Friday, May 16, 2014

Bounce: How Champions Are Made by Matthew Syed

I have to say that Bounce was a bit like taking a refresher course, having already read Geoff Covlin's Talent Is Overrated, Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code (entry #6), and Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, all three of which Syed acknowledges as worthy predecessors. So I didn't learn a great deal new from reading Bounce. But a refresher, with some new information added, is worthwhile, and so I found this book. I should also note that all four books draw on the pioneering work of academic psychologist Anders Ericsson.

If you want to develop a talent or a skill, practice deliberately (with a focused intention) for 10,000 hours, and you'll have gone a long way toward achieving your goal. Throw in outstanding peers and quality coaching, and you'll really go far. This formula for success replaces that idea that some are simply "talented". None of these authors gives much credence to genetics. It's about learning. Deliberate practice—practicing to improve specific skills and to cure weaknesses-is what allows real learning and significant improvement. Drive a car with no special thought to the matter and you'll be the same driver after 10,000 hours of driving. But do it in deliberately challenging ways and environments with the intention of improving and you could be the next Mario Andretti. (I know. I date myself.)

Seyd does go into some topics that his predecessors didn't, such as placebo effect, in other words, the power of belief. (Although he doesn't delve into it, the placebo effect raises some really interesting issues about the mind-body relationship and causation.) I also enjoyed his chapter on "choking", which any athlete or other performer has experienced. What it amounts to is that we "think" when we shouldn't. We try to teach the centipede to walk when it should (and does) just walk. This ties in to the power of ritual in performance, which is another fascinating subject full of bizarre anecdotes. As an old jock, I can attest to the power and command of rituals. In the last section, Seyd touches on drug enhancement, what's good and fair and human and what isn't (not clear) and genetics (are blacks better runners?). On the latter topic, Seyd takes down the idea that blacks, specifically sprinters from west Africa via  the U.S. and Jamaica and distance runners from Kenya (and later Ethiopia) have any special genetic endowments. It's simply the outlier effect—chance, environment, reward, opportunity, etc.—that makes all of the difference.

It was a fun, easy, and instructive book, valuable for anyone who has to perform. Like us humans. 

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