Dreams & Reality

Abundance makes us rich in dreams, for in dreams there are no limits. But it makes us poor in reality. It makes us soft and decadent, bored with what we have and in need of constant shocks to remind us that we are alive. In life you must be a warrior, and war requires realism.

While others may find beauty in endless dreams, warriors find it in reality, in awareness of limits, in making the most of what they have. They look for the perfect economy of motion and gesture – the way to give their blows the greatest force with the least expenditure of effort. Their awareness that their days are numbered – that they could die at any time- grounds them in reality.

There are things they can never do, talents they will never have, lofty goals they will never reach; that hardly bothers them. Warriors focus on what they do have, the strengths that they do possess and that they must use creatively. Knowing when to slow down, to renews, to retrench, to outlast their opponents. They play for the long term.

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War

What do you really want?

Why do certain people put themselves through the years of intensive daily work that eventually makes them world-class great? The answers depend on your response to two basic questions: What do you really want? And what do you really believe?

What you want - really, deeply want - is fundamental because deliberate practice is an investment: The costs come now, the benefits later. The more you want something, the easier it will be for you to sustain the needed effort until the payoff starts to arrive. But if you're pursuing something that you don't truly want and are competing against others whose desire is deep, you can guess the outcome.

The evidence offers no easy assurances. It shows that the price of top-level achievement is extraordinarily high. Maybe it's inevitable that not many people will choose to pay it. But the evidence shows also that by understanding how a few become great, all can become better.

Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated

Just beyond your current limits

Excellent performers judge themselves differently than most people do. They're more specific, just as they are when they set goals and strategies. Average performers are content to tell themselves that they did great or poorly or okay.

By contrast, the best performers judge themselves against a standard that's relevant for what they're trying to achieve. Sometimes they compare their performance with their own personal best; sometimes they compare it with the performance of competitors they're facing or expect to face; sometimes they compare it with the best known performance by anyone in the field.

Any of those can make sense; the key, as in all deliberate practice, is to choose a comparison that stretches you just beyond your current limits. Research confirms what common sense tells us, that too high a standard is discouraging and not very instructive, while too low a standard produces no advancement.

Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated

The Secret to an Exceptional Life

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers suggests context and hard work are more critical than raw talent when it comes to achievement. He offers Christopher Langan as an example of how the range of opportunities presented to us can made a major difference as to whether we gain traction in life.

Einstein's IQ was 150. Langan’s IQ was a blistering 195. But Langan spent his days working on a horse farm in rural Missouri. Why didn’t he rise to exceptional achievement? According to Gladwell, there was no one in Langan's life to encourage and help him develop his exceptional gifts. He grew up in a small town in Montana with an abusive stepfather in abject poverty.

Gladwell writes, "He had to make his way alone and no one--not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses--ever makes it alone."

You didn’t rise alone. Is there someone to whom you should show gratitude? Someone who poured? themselves into making you who you are? Is there someone who you could cultivate, radically altering the kind of person they become?

Stephen Goforth

the secret power of deliberate practice

You may think that your rehearsal of a job interview was flawless, but your opinion isn't what counts. Or you may believe you played that bar of the Brahms violin concerto perfectly, but can you really trust your own judgment? In many important situations, a teacher, coach, or mentor is vital for providing crucial feedback.

Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it "deliberate," as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in. Continually seeking exactly those elements of performance that are unsatisfactory and then trying one's hardest to make them better places enormous strains on anyone's mental abilities.

The work is so great that it seems no one can sustain it for very long.

Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that's exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands. Instead of doing what we're good at, we insistently seek out what we're not good at.

Then we identify the painful, difficult activities that will make us better and do those things over and over. After each repetition, we force ourselves to see - or get others to tell us - exactly what still isn't right so we can repeat the most painful and difficult parts of what we've just done. We continue that process until we're mentally exhausted.

If it seems a bit depressing that the most important thing you can do to improve performance is no fun, take consolation in this fact: It must be so. If the activities that lead to greatness were easy and fun, then everyone would do them and no one could distinguish the best from the rest.

The reality that deliberate practice is hard can even be seen as good news. It means that most people won't do it. So your willingness to do it will distinguish you all the more.

Geoff Colvin, Why Talent is Overrated

Is Talent Overrated?

It is mid-1978, and we are inside the giant Procter & Gamble headquarters in Cincinnati, looking into a cubicle shared by a pair of 22-year-old men, fresh out of college. Their assignment is to sell Duncan Hines brownie mix, but they spend a lot of their time just rewriting memos. Neither has any kind of career plan. Every afternoon they play waste-bin basketball with wadded-up memos. One of them later recalls, "We were voted the two guys probably least likely to succeed." These two young men are of interest to us now for only one reason: They are Jeffrey Immelt and Steven Ballmer, who before age 50 would become CEOs of two of the world's most valuable corporations, General Electric and Microsoft.

Contrary to what any reasonable person would have expected when they were new recruits, they reached the apex of corporate achievement. The obvious question is how. Was it talent? If so, it was a strange kind of talent that hadn't revealed itself in the first 22 years of their lives. Brains?

The two were sharp but had shown no evidence of being sharper than thousands of classmates or colleagues. Was it mountains of hard work? Certainly not up to that point. And yet something carried them to the heights of the business world. Which leads to perhaps the most puzzling question, one that applies not just to Immelt and Ballmer but also to everyone: If that certain special something turns out not to be any of the things we usually think of, then what is it? If we believe that people without a particular natural talent for some activity will never be competitive with those who possess that talent - meaning an inborn ability to do that specific thing easily and well - then we'll direct them away from that activity.

We'll steer our kids away from art, tennis, economics, or Chinese because we think we've seen that they have no talent in those realms. In our own lives we'll try something new and, finding that it doesn't come naturally to us, conclude that we have no talent for it, and so we never pursue it.

A number of researchers now argue that talent means nothing like what we think it means, if indeed it means anything at all. A few contend that the very existence of talent is not, as they carefully put it, supported by evidence. In studies of accomplished individuals, researchers have found few signs of precocious achievement before the individuals started intensive training.

Similar findings have turned up in studies of musicians, tennis players, artists, swimmers, mathematicians, and others. Such findings do not prove that talent doesn't exist. But they do suggest an intriguing possibility: that if it does, it may be irrelevant.

Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated

Just the Right Amount of Practice

Practice too little and you never become world-class. Practice too much, though, and you increase the odds of being struck down by injury, draining yourself mentally, or burning out. To succeed, students must “avoid exhaustion” and “limit practice to an amount from which they can completely recover on a daily or weekly basis.”

How do students marked for greatness make the most of limited practice time? The rhythm of their practice follows a distinctive pattern. They put in more hours per week in the practice room or playing field, but they don’t do it by making each practice longer. Instead, they have more frequent, shorter sessions, each lasting about 80 to 90 minutes, with half-hour breaks in between.

Add these several practices up, and what do you get? About four hours a day. About the same amount of time Darwin spent every day doing his hardest work, Hardy (G.H. Hardy was one of Britain’s leading mathematicians in the first half of the 20th century) and Littlewood (Hardy’s longtime collaborator John Littlewood) spent doing math, Charles Dickens and Stephen King spent writing. Even ambitious young students in one of the world’s best schools, preparing for an notoriously competitive field, could handle only four hours of really focused, serious effort per day.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang writing in Nautilus

10,000 hours of deliberate practice is not enough

In a study of violin students at a conservatory in Berlin in the 1980s.. there was something.. that almost everyone has subsequently overlooked. “Deliberate practice,” they observed, “is an effortful activity that can be sustained only for a limited time each day.” Practice too little and you never become world-class. Practice too much, though, and you increase the odds of being struck down by injury, draining yourself mentally, or burning out. To succeed, students must “avoid exhaustion” and “limit practice to an amount from which they can completely recover on a daily or weekly basis.”

Everybody speed-reads through the discussion of sleep and leisure and argues about the 10,000 hours (necessary to become world-class in anything).

This illustrates a blind spot that scientists, scholars, and almost all of us share: a tendency to focus on focused work, to assume that the road to greater creativity is paved by life hacks, propped up by eccentric habits, or smoothed by Adderall or LSD. Those who research world-class performance focus only on what students do in the gym or track or practice room. Everybody focuses on the most obvious, measurable forms of work and tries to make those more effective and more productive. They don’t ask whether there are other ways to improve performance, and improve your life.

This is how we’ve come to believe that world-class performance comes after 10,000 hours of practice. But that’s wrong. It comes after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, 12,500 hours of deliberate rest, and 30,000 hours of sleep.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang writing in Nautilus

Shifting with Needs

Not infrequently, those who started (a) company either decide to leave voluntarily or are forced out of the company that they started. The irony of this kind of event is lost on practicality no one: The person who founded the organization is now found to be irrelevant, or even detrimental to it.

From the standpoint of a theory of styles, such an event is neither surprising nor likely to be unusual. The styles of thinking that are compatible with rugged entrepreneurship are often not the styles that are compatible with management in a more entrenched and possibly bureaucratic firm. Similarly, different styles may be required for different levels of kinds of responsibility in an organization.

The startup entrepreneur has no lack of ability; if he or she had, the company never would have succeeded in the first place. Rather the individual has a revolutionary spirit that is more suitable to the earlier than the later stages of organizational development.  What had worked so well earlier on simply no longer works. If the person cannot be flexible, he or she is likely to find it hard to fit into the organization.

Robert Sternberg, Thinking Styles

Solo Performance

A mountain of studies has shown that face-to-face brainstorming and teamwork often lead to inferior decisionmaking. That’s because social dynamics lead groups astray; they coalesce around the loudest extrovert’s most confidently asserted idea, no matter how daft it might be.

What works better? “Virtual” collaboration—with team members cogitating on solutions alone, in private, before getting together to talk them over. As Susan Cain (who write Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking) discovered, researchers have found that groups working in this fashion generate better ideas and solve problems more adroitly. To really get the best out of people, have them work alone first, then network later.

Sounds like the way people collaborate on the Internet, doesn’t it? With texting, chat, status updates, comment threads, and email, you hash over ideas and thoughts with a pause between each utterance, giving crucial time for reflection. Plus, you can do so in private.

(The) overall the irony here is pretty gorgeous. It suggests we’ve been thinking about the social web the wrong way. We generally assume that it has unleashed an unruly explosion of disclosure, a constant high school of blather. But what it has really done is made our culture more introverted—and productively so. Now if we could just get some doors on those cubicles.

Clive Thompson writing in Wired Magazine

Career Choices

Find what you are good at. Find what you have a passion for doing. People will pay you good money to do the things that fit within both of these circles. No one is going to be willing to pay for your "C minus" work (or not very much). So forget about bringing your "fours" up to "sixes" (on a scale of one to ten). Focus on getting your "eights "up to "nines" and your "nines" up to "tens." (A bit of an oversimplification.. but you get the idea).

Stephen Goforth

Top performers secret: They chunk it

The idea that skill-which is graceful, fluid, and seemingly effortless--should be created by the nested accumulation of small, discrete circuits seems counterintuitive. But a massive body of scientific research shows that this is precisely the way skills are built--and not just for cognitive pursuits like chess.

Physical acts are also built of chunks. When a gymnast learns a floor routine, he assemblies via a series of chunks, which in turn are made up of other chunks. He’s grouped a series of muscle movements together in exactly the same way you grouped a series of letters together to form a Everest. The fluency happens when the gymnast repeats the movements often enough that he knows how to process those chunks as one big chunk, the same way that you process the above sentence.

From below, top performers look incomprehensibly superior, and see if they’ve leaped in a single bound across a huge chasm. They aren't nearly as different from ordinary performers  as they seem. What separates these two levels is not innate superpower but a slowly accrued act  of construction and organization: the building of a scaffolding, bolt by bolt  and circuit by circuit.

Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code