We are all sometimes jealous of an Olympic athlete who wins a medal, a colleague who delivers a top performance, or a prodigy who speaks her fifth and six languages. But by declaring these achievements as innate talent, you don’t do them justice. Success appears to depend on completely different things.
Whoever wants to become good at something must practice. That may seem like a open door, but studies have shown that people who have really become good at something have practiced hard for it.
In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell popularized the idea that performers such as Bill Gates and the Beatles have had 10,000 hours of exercise (that is, 40 hours a week for five years). This insight comes from research by Anders Ericsson, a professor at Florida State University who specializes in expertise development. Ericsson looked, among other things, at how many years Mozart had been composing before he "suddenly" became successful, how an ordinary man learned to remember a series 82 numbers, and how the brains of London taxi drivers change as a result of their profession.
Yet, making the hours is not enough. There are enough people who have finished their 10,000 hours of practice and still show no improvement in what they can do: the manager who never gets better at listening, the colleague in the choir who still misses her high notes after 10 years, or the player in the veteran team whose game just never progressed.
What Ericsson found was that it’s not 10,000 hours of practice, but 10,000 hours of, what he calls, deliberate practice that is the key to success. This deliberate practice consists of defining specific objectives, applying focus, leaving your comfort zone, and getting constant feedback from a coach.
In addition, there are two more requirements. First, the exercise must be in a field that is already well developed, or in which there are people who are clearly better and can therefore form a benchmark. Secondly, the coach must have the knowledge and experience to give the student effective exercises to improve their performance. In football, for example, there are clearly players who are better than others and there are many well-developed training techniques for developing people in this sport.