Amazing Performances

Amazing People Books
Amazing People Books

Is superior performance due to a natural gift linked to intelligence or practice? For example, was Mozart given a music gene and Shakespeare a writing gene that made them excellent at their craft?

Given my interest in the lives and achievements of amazing people, I was interested to read the research by Anders Ericsson. Do high performers have superior powers of speed, memory and intelligence . Psychologists used psychometric tests and found no general superiority was found.

They may have superiority in specific areas. For example, a chess player can be superior while playing that game, but their speed, memory and intelligence do no carry over to other games.

My reading of the research is that regular well organized practice is the key factor in performance. In effect, repetition is a deciding factor providing you have a framework to understand what you are doing.

In short, you need to know what you are looking for and gain feedback to guide your performance. Top athletes do this by measuring their efforts and working with one or more coaches to lift their results.

  • Marie Curie, the only woman to win two Nobel Prizes, developed a system that worked.
  • William Shakespeare had a way of crafting plays that brought new content to a well tested formula.
  • Mozart, a child prodigy must have inherited a musical gene, but then made the best use of it through practice and a mental model that enabled him to recognize the patterns to improve his performances.

The  implications of the Ericsson research are considerable. They should be understood by teachers, coaches, trainers and managers. Superior achievement requires mental systems to codify and gain feedback on performance, not just tuition and practice.

Therefore, the development of systems of thinking in tuition is important, so that the learner can use the feedback in order to self correct. That is what is meant by organization action learning. In effect, it is the action that guides the learning, and the tuition follows to correct any problems that arise.

Amazing people clearly developed those abilities within their professional areas and then applied them, by practicing until their performances were as near perfect as possible.

For reference:

Ericsson, K. A., 1996,  ‘The acquisition of expert performance: An introduction to some of the issues.’ In *The Road to Excellence: The Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, Sports, and Games*, K. A. Ericsson, ed. Mahwah,NJ: Erlbaum, pp. 1-50.