· January 16, 2021

I too was hoodwinked by the 10,000 hour rule.


Don’t achieve your potential, develop it.

This is a book by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, based on years of research on expertise by Anders. Let’s just start off by saying that whole 10,000 hour rule made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers is incorrect. While it is incorrect, its not entirely accurate. This books dwells into the nuances beyond the 10,000 hour rule for reaching the level of an expert.

The core of this book lies in the concept of “deliberate practice”, which is considered the gold standard for effective training and mastery. He compares deliberate practice, with what he calls “purposeful practice”, which is slightly less effective, but still a good way to obtain mastery in a skill. There is also the third category, the naive way, where you keep repeating an activity for hours on end like a tool - suffice to say this method is least recommended.

Purposeful Practice

Here are some features of this kind of practice:

  • Purposeful practice is that it has well-defined, specified goals.
  • It is a focused practice. You can’t be distracted, are have other things in your mind while doing purposeful practice. Think of this like solving a maths puzzle, your mind is engaged towards finding a solution the whole while.
  • Requires getting out of one’s comfort zone. There has to be a gradual increase in the difficulty of whatever skill you are trying to obtain. The author takes the analogy of homeostasis, the tendency of our body to be internally stable. We only build muscle, or improve our stamina by constantly disrupting our state of homeostasis. The disruption causes our body to develop in a way to overcome the disruption. This applies too all forms a practice. If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve.
  • It involves feedback. The constant feedback is what results in a constant improvement. Solving puzzles, without knowing whether you are wrong or right will scarcely result in better skills.

Deliberate Practice

The whole goal of deliberate practice is the creation of “mental representations”. If I ate a roadside pani puri for everytime I read this phrase, I would be on my commode cursing my bowels. This really is the core thesis of the book - everyone must strive to create efficient mental representations for a particular skill.

What are mental representations exactly? An example of this would be the use of mnemonics but world memory champions. Or how chess grandmasters can think 10 steps ahead of an amateur.

Deliberate practice tries to optimise the creation of these mental models. The core difference between purposeful practice, and deliberate practice is to take on shortcut on learning this mental representation by taking the help of a coach, or a an expert teacher who already have these mental models. This leverage can result in much faster learning as compared to purposeful learning. There are other ways that we can improve mental models without coaches too, like what Benjamin Franklin did to improve his writing; he referred to a write he respected, and created a framework to imitate his style without actually seeing it. Over time, he got much better. To effectively practice a skill without a teacher, it helps to keep in mind three Fs: Focus. Feedback. Fix it.

There are lots of great examples of using deliberate practice in our lives to get better, and how it has worked for the experts in a field. The general principals are rooted in finding the most efficient ways to develop a good mental representation.

Talent is a lie.

Another major focus of this book is how talent is a lie. Having talent is a false concept that has no bearing to success. He takes many examples of alleged prodigies like Mozart and breaking down why they were really not prodigies with natural talent.

“Learning isn’t a way of reaching one’s potential but rather a way of developing it.”

Taking examples of many experts, he shows how IQ is not related to success in say being a chess grandmaster, or a go champion. Most Nobel laureates would have been rejected by Mensa for not meeting the IQ requirement.

Being good at something is hard work. Its rarely fun. No expert really enjoyed the hours of practice they put in.

At the end, attaining mastery is about putting a the right kind of effort, in a planned manner. One must be engaged, never give up when you regress or plateau, and most of all, maintain motivation.


This book was very insightful, and I do plan on using many of the tips in the book in my life. The one thing I disliked about the book was that it was a bit bloated, there were too many examples, and at some points it felt the the message was being repeated a bit too much. Despite all this, the core message of the book is strong enough to merit a recommendation. I give this a light 8/10.

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