Dr. Anders Ericsson | Science of Expertise (Episode 513)

Dr. Anders Ericsson (@PeakTheBook) is the expert in finding out what it takes to become an expert. Here, he discusses Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, his new book co-authored with Robert Pool.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Innate talent is a myth.
  • How can we become amazing at any skill?
  • Learn how to set up a deliberate practice regimen to become more effective at anything you do.
  • Understand why “try differently” is a better solution than “try harder.”
  • Contrary to what was once believed, the brain can be rewired to excel toward a specific goal at any age with the proper training.
  • And so much more…


Have you ever been deterred from attempting to learn something because you were told you were too old? Or perhaps you were convinced a certain gene was a prerequisite for success — one that was unlikely a part of your DNA — so you gave up before you even began. Maybe you’ve always believed that talent is an elusive quality that you’re either born with or you aren’t. How would you feel to find out science has debunked these beliefs?

In episode 513 of The Art of Charm, we talk to Dr. Anders Ericsson, co-author of Peak: Secrets From The New Science Of Expertise. He’ll tell us how the brain rewires itself under the right circumstances (like deliberate practice) at any age, how extraordinary skills are learnable and teachable, and how we have far more power than ever before realized to take control of our own lives — regardless of genetics.

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Not long ago, it was believed someone would have to begin studying music almost as an infant if they wanted to have perfect pitch — that is, the ability to identify a note simply by hearing it — into adulthood. From the efforts of adult musicians who tried to acquire perfect pitch in later years and almost always failed, it seemed like a pretty solid observation. Examples of child prodigies like Mozart — who had perfect pitch and could compose music from a very early age — appeared to confirm that this type of innate talent was something only the lucky few are born with. If we didn’t happen to have that kind of talent, we reasoned, we only had our genetics to blame.

But Dr. Anders Ericsson, co-author of Peak: Secrets From The New Science Of Expertise, points out that Japanese psychologist Ayako Sakakibara was able to teach a group of children between three and five perfect pitch with a 100% success rate in 1999.

“While in normal circumstances only one in every ten thousand people develops perfect pitch, every single one of Sakakibara’s students did. The clear implication is that perfect pitch, far from being a gift bestowed upon only a lucky few, is an ability that pretty much anyone can develop with the right exposure and training,” says Anders.

Even Mozart’s reputation as a child prodigy didn’t spring from a magical, unseen place like a gift from some divine power. His father was a musician who pioneered innovative ways to teach children music and he naturally employed these methods on his own children. Had Mozart been born into another family and never been exposed to such rigorous training in music, it’s unlikely he’d have excelled in that field to be the household name we know today.

Anders believes most skills can be learned with enough of the right kind of training, though not experiencing certain physical adaptations that happen during childhood and adolescence might deprive a later learner of a certain edge. He gives the example of ballet dancers whose bones are still malleable enough at an early age to give them greater flexibility if they begin training early enough, or a basketball player who does have the genetic advantage of height on his side to succeed.

As the physical form can be trained for desired results, it’s worth noting that the practice it takes to learn a skill like perfect pitch produces physical, observable changes in the brain. Barring physical non-variables we can’t control, we’re not necessarily bound to a preordained amount of potential in a chosen field. We create our own potential by deliberate practice.

Obviously, there are advantages to learning anything earlier in life — like language fluency, for instance. As with perfect pitch, having an ear for the nuances of tonal languages is a lot easier for someone growing up immersed in its use from an early age. But the choices we make when we’re young aren’t always the choices we wish we’d made by the time we’re older, and we shouldn’t give up on trying to learn new skills just because we didn’t get a head start sooner.

“The idea that you actively have to create yourself is something that I think is a really key, new idea that will make a big difference to people,” says Anders.

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm to learn more about how human achievement has increased over the last century in nearly every field, why the adapting role of training is an important feature in this achievement on every front, how deliberate practice (with the assistance of a coach) differs from other training we may have used in the past and how it can help us become better at anything from writing to running, how we can stay motivated through the challenges of self-improvement, why some experts seem to get worse instead of better the more they practice their skills, and lots more.


If you enjoyed this session with Dr. Anders Ericsson, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out on Twitter:

Click here to thank Dr. Anders Ericsson on Twitter!

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Jordan Harbinger - author of 931 posts on The Art of Charm

Jordan Harbinger has spent several years abroad in Europe and the developing world, including South America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, and speaks several languages. He has also worked for various governments and NGOs overseas, traveled through war zones, and been kidnapped -- twice. He’ll tell you the only reason he’s still alive and kicking is because of his ability to talk his way into (and out of) just about any type of situation. Here at The Art of Charm, Jordan shares that experience, and the system borne as a result, with students and clients.

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