Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book notes: Bounce by Matthew Syed (1/2)

Notes and quotes from "Bounce", reviewed earlier here.


  •  "Practically every man or woman who triumphs against the odds is, on closer inspection, a beneficiary of unusual circumstances. The delusion lies in focusing on the individuality of their triumph without perceiving – or bothering to look for – the powerful opportunities stacked in their favour.”
  • “Whenever I am inclined to think I am unique and special, I remind myself that had I lived one door further down the road, I would have been in a different school catchment area, which would have meant that I would not have attended Aldryngton, would have never met Peter Charters, and would have never joined Omega. It is often said that victory and defeat are measured in milliseconds: the reality is they are measured in variables that are far more elusive.”
  • Syed sagely observes that conditions will be largely circumstantial at the beginning.
  • “By the age of twenty, the best violinists had practised an average of ten thousand hours – more than two thousand hours more than the good violinists and more than six thousand hours more than the violinists hoping to become music teachers. There differences are not just statistically significant; they are extraordinary. Top performers devoted thousands of additional hours to the task of becoming master performers.
  • But that’s not all. Ericsson also found that there were no exceptions to his pattern…Purposeful practice was the only factor distinguishing the best from the rest.”
  • Ericsson: “we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflects a life-long persistence of deliberate effort to improve performance. “
  • Syed notes that we are seeing improvements in sprint times, marathon times and academic standards as we practice harder, longer and smarter.
  • The ten-thousand hour rule translates to around ten years to achieve world class status. Think of it as the minimum time to reach the expert level for any complex task (the author acknowledges that the rule is activity dependent).
  • We need to be aware of the iceberg illusion: we see the product of a process that is measured out in years. The hours of practice, drills, mastery of technique are invisible to us. It is these hours that will have altered the anatomical and neurological structures of the master performer.
  • Syed talks about a memory experiment in which a person with an average memory, able to remember six to seven digits, went on to remember over 80 digits, and how this illustrated the “promise that anybody can achieve the same results with opportunity and dedication. Ericsson (behind the ten-thousand hour rule and violinist study) has spent the last thirty years uncovering the same ground-breaking logic in fields as diverse as sports, chess, music, education and business.”
  • “The tragedy is that most of us are still living with flawed assumptions: in particular, we are labouring under the illusions that expertise is the reserve for special people with special talents, inaccessible to the rest of us.”
  • Expert chess players are able to play chess blind-folded. Their hours of playing enables them to chunk up the information and see patterns, versus having to think through the whole situation anew each time. Note, they are working on patterns. When pieces are randomly placed around the board, this amazing capacity disappears.  The same holds true of many endeavours. Experts seem to have faster reaction times but they are not really acting faster. Instead they are reading the game situation, chunking information and visual cues into something meaningful. Federer, for example, is better at extracting and processing data, and this seems to give him all the time in the world. This comes with practice, with increased motor and coordination skills. Combining the motor expertise with perceptual expertise makes a true expert. This requires deep knowledge that only comes with experience. It can’t be taught in a classroom but is a long term developmental process.

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