Sunday, August 31, 2008

Role of deliberate practice in making of a star performer

Are stars born or made? There are two schools of thought concerning star performance. One says that stars are born talented (get the “stuff” through the genes) and the other says that it is mostly your practice that makes you perfect. Psychology Prof. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University clearly belongs to the latter school. However, what is different about Prof. Anders is that he does not stop at taking a position like most of us. He delves deeper into the concept of “practice” and tells us what kind of practice differentiates a star performer with the rest. He calls this kind of practice “Deliberate Practice”.

What is deliberate practice? Deliberate practice involves following:
1. Learner’s motivation to attend to the task and exert effort to improve the performance (are you passionate about it?)
2. Design of the task should take into account the preexisting knowledge of the learner (is the practice customized for you?)
3. Learner should receive immediate feedback
4. Learner should repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks.

How long does one do deliberate practice before one becomes super-expert? Hold your breath. To achieve highest level of performance, typically learners take 10 or more years. Apparently Boby Fischer was an exception in the last century and he took 9 years to become super-expert.

A classic essay on deliberate practice: If you are interested in reading more about deliberate practice, you should read A stars is made essay from Freakonomics-fame authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. They show how deliberate practice can explain the anomaly that “Elite soccer players are more likely to have been born in the earlier months of the year than in the later months.” If academic papers don’t cause any indigestion to you then you might want to try Prof. Anders Ericsson’s paper “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance


  1. Thanks Vinay for this post. Want to draw your attention to Charles Garfields "Peak Performers" - where he talks about the commonalities found among super achievers, a related topic. He too argues that top performers are made and not born.


  2. Thanks, RamP for the reference. Garfields work gives an excellent dimension to the "performance" domain.


    The "prodigy maker" article (URL pasted above) talks about how Chitraveena Ravikiran was groomed by his father as a prodigy. Yet another example of how consistent deliberate practice makes a star performer.