally think about acquiring a skill.

Ericsson’s findings have been lauded and debated, but never properly explained. So the idea of expertise still intimidates us — we believe we need innate talent to excel, or think excelling seems prohibitively difficult.

Peak belies both of these notions, proving that almost all of us have the seeds of excellence within us — it’s just a question of nurturing them by reducing expertise to a discrete series of attainable practices. Peak offers invaluable, often counterintuitive, advice on setting goals, getting feedback, identifying patterns, and motivating yourself.  Whether you want to stand out at work, or help your kid achieve academic goals, Ericsson’s revolutionary methods will show you how to master nearly anything.”


Book Club Review

Thanks for being a part of the Modern Leadership Monthly Book Club. If you happened upon this page and are not a member you can join for free here .

The book club is designed to explore books that will help us on our leadership journey. It is a part of the Modern Leadership Podcast where we breakdown a book weekly in each episode. You can catch the podcast here.

This month’s book is: Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
by Anders Ericsson

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Brief Summary

This is a book that looks at how to perform at a “very” high level. You can become an expert in almost any field through practice. But it takes more than repetition and routine. This book discusses the new concept of deliberate practice and its impact on musicians, memory phenoms and talented athletes. The book seeks to dispel the myth that you must be born with a special talent to reach the highest level of performance.

About the author – Dr. K. Anders Ericsson

Dr. Ericsson is Conradi Eminent Scholar and Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. He received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Stockholm, Sweden and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Carnegie Mellon. He has worked with a Nobel Prize winner and written extensively on performance and increasing ability. Additionally, he is a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences.

You should read this book if:

  • You read Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink and were intrigued by the 10,000 hour rule
  • You have a passion and want to develop the skill to perform at a high level
  • You love learning about virtuosos and how they found success
  • You want to become an expert

Who shouldn’t read this book

  • Looking for a novel or story. While the book does have examples, the book is not written as a continuing story
  • This is an academically written book with research to back up statements. It is well researched

What surprised me

I loved this book (not surprising). I heard Dr. Ericsson on another podcast and enjoyed his style, the things he talked about and the principles of deliberate practice. I was surprised to read that Malcom Gladwell based his section of Blink on the research Dr. Ericsson had done previously, but was misunderstood by Gladwell. The 10,000 hour rule principle resonated with me when I read Blink as it probably did with many of you. I was surprised and delighted to read Dr. Ericssons original intention and how Gladwell misunderstood it.


It is sometimes hard to list criticisms for books you enjoy so much, as I did this book. If forced to consider one, I may say the book ran a little long in part. The authors refer to the digit memory test throughout the book to make their point but sometimes appear to carry on about it too long. Not annoying enough to stop reading, only a slight criticism from an otherwise well researched and well written book.


  • WHY ARE SOME PEOPLE so amazingly good at what they do?
  • For more than thirty years I have studied these people, the special ones who stand out as experts in their fields—athletes, musicians, chess players, doctors, salespeople, teachers, and more.
  • good deal of research has shown that nearly everyone with perfect pitch began musical training at a very young age—generally around three to five
  • Mozart was indeed born with a gift, and it was the same gift that the children in Sakakibara’s study were born with. They were all endowed with a brain so flexible and adaptable that it could, with the right sort of training, develop a capability that seems quite magical to those of us who do not possess it.
  • since the 1990s brain researchers have come to realize that the brain—even the adult brain—is far more adaptable than anyone ever imagined, and this gives us a tremendous amount of control over what our brains are able to do.
  • Why are some people so amazingly good at what they do? Over my years of studying experts in various fields, I have found that they all develop their abilities in much the same way that Sakakibara’s students did—through dedicated training that drives changes in the brain (and sometimes, depending on the ability, in the body) that make it possible for them to do things that they otherwise could not.
  • there are other ways in which genes may influence one’s achievements, particularly those genes that influence how likely a person is to practice diligently and correctly.
  • the clear message from decades of research is that no matter what role innate genetic endowment may play in the achievements of “gifted” people, the main gift that these people have is the same one we all have—the adaptability of the human brain and body,
  • ‘Don’t undermine the work I’ve put in every day.’ Not some days. Every day.
  • This is a book about the gift that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sakakibara’s schoolchildren, and Ray Allen all shared—the ability to create, through the right sort of training and practice, abilities that they would not otherwise possess by taking advantage of the incredible adaptability of the human brain and body.
  • this is a book about a fundamentally new way of thinking about human potential, one that suggests we have far more power than we ever realized to take control of our own lives.
  • Learning isn’t a way of reaching one’s potential but rather a way of developing it.
  • We can create our own potential.
  • The right sort of practice carried out over a sufficient period of time leads to improvement. Nothing else.
  • after studying expert performers from a wide range of fields, my colleagues and I came to realize that no matter what the field, the most effective approaches to improving performance all follow a single set of general principles. We named this universal approach “deliberate practice.”
  • most traits that play a role in expert performance can be modified by the right sort of practice,
  • the most effective and most powerful types of practice in any field work by harnessing the adaptability of the human body and brain to create, step by step, the ability to do things that were previously not possible. If
  • once you have reached this satisfactory skill level and automated your performance—your driving, your tennis playing, your baking of pies—you have stopped improving.
  • Research has shown that, generally speaking, once a person reaches that level of “acceptable” performance and automaticity, the additional years of “practice” don’t lead to improvement.
  • Purposeful Practice
    • Purposeful practice has several characteristics that set it apart from what we might call “naive practice,” which is essentially just doing something repeatedly, and expecting that the repetition alone will improve one’s performance.
    • Purposeful practice has well-defined, specific goals.
    • Purposeful practice is all about putting a bunch of baby steps together to reach a longer-term goal.
    • Purposeful practice involves feedback.
    • Purposeful practice requires getting out of one’s comfort zone.
  • This is a fundamental truth about any sort of practice: If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve.
  • The best way to get past any barrier is to come at it from a different direction, which is one reason it is useful to work with a teacher or coach.
  • And sometimes it turns out that a barrier is more psychological than anything else.
  • In all of my years of research, I have found it is surprisingly rare to get clear evidence in any field that a person has reached some immutable limit on performance. Instead, I’ve found that people more often just give up and stop trying to improve.
  • Generally speaking, meaningful positive feedback is one of the crucial factors in maintaining motivation.
  • So here we have purposeful practice in a nutshell: Get outside your comfort zone but do it in a focused way, with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor your progress. Oh, and figure out a way to maintain your motivation.
  • This recipe is an excellent start for anyone who wishes to improve—but it is still just a start.
  • the world record in that category by doing 46,001 pushups in 21 hours and 21 minutes.
  • Pull-ups – 2014 Jan Kareš of the Czech Republic did 4,654 in twelve hours.
  • the human body is incredibly adaptable.
  • There may be limits, but there is no indication that we have reached them yet.
  • The brain, like the body, changes most quickly in that sweet spot where it is pushed outside—but not too far outside—its comfort zone.
  • Once we understand the adaptability of the brain and the body in this way, we start to think about human potential in an entirely different light,
  • With deliberate practice, however, the goal is not just to reach your potential but to build it, to make things possible that were not possible before.
  • grandmasters apart from novices
  • investigated how well soccer players can predict what’s coming next from what has already happened on the field.
  • For the experts we just described, the key benefit of mental representations lies in how they help us deal with information: understanding and interpreting it, holding it in memory, organizing it, analyzing it, and making decisions with it. The same is true for all experts—and most of us are experts at something, whether we realize it or not.
  • We found that the best violin students had, on average, spent significantly more time than the better violin students had spent, and that the top two groups—better and best—had spent much more time on solitary practice than the music-education students.
  • deliberate practice is different from other sorts of purposeful practice in two important ways: First, it requires a field that is already reasonably well developed—that is, a field in which the best performers have attained a level of performance that clearly sets them apart from people who are just entering the field.
  • Second, deliberate practice requires a teacher who can provide practice activities designed to help a student improve his or her performance.
  • With this definition we are drawing a clear distinction between purposeful practice—in which a person tries very hard to push himself or herself to improve—and practice that is both purposeful and informed.
  • Deliberate practice is deliberate, that is, it requires a person’s full attention and conscious actions.
  • Deliberate practice nearly always involves building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working to improve them specifically;
  • deliberate practice is a very specialized form of practice. You need a teacher or coach who assigns practice techniques designed to help you improve on very specific skills.
  • But not to worry—even if your field is one in which deliberate practice in the strictest sense is not possible, you can still use the principles of deliberate practice as a guide to developing the most effective sort of practice possible in your area.
  • If you’re in a field where deliberate practice is an option, you should take that option. If not, apply the principles of deliberate practice as much as possible. In practice this often boils down to purposeful practice with a few extra steps: first, identify the expert performers, then figure out what they do that makes them so good, then come up with training techniques that allow you to do it, too.
  • And finally remember that, whenever possible, the best approach is almost always to work with a good coach or teacher. An effective instructor will understand what must go into a successful training regimen and will be able to modify it as necessary to suit individual students.
  • Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, “the ten-thousand-hour rule.”
    • Unfortunately, this rule—which is the only thing that many people today know about the effects of practice—is wrong in several ways. (It is also correct in one important way, which I will get to shortly.)
  • Authors and poets have usually been writing for more than a decade before they produce their best work,
  • if you follow the principles of deliberate practice you can develop ways to identify the top performers in a field and train other, lesser performers and bring them up closer to that top level.
  • three prevailing myths.
    • The first is our old friend, the belief that one’s abilities are limited by one’s genetically prescribed characteristics.
    • The second myth holds that if you do something for long enough, you’re bound to get better at it. Again, we know better. Doing the same thing over and over again in exactly the same way is not a recipe for improvement; it is a recipe for stagnation and gradual decline.
    • The third myth states that all it takes to improve is effort.
  • The deliberate-practice mindset offers a very different view: anyone can improve, but it requires the right approach.
  • If you are not improving, it’s not because you lack innate talent; it’s because you’re not practicing the right way.

My Key Key Key Takeaway

  • My key: The second myth [of the 10,000 hour rule] holds that if you do something for long enough, you’re bound to get better at it. Again, we know better. Doing the same thing over and over again in exactly the same way is not a recipe for improvement; it is a recipe for stagnation and gradual decline.

I have mentioned it before, but the 10,000 hour rule clarification is the biggest win of this book. I love the nuance and reiteration, the myths and one-truth. You can achieve expert status and it doesn’t require being born with an “expert” gene, but it does requite intentional (deliberate) practice and that will likely take longer than 10,000 of concentrated effort.

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Podcaster | Speaker | Leadership Mentor

Jake Carlson is a popular speaker, accountability partner, and host of the Modern Leadership podcast. Jake built his business while traveling with his family around the world. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn. Read more about him here.