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Matthew Syed is the former British table tennis professional who after his career became a journalist and writer. The book’s basic message is the classic 10,000-hour rule. That people are not born with talent that leads to success. Those who achieve success work hard and get paid accordingly. The book is intended to be a further development of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers based on the latest from neuroscience.
OPPORTUNITY & HARD WORK. It is a myth that those who practice something at a high level are the ones with the greatest talent. What we see is just the tip of the iceberg. We see the end product of thousands of hours of training. Very few have innate talent where without intense training they become experts in something. But you do not reach the expert level through talent and training, you reach it through the opportunity to be exposed early to an interest and the opportunity to put in the hours.
“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.”
DELIBERATE PRACTICE. It’s not just the number of hours that counts, it’s also how qualitative they are. One example is driving: most drivers spend more than 10,000 hours behind the wheel in a decade or two. Still, most are not to be classified as expert drivers. It has mainly been passive hours behind the wheel. What counts are active hours, where we practice difficult tasks with the goal of refining our skills.
“The path to excellence is inordinately lengthy, requiring a minimum of ten thousand hours of lung busting effort to get to the summit.”
TALENT IS A MYTH. Tiger Woods, the Williams sisters, Mozart, Susan Polgar and Roger Federer were all successful at a young age, which is often explained by the assumption of innate talent. Syed believes that they simply received more deliberate practice at a young age than others. Of course, they also had good basic conditions. But all of the child stars listed above had parents who took on a professional coaching role and who set up a tough training schedule.
FAIL FORWARD. One difference between masters and amateurs is that the former “fails forward” – their mistakes become lessons that take them forward. They know that failure is an opportunity to learn and get better. Michael Jordan is said to have said “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots”. Those who succeed best are those who have failed the most.
”The paradox of excellences is that it is built upon the foundations of necessary failure”
MOTIVATION BY ASSOCIATION. If we see someone who has fulfilled what we aim to achieve and who also shares some qualities with us, it can ignite a strong spark in us. This makes it more reasonable for us to be able to achieve our goals. We should therefore look for role models and imitate the qualities of those we admire.
VISUALIZE SUCCESS. 10,000 hours of deliberate practice alone is not enough to get to the top. You must also be able to perform when it counts. Many top athletes have felt the phenomenon of “choking” and felt paralyzed at the very moment when all the thousands of hours of training are to be used. To reach the top, one must also cope with mental pressure. Many top athletes prepare by visualizing their success. They see and feel how they will jump over the obstacle, score a goal or take the lead in the race.
“There is an innate capacity for our bodies to bring into being, to the best of their ability, the optimistic scenarios in which we fervently believe.”
LATER DOESN’T ALWAYS COMES. If we want somewhere, we should grab it right away and not push it into the future. An example from the book is a young promising basketball player who considered taking a year off before continuing his elite venture. His mother said “later does not always come for everyone”. He realized that if professional players were what he wanted to become, then a year’s break would risk him missing his chance.