There has been some smart interest lately in recent research on the nature of expertise and how it’s acquired, including books by Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers), Geoff Colvin (Talent is Overrated), and a forthcoming book from Doubleday by David Shenk (The Genius In All of Us: Nature, Nurture and the New Science of Talent).
This blog is an attempt to work out ideas and chapters for my own forthcoming book, tentatively titled The Practice of Practice (currently toying with subtitles; suggestions welcome). The books mentioned above have all examined the research on expertise from a broad perspective, giving us a general idea of what it takes to become a world-class expert in disciplines as diverse as music, tennis, chess, comedy, x-ray film analysis, and juggling, to name but a few. As to the question of how to find a world-class juggler? You know him when you see him (yes, or her). For two potential candidates, check out Michael Moschen or the Raspyni Brothers on TED.
The most surprising finding of all this research into expertise, a finding that belies the folk wisdom we tell ourselves, is that talent plays a minuscule (perhaps nonexistent) role in the process of acquiring expertise; it’s all about a specific kind of practice. The books mentioned above give excellent broad overviews of the findings (you can read my reviews of these books on this blog), but leave one wanting as far as practical application goes. As Yogi Berra said (also attributed to others), “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is.” That’s what this blog, and the book, are aiming for: to take the theories and translate them into something you can actually put in the bank. Something you can actually do to improve.
I’m working on a PhD in music education from Northwestern University, have played trumpet for over 30 years, guitar for 10, dabble with many other instruments, and I’ve written three other books on music, so my focus for this project will also come from a practicing musician’s perspective. But because the idea and techniques of practice are so fascinating and universal, I’ll attempt to include information and strategies in ways that can be adopted by people interested in improvement in other fields, too. This includes topics like motivation, Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow, and a whole raft of other strategies designed specifically to improve performance at anything, whether you’re bent on becoming an international sensation or are simply determined to take your game to the next level.
I’m excited about all the research I’m reading and am excited about interviewing some world-class musicians in the pursuit of practical knowledge about practice. I sincerely hope you join me for the ride and tune in to this blog.
This blog will be a shoot-from-the-hip exercise for me in which I’ll try to synthesize and explain the research reviews and interviews I’ll be conducting. Because of the “draft-ish” nature of the blog, I welcome advice or constructive criticism, so if you have either, please share it.
Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.