Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

Peak:  Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool
NY:  Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt Publishing, 2016
ISBN 978-0-544-45623-5
(15)  Purposeful practice has well-defined, specific goals.

… The key is to take that general goal - get better - and turn it into something specific that you can work on with a realistic expectation of improvement.

Purposeful practice is focused.

(16)  You seldom improve much without giving the task your full attention.

(17)  Purposeful practice requires getting out of one’s comfort zone.

(19)  Generally the solution is not “try harder” but rather “try differently.”

(22)  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.

(23-24)  As we shall see, the key to improved mental performance of almost any sort is the development of mental structures that make it possible to avoid the limitations of short-term memory and deal effectively with large amounts of information at once.

(56)  …meaning… allows us to make sense of the words using preexisting “mental representations.”  They’re not random;  they mean something, and meaning aids memory.  Similarly, chess masters don’t develop some incredible memory for where individual pieces sit on a board.  Instead, their memory is very context-dependent:  it is only for patterns of the sort that would appear in a normal game.
NB:  random versus  pattern;  the importance of context everywhere

(56-57)  These years of practice make it possible for chess players to recognize patterns of chess pieces - not just their positions, but the interactions among them - at a glance.  They are old friends.  Bill Chase and Herb Simon called these patterns “chunks,” and the important thing about them is that they are held in long-term memory.

Simon estimated that by the time a chess player becomes a master, he or she has accumulated some fifty thousand of these chunks.  A master who examines a chess position sees a colleciton of chunks that are interacting with other chunks in still other patterns.  Research has shown that these chunks are organized hierarchically, with groups of chunks arranged into higher-level patterns.

(60)  This explains a crucial fact aobut expert performance in general:  there is no such thing as developing a general skill.  You don’t train your memory;  you train your memory for strings of digits or for collections of words or for people’s faces.  You don’t train to become an athlete;  you train to become a gymnast of a sprinter or a marathoner or a swimmer of a basketball player.  You don’t train to become a doctor;  you train to become a diagnostician or a pathologist or a neurosurgeon.  Of course, some people do become overall memory experts or athletes in a number of sports or doctors with a general set of skills, but they do so by training in a number of different areas.

(61)  The thing all mental representations have in common is that they make it possible to process large amounts of information quickly, despite the limitations of short-term memory.
NB:  Alzheimer’s and chunking?

(71-72)  The superior organization of information is a theme that appears over and over again in the study of expert performers.

(75)  The main purpose of deliberate practice is to develop effective mental representations, and, as we will discuss shortly, mental represenrations in turn play a key role in deliberate practice.  The key change that occurs in our adaptable brains in response to deliberate practice is the developoment of better mental representations, which in turn open up new possibilities for improved performance,  In short, we came to see our explanation of mental representations as the keystone of the book, without which the rest of the book could not stand.

(76)  Obviously the mental representation for a book is much larger and more complex than one for a personal letter of a blog post, but the general pattern is the same:  to write well, develop a mental representation ahead of time to guide your efforts, then monitor and evaluate your efforts and be ready to modify that representation as necessary.

(79)  The researchers found, among other things, that the more accomplished music students were better able to determine when they’d made mistakes and better able to identify difficult sections they needed to focus their efforts on.

(83)  It’s like a staircase that you climb as you build it.  Each step of your ascent puts you in a position to build the next step.
NB:  Not quite how you build stairs, first layout notches on stair stringers, setting the run and the rise

(90) … more than a dozen bowing techniques in all.  Spiccato, for example, involves bouncing the bow off and back onto a string as the bow moves back and forth across the string, producing a series of short, staccato notes.  Sautillé is a faster version of spiccato.  Then there are jété, collé, détaché, martelé, legato,  louré, and more, each technique with its own distinctive sound.

(94)  But two things were strikingly clear from the study:  First, to become an excellent violinist requires several thousand hours of pracice….  And, second, even among these gifted musicians - all of whom had been admitted to the best music academy in Germany - the violinists who had spent significantly more hours practicing their craft were on average more accompllished than those who had spent less time practicing.

(98)  First, it [deliberative practice] 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 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_.  In particular, deliberate practice is informed and guided by the best performers’ accomplishments and by an understanding of what these expert performers do to excel.  Deliberate practice is purposeful practice that knows where it is going and how to get there.

(99)  Deliberate prctice develops skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques have already been established.  

… Deliberate practice takes place outside one’s confort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities.  This it demands near-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable.

… Deliberate practice involves well-defined, specific goals and often involves improving some aspect of the target performance;  it is not aimed at some vague overall improvement.

… Deliberate practice is deliberate, that is, it requires a person’s full attention and conscious actions.

… Deliberate practice involves feedback and modification of efforts in response to that feedback.

… Deliberate practice both produces and depends on effective mental representations.

(100)  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;  over time this step-by-step improvement will eventually lead to expert performance.

(103)  In practice this often boils down to purposeful practice with a few extra steps:  first, identity 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.

(105)  Research has shown that the “experts" in many fields don’t perform reliably better than other, less highly regarded members of the profession - or sometimes even than people who have had no training at all.

… Contrary to expectations, experience doesn’t lead to improved performance among many types of doctors and nurses.

(106)  In many fields it is the quality of mental representations that sets aprat the best from the rest, and mental representations are, by their nature, not directly observable.

(113)  There is no point at which performance maxes out and additional practice does not lead to further improvement.  

(121)  The first step toward enhancing performance in an organization is realizing that improvement is possible only if participants abandon business-as-usual practices.  Doing so requires recognizing and rejecting 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.

(122)  The third myth states that all it takes to improve is effort.  If you just try hard enough, you’ll get better…  The reality is, however, that all of these things - managing, selling, teamwork - are specialized skills, and unless you are using practice techniques specifically designed to improve those particular skills, trying hard will not get you very far.

… 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.  Once you understand this, improvement becomes a matter of figuring out what the “right way” is.

… One particular such approach is what Art [Turock] calls “learning while real work gets done.”

(122-123)  It might go like this:  The speaker chooses a particular skill to focus on during the presentation - telling engaging stories, for example, or speaking more extemporaneously and relying less on the PowerPoint slides - and then tries to make that particular improvement during the presentation.  Meanwhile, the audience takes notes on how the presenter’s performance went, and afterward they practice giving feedback.  If done just once, the presenter may get some useful advice, but it’s not clear how much difference it will make, as any improvement from such a one-off session is likely to be minor.  However, if the company makes it a regular practice in all staff meetings, employees can steadily improve on various skills.

(123)  One benefit of “learning while real work gets done” is that it gets people into the habit of practicing and thinking about practicing.

(131)  When you look at how people are trained in the professional and business worlds, you find a tendency to focus on knowledge at the expense of skills.  The main reasons are tradition and convenience:  it is much easier to present knolwedge to a large group of people than it is to set up conditions under which individuals can develop skills through practice.
NB:  simulations, role play, games

(137)  It is not just the medical profession that has traditionally emphasized knowledge over skills in its education.

… The general argument has been that the skills can be mastered relatively easily if the knowledge is there.

…. Again, the assumption is that simply accumulating more experience will lead to better performance.

(138)  This strategy [of replacing knowledge based learning with skills based training] acknowledges that because what is ultimately most important is what people are able to do, training should focus on doing rather than on knowing - and, in particular, on bringing everyone’s skills to the level of the best performers in a given area.

(144)  It is already clear, however, that a major factor underlying the abilities of the world’s best doctors is the quality of their mental representations.   This implies that a major part of applying the lessons of deliberate practice to medicine will be finding ways to help doctors develop better mental representations through training - a situation that holds in most other professions as well.

(250)  As we discussed in chapter 5, a major difference between the deliberate-practice approach and the traditional approach to learning lies with the emphasis placed on skills versus knowledge - what you can do versus what you know.  Deliberate practice is all about the skills.  You pick up the necessary knowledge in order to develop the skills;  knowledge should never be an end in itself.  Nonetheless, deliberate practice results in students picking up quite a lot of knowledge along the way.

(151)  Remember:  if your mind is wandering or you’re relaxed and just having fun, you probably won’t improve.
NB:  Fun isn’t improvement

….All of the singers, both amateur and professional, felt more relaxed and energized after the lesson than before, but only the amateurs reported feeling elated afterward.  The singing lesson had made the amateurs, but not the professionals, happy.

…For the professionals, the lesson was  a time to concentrate on such things as vocal technique and breath control in an effort to improve their singing.  There was focus but no joy.

(154)  Focus and concentration are crucial, I wrote, so shorter training sessions with clearer goals are the best way to develop new skills faster.  It is better to train at 100 percent effort for less time than at 70 percent effort for a longer period.  Once you find you can no longer focus effectively, end the session.  And make sure you get enough sleep so that you can train with maximum concentration.

(157)  … the Internet offers just about everything except quality control…

(158)  It does no good to do the same thing over and over again mindlessly;  the purpose of the repetition is to figure out where your weaknesses are and focus on getting better in those areas, trying different methods to improve until you find something that works.

(159)  To effectively practice a skill without a teacher, it helps to keep in mind three Fs:  Focus.  Feedback.  Fix it.  Break the skill down into components that you can do repeatedly and anlayze effectively, determine your weaknesses, and figure out ways to address them.

(165)  This, then, is what you should try when other techniques for getting past a plateau have failed.  First, figure out exactly what is holding you back.  What mistakes are you making, and when?  Push yourself well outside of your comfort zone and see what breaks down first.  Then design a practice technique aimed at improving that particular weakness.

(169)  As a rule of thumb, I think that anyone who hopes to improve skill in a particular area should devote an hour or more each day to practice that can be done with full concentration.  Maintaining the motivation that enables such a regimen has two parts:  reasons to keep going and reasons to stop.  When you quit something that you had initially wanted to do, it’s because the reasons to stop eventually came to outweigh the reasons to continue.  Thus, to maintain your motivation you can either strengthen the reasons to keep going or weaken the reasons to quit.  Successful motivation efforts generally include both.

(172)  Studies of expert performers tell us that once you have practice for a while and can see the results, the skill itself can become part of your motivation.  You take pride in what you do, you get pleasure from your friends’ compliments, and your sense of identity changes.

… Another key motivational factor in deliberate practice is a belief that you can succeed.

(173)  … if you stop believing that you can reach a goal, either because you’ve regressed or you’ve plateaued, don’t quit.  Make an agreement with yourself that you will do what it takes to get back to where you were or to get beyond the plateau, and then you can quit.  You probably won’t.

(177)  One of the best bits of advice is to set things up so that you are constantly seeing concrete signs of improvement, even if it is not always major improvement.  Break your long journey into a manageable series of goals and focus on them one at a time - perhaps even giving yourself a small reward each time you reach a goal.

(224)  The program [Jump Math] used the same basic principles found in deliberate practice:  breaking learning down into a series of well-specified skills, designing exercises to teach each of those skills in the correct order, and using feedback to monitor the progress.  

(233)  And here we find our major takeaway messeage:  In the long run it is the ones who practice more who prevail, not the ones who had some initial advantage in intelligence or some other talent.

(245-246)  In the deliberate-practice class the goal was not to feed information to the students but rather to get them to practice thinking like physicists.  To do that, Deslauriers would first have the students divide up into small gorups and then pose a “clicker question,” that is, a question that the students answered electronically, with the answers sent automatically to the instructor.  The questions were chosen to get the students in the class thinking about concepts that typically give first-year phiscs students difficulty.  The students would talk about each question within their small groups, send in their answers, and then Deslauriers would display the results and talk about them, answering any questions that the students might have.  The discussions got the  students thinking about the concepts, drawing connections, and often moving beyond the specific clicker question they’d been asked.  Several clicker questions were asked during the course of the class, and sometimes Deslauriers might have the student groups discuss a question a second time, after he had offered some thoughts for them to ponder.  Sometimes he would offer a mini-lecture if it seemed that the students were having difficulty with a particular idea.  Each class also included an “active learning task” in which the students in each group considered a questions and then individually wrote their answers and submitted them, after which Deslauriers would again answer questions and address misconceptions.  During the class Schelow would walk around among the groups, answering questions, listening to the discussions, and identifying problem areas.

(246)  Although there was no difference in engagement between the two groups during weeks ten and eleven, during week twelve the engagement in the class taught by Deslauriers was nearly double what it was in the traditional class.  But it was more than just engagement.  The students in the Deslauriers class were getting immediate feedback on their understanding of the various concepts, with both fellow students and the instructors helping clear up any confusion.  And both the clicker questions and the active learning tasks were designed to get the students thinking like physicists - to first understand the question in the proper way, then figure out which concepts are applicable, and then reason from those concepts to an answer.

(248)  For instance, it has always been surprising to me when I talke to fulltime athletes and their coaches how many of them have never taken the time to identify those aspects of performance that they would like to improve and then design training methods aimed specifically at those things.

…Furthermore, very little has been done to learn about the mental representations that successful athletes use.

(251)  However, if this information is assimilated as part of building mental representations aimed at doing something, the individual pieces become part of an interconnected pattern that provides context and meaning to the information, making it easier to work with.  As we saw in chapter 3, you don’t build mental representations by thinking about something;  you build them by trying to do something, failing, revising, and trying again, over and over.  When you’re done, not only have you developed an effective mental representation for the skill you were developing, but you have also absorbed a great deal of information connected with that skill.
NB:  “mental representation” = context, try fail revise try again = OODA Loop [observe, orient, decide, act]

… When preparing a lesson plan, determining what a student should be able to do is far more effective than determining what that student should know.  It then turns out that the knowing part comes along for the ride.

… when teaching a skill, break the lesson into a series of steps that the student can master one at a time, buuilding from one to the next to reach the ultimate objective.  While this sounds very similar to the scaffolding approach used in traditional education, it differs crucially in its focus on understanding the necessary mental representations at each step of the way and making sure that the student has developed the appropriate representations before moving to the next step.  
(253)  Begin by identifying what students should learn how to do.  The objectives should be skills, not knowledge.  In figuring out the particular way students should learn a skill, examine how the experts do it.  In particular, understand as much as possible about the mental representations that experts use, and teach the skill so as to help students develop similar mental representations.  This will involve teaching the skill step by step, with each step designed to keep students out of their comfort zone but not so far out that they cannot master that step.  Then give plenty of repetition and feedback;  the regular cycle of try, fail, get feedback, try again, and so on is how the students will build their mental representations.

(254)  One benefit that a young student - or anyone, really - gets from developing mental representations is the freedom to begin exploring that skill on his or her own.

(255)  They no longer need a teacher to lead them down every path;  they can head down some paths on their own.

Something similar is true for academic subjects.  Students who develop mental representations can go on to generate their own scientific experiments or to write their own books - and research has shown that many successful scientists and authors started their careers at a young age in just this way.

….  Having students create mental representations in one area helps them understand exactly what it takes to be successful not only in that area but in others as well.  Most people, even adults, have never attained a level of performance in any field that is sufficient to show them the true power of mental representations to plan, execute, and evaluate their performance in the way that expert performers do.  And thus they never really understand what it takes to reach this level - not just the time it takes, but the high-quality practice.  Once they do understand what is necessary to get there in one area, they understand, at least in principle, what it takes in other areas.  That is why experts in one field can often appreciate those in other fields.  A research physicist may better understand what it takes to become a skilled violinist, if only in general terms, and a ballerina may better understand the sacrifice it takes to become a skilled painter.

(256)  In most fields we still don’t know exactly what distinguishes experts from everyone else.  Nor do we have many details about the experts’ mental representations.  We need to map out the various factors that make up an expert over his or her entire lifespan in order to provide direction for other people who want to develop expertise.

(258)  And I would argue that we humans are most human when we’re improving ourselves.

(259)  Ultimately, it may be that the only answer to a world in which rapidly improving technologies are constantly changing the conditions under which we work, play, and live will be to create a society of people who recognize that they can control their development and understand how to do it.


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