Wednesday, January 15, 2014

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

Second page of notes and quotes from "Bounce", reviewed earlier here (click here for first page of quotes).


  • Investigating child prodigies, Syed notes that Mozart was taught by his father who was a master composer and teacher, and by the age of six he had accumulated 3,500 hours of practice. He was nurtured to become a genius. The same idea holds for the Williams sisters, for Tiger Woods, for Andre Agassi and for David Beckham. Of course, they all needed the internal motivation as well.
  • The most entertaining story in Bounce is “A Tale of Three Sisters”, in which Laszlo Polgar and his wife decided to try a human experiment on their as yet unborn children. They would try to craft them into chess grand masters. And that is exactly what they did. Different approaches were used but they all relied on the daughters getting the requisite hours of practise in and also in creating an inner motivation, a desire, to do well at chess.  The message is that for certain tasks, everyone has the potential for excellence (just need practise, opportunities and training).
  • Most of us have put in more than 10k hours behind the wheel. So why are we not expert drivers? It’s because it was effortless, we were on autopilot versus striving to improve. Expert practice is about directly focusing on that which you can’t do well, and practising purposefully with smart training, attempting to do things that are outside the capability range. The right training system will incorporate the latest techniques and innovations. The inclusion of feedback is also critical for practise to be transformative i.e. taking the person beyond their plateau. Examples in sports are multi-ball training in table-tennis and futsal as an excellent route to playing great football (futsal using a much smaller ball and is played in tighter spaces, under a tighter time constraint).
  • “Mysterious Sparks and Life-Changing Mindsets” is another good chapter, focussing on the spark of inspiration (described as transformative moments or spontaneous influence events). Syed talks about how a newscaster talking about the governments efforts to tackle inflation “lodged inside my head”, leading to a deep fascination with economics. He bought an economics text book: 
Armed with a sudden, voracious appetitie to understand this weird phenomenon called inflation, I discovered something that shocked me. As I read, it felt as if the author was speaking directly to me, that the information was fresh and vital, that it was metabolized and synthesised instantly in my brain, that I could recognise deep and intricate connections between the disparate parts of the book as I plunged through it, that learning was not laborious but liberating.

The book was no different from any of the others I had read at school. But I was different. My attitude was different. My motivational stance was different. …Difficulties did not deter me, because the final destination – gaining a deeper understanding of economics – was where I wanted to be. And I realised, while studying deep into the nights, that a key factor driving success and failure is to be found within the realm of motivation”
  • Bollettierie’s slogan: “Every endeavour pursued with passion produces a successful outcome regardless of the result”
  • The power of the placebo: once we decide on the endeavour, we almost need to put rational thinking aside to maximise the self-fulfilling aspects to take hold. The irrational optimism is necessary during the performance and while scepticism is the rocket fuel of scientific advance, doubt is poison to the sportsman. Progress is made by ignoring the evidence and creating a mindset that is immune to doubts and uncertainties (the “performance placebo”). We need to be able to manipulate our beliefs, to create self-belief to create a better outcome.
  • Syed gives some powerful medical examples of the power of the placebo. My favourite is about the doctor Harry Beecher in 194. US soldiers were cornered in the caves of Pozzoli in north Italy for over a week. Beecher was treating US soldiers in a makeshift hospital but he ran out of morphine. He turned to using injections of salt water, which seemed to produce the same effect as the morphine. On his return to the US, he wrote up the experience in “The Powerful Placebo”.
  • To avoid choking, we need to manipulate our mind.  Steve Davis  learned the art of “playing as if it means nothing when it means everything”. 
  • Nick Faldo: “You have to be very calculating in selecting the right shot…you have to make a decision based upon a realistic assessment of your own weaknesses and the scope of failure. But once you have committed to your decision, you have to flick the mental switch and execute the shot as if there was never any doubt that you would nail it.”
  • When we listen to a conversation in our own language we hear a distinct series of words separated by tiny gaps of silence. But no silences actually exist. … On the idea that “knowledge is embedded in perception” as opposed to just making sense of perception, Syed quotes British philosopher Peter Strawson comment that ‘Perception is thoroughly permeated by our concepts’, or as psychologist Richard Gregory says , ‘Bottom up sensory information is overridden by top-down knowledge.’
  • Experts may experience the same retinal picture but the see something different. They are able to chunk up information and see patterns, to be deliberately blind to some things and focus more on others.

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