Iconoclast: What does it take to be extraordinary?

In the pursuit of excellence and freedom, there are a few domains to consider. One is the field of expertise, a major contribution of which, Deliberate Practice, I have discussed elsewhere. Yet what about those unique individuals who really change things? Those people (‘freaks’ – in a good way!) who change the world. What is different about them? How do they do it?

Gregory Berns calls them Iconoclasts in his book of the same title, where he notes that they “see things differently than other people. Literally… because their brains do not fall into efficiency traps as much as the average person’s brain.” Berns argued that one way is to “bombard the brain with things it has never encountered before.” And Adam Dachis was saying much the same thing when he suggested doing things that make you feel uncomfortable. When we have rich experiences, we are able to access a more profound heuristic to understand the world around us, being less constrained by the examples that happen to be before us or the ways of thinking that we grew up with.

Berns also  noted that these individuals are less subject to the desire for social approval, which reminded me of my old friend Wayne Dyer speaking of self-actualized people being “independent of the good opinion of others.” Robert Greene pointed out that thinking for yourself can be dangerous, and suggested that one should, “Think as you like but Behave like others”. Perhaps that might be a good start though it might be more rigorous to refer to the importance of social intelligence.

Being able to think for oneself is challenging. It is hard. It is scary. And it must be done carefully.

The results can change the world.

Keep practising – especially as you get older!

A few months back I did a martial arts session with my original instructor. It had been a long time and I was far from my best, so I paired up with a relatively junior student for some padwork.

He was young and strong and had been training hard for a few months.

Little did he know that I had trained since before he was walking. It began when I was 15, and I loved spending hours in the hall, relentlessly asking questions of my instructor long after the class had finished. So when I hit him, he was pretty surprised 🙂

When I step back into one of those same classes today, I remember most of the techniques but my skill level has suffered – perhaps more than I would like to admit. But I’m still not your average beginner.

In my first session back, it’s best if I just watch, or pair up with a beginning student. In my second session back, I can pair up with someone who has been training for a few months. And after a few weeks, I’ll expect to match it with the guys who have been training for a year or more.

But why? Why can we get so much better so quickly?

Continue reading “Keep practising – especially as you get older!” »

Being the best is a way of life, not just a job.

To be the best at what you do takes an extraordinary commitment. You’ll need to practise – spend hours and hours focused on getting better. You will change the way your brain works by altering the very connections of the neurons, and indeed every cell in your body.

It’s a big deal.

And you’ll want to do it every day.

Not just 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday. Not even Monday to Saturday. But every day of the week.

Our good friends Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Romer found back in 1993 found that experts practised the same amount every day, including weekends.

So pick your area and start practising. Every day.

(first published on TheGeniusProject.com)

Isn’t it just about experience?

Some people say that you just have to work harder to get better. It seems to make sense, and appeals to the virtue of ‘hard work’.

But the truth is that it’s not that simple, is it?

There are some people who work really hard – who spend hours practising or playing – but who don’t get better. Maybe you were one of them.

Sometimes we can do things a lot and not get better at all. In fact, sometimes we get worse!

When I was playing tennis as a child, I would hit the ball and play tournaments and show up to expensive coaching sessions. And at my best I consistently got mediocre results.

The trouble was that I didn’t get feedback. I was practising but I wasn’t doing it the way I needed to if I wanted to actually get better. Instead, I rehearsed the skills I had over and over until I could play ‘well enough’. But I didn’t get better than that.

Nobody told me what I needed to do and I didn’t figure it out for myself. Maybe I could have but I didn’t.

As you read this, you have been walking for a long time. Yet how much better at walking are you today from last year?

Deliberate practice goes beyond just doing the same things over and over again, and instead is focused on actually getting better. It’s about finding ways to push yourself – to make your best even better – and it’s not always easy.

Sometimes you might need to invent ways to challenge yourself.

Because that is what the best of the best will do.

The Expert on Expertise, K. Anders Ericsson, on “What it takes”

The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert PerformanceAs I was rereading the Introduction of “The Handbook” this morning, it occurred to me how remarkable it is that there is actually a formal domain of expert performance at all.

Being an ‘expert’ is simultaneously honoured and stigmatized in much of the world. In some parts of the world excellence has even been systematically repressed. And yet, we still want to know “what it takes”.

Successful people spontaneously do things differently from those who stagnate. In particular, they have different practice histories. We consistently see that they engage in “deliberate practice” – they work to innovate the way they do what they do.

You can read more about what the lead editor of The Handbook has to say in an interview with Fast Company here.

Being excellent isn’t easy. But it is a lot more simple than you might believe.