“How to Become Great at Just About Anything”

Freakonomics podcast | Grit

Why we love it: This Freakonomics podcast episode features both psychologist Anders Ericsson and the popularizer of his work, Malcolm Gladwell, on the role of talent as well as practice in developing world-class expertise.

STEPHEN DUBNER: The secrets really boil down to one word: practice. Not just volume of practice—although we’ll get into that later. But the quality and the nature of the practice. There’s “purposeful practice,” for instance.

ANDERS ERICSSON: Purposeful practice is when you actually pick a target—something that you want to improve—and you find a training activity that would allow you to actually improve that particular aspect. Purposeful practice is very different from playing a tennis game or if you’re playing basketball scrimmages. Because when you’re playing, there’s really no target where you’re actually trying to change something specifically and where you have the opportunity of repeating it and actually refine it so you can assure that you will improve that particular aspect.

DUBNER: And then there’s deliberate practice.

ERICSSON: We think of deliberate practice requiring a teacher that actually has had experience of how to help individuals reach very high levels of performance.

DUBNER: I want to go through one by one the components of deliberate practice and have you explain a little bit more if necessary, or acknowledge why they are important. So you write that “deliberate practice develops skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques have been established.”

ERICSSON: And I think that’s key.

DUBNER: Which I guess helps us explain why a pianist from 80 or 100 years ago who was considered the gold standard is now considered not very good, because the instruction is built on top of itself to get people better faster, yeah?

ERICSSON: Exactly, and I think the same thing in sports, where new techniques will allow individuals to reach kind of a higher level and practice more effectively than previous generations.