Occasionally, a seminal book emerges that challenges our way of thinking and opens up new possibilities. Two books have done that for me in 2016 – Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle (a book I reviewed in this blog), and Peak by Anders Ericsson.
For the last 30 years Ericsson has been studying expert performers and prodigies from scientists, to amazing athletes, to brain surgeons, to Olympian gymnasts, to composers, to fighter pilots. Peak is an easy read with fascinating stories of people like Mozart.
The book challenged me in thinking about the way we teach, make disciples, and develop new leaders. The following are my top 5 learnings:
- Deliberate Practice. Nobody develops extraordinary ability without a tremendous amount of practice Top performers have dedicated a large amount of time to develop their abilities. In fact, they keep seeking to improve even when they reach the top of their field. With deliberate practice, things are possible that were not possible before.
- Skills over Knowledge. Students learn best by doing new skills, not by absorbing knowledge in a classroom setting. Attending lectures and conferences offer little opportunity for people to try something new, make mistakes, and get feedback. Moving to skill-based training, the “doing” of the work, is a radical paradigm shift and the only way people truly improve.
- Well-Defined Goals and Feedback. Research shows that when a person reaches an “acceptable” level of performance, additional years of practice don’t lead to improvement. Growth requires clear goals and constant feedback.
- Excellent Trainers / Coaches. In every case, expert performers had a trainer or coach who provided practical activities, well-defined goals for growth, and regular feedback. They make possible “informed practice” that moves people out of their comfort zone.
- Identification of Expert Performers. Unlike chess or gymnastics, we do not have a clearly defined pathway for making disciples in the 21st century. What enables the most holy, godly people in the church to mature? What training practices might we learn from them? Again the key is training the right way, not simply training.
Ericsson challenged me to think more deeply about our own leadership development / discipleship process. This morning I asked God for wisdom and re-read Rilke’s great counsel: “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to cherish the questions themselves. Do not search for the answers which cannot be given you because you could not live them. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, one distant day live right into the answer.” (Letters to a Young Poet)
I invite you to do the same.