Anders Ericsson: Deliberate Practice for Achievement

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Quiet: The Power of Introverts" by Susan Cain. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What fuels creativity and achievement? How does the Anders Ericsson deliberate practice strategy help bring success?

According to Anders Ericsson, deliberate practice is an independent, focused effort on what you’re trying to achieve. This type of strategy encourages creativity and achievement.

Keep reading for more about the Anders Ericsson deliberate practice strategy.

Creativity, Achievement, and the Anders Ericsson Deliberate Practice Strategy

Research has found that creativity requires 1) solitude and 2) intense concentration. Because these are the preferred work styles of introverts, it’s not surprising that many of the most creative people are introverts.

In the 1960s, researchers at UC Berkeley compared a group of extremely creative people, including scientists, engineers, writers, and architects, to a group of less-creative types to learn what drives creativity. They found that the most creative people tended to be independent, individualistic, and shy and solitary as teenagers. Other studies have supported these findings. But what gives introverts a creative edge? The likely explanation is that their preference for working in solitude fuels their creativity. 

We know from the studies of psychologist Anders Ericsson that intense solitary work drives extraordinary achievement. When Ericsson studied violinists, he found that the best spent the most time practicing alone. Ericsson found the same was true for other kinds of high achievers—for instance, for top tournament chess players, serious study alone was the strongest predictor of success. 

Ericsson contended that the key to outstanding achievement—“deliberate practice”—can only be undertaken alone. According to Anders Ericsson, deliberate practice requires you to identify what you need to learn, work on it, and track your progress. It would be harder to focus on improving in the areas most crucial to you if you practiced in a group. (Shortform note: Read our summary of Peak by Anders Ericsson here.)

This kind of solitary, intense focus on a passion is typical of creative people. Steve Wozniak compared himself to an artist, needing to work alone to control his creation. “I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by a committee,” he wrote.

Focus on a passion often starts in adolescence—for instance, Wozniak was fascinated by electronics as a teenager and spent hours working on them alone. A 1995 study of 91 extremely creative people found that they were loners as adolescents because their passion made them different from their peers. Examples include author Madeleine L’Engle and Charles Darwin. However, the kind of solitude that drives creativity and achievement is hard to come by in teams and open offices.

Anders Ericsson: Deliberate Practice for Achievement

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Here's what you'll find in our full Quiet: The Power of Introverts summary :

  • How society overvalues extroverts
  • Why introverts' overlooked strengths are the key to greater success in work, school, and society
  • How extroversion caused the fall of Enron

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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