Deliberate Practice Is Key to Peak Performance

(p. D7) Anders Ericsson, a cognitive psychologist who demystified how expertise is acquired, suggesting that anyone can become a grand chess master, a concert violinist or an Olympic athlete with the proper training and the will, died on June 17 at his home in Tallahassee, Fla.

. . .

Professor Ericsson discovered that what separated the violinists’ skill levels was not natural-born talent but the hours of practice they had logged since childhood. The future teachers registered around 4,000 hours, the very good violinists 8,000 and the elite performers more than 10,000. The same study was conducted with pianists, with similar results.

Published in 1993 in Psychological Review, the paper later formed the basis for the so-called 10,000-hour rule described in Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling “Outliers” (2008), which holds that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a skill or field.

. . .

“Many people think what Anders discovered is that quantity of practice makes you a champion,” said Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Grit” (2016), a book about passion and perseverance. “That’s disastrously incomplete. It’s quantity and quality. One of his insights that I hope will have a lasting legacy is people need to work hard, but also smart.”

Professor Ericsson focused on what he called “deliberate practice,” which entails immediate feedback, clear goals and focus on technique. According to his research, the lack of deliberate practice explained why so many people reach only basic proficiency at something, whether it be a sport, pastime or profession, without ever attaining elite status. A Sunday golfer may whack balls around the course for years, but without incorporating such methods that player will never become the next Tiger Woods.

. . .

He had his critics. One of them, Zachary Hambrick, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University, co-wrote a paper in 2014 that concluded that deliberate practice was not the sole reason for peak performance in chess players and musicians. Innate characteristics like talent and intelligence, Mr. Hambrick argued, play a far more significant role than Professor Ericsson allowed for.

“There’s a side of me that resonates with his hopeful message,” said Scott Barry Kaufman, a humanistic psychologist who studies creativity and hosts “The Psychology Podcast.” “However, there’s another side of me that has seen the research, in a wide range of aspects in the field, that suggests that we can have some pretty severe limits on what we can achieve in life.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Kaufman added, “I don’t think any of this invalidates his contributions. He showed that humans have the capacity to go beyond, from one generation to the next, what had been thought of the limits of human potential.”

For the full obituary see:

Steven Kurutz. “Anders Ericsson, 72, Psychologist Who Became ‘Expert on Experts,’ Dies.” The New York Times (Monday, July 6, 2020): D7.

(Note: ellipses added, italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated July 4, 2018, and has the title “Anders Ericsson, Psychologist and ‘Expert on Experts,’ Dies at 72.”)

Anders Ericsson explained his views on peak performance in his co-authored book:

Ericsson, Anders, and Robert Pool. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

Harvard Administrators “Allow Themselves to Be Bullied”

(p. A23) In May [2019], Harvard College announced that it would not renew the appointment of me and my wife, Stephanie Robinson, as faculty deans of Winthrop House, one of Harvard’s undergraduate residential houses, because I am one of the lawyers who represented the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in advance of his coming sexual assault trial.

. . .

. . ., the administration capitulated to protesters. Given that universities are supposed to be places of considered and civil discourse, where people are forced to wrestle with difficult, controversial and unfamiliar ideas, this is disappointing.

Harvard has been silent in other disappointing ways. Not long ago, I was taking my 9-year-old son to school when we saw that “Down with Sullivan” had been spray-painted on the wall abutting our home. I had to explain to my son that representing unpopular clients serves an important constitutional role in our democracy and that I had done nothing wrong. As you might imagine, it was hard to see my son read that piece of graffiti.

. . .

. . . I am profoundly troubled by the reaction of university administrators who are in charge of student growth and development. The job of a teacher is to help students think through what constitutes a reasonable argument. It is a dereliction of duty for administrators to allow themselves to be bullied into unprincipled positions.

Unchecked emotion has replaced thoughtful reasoning on campus. Feelings are no longer subjected to evidence, analysis or empirical defense. Angry demands, rather than rigorous arguments, now appear to guide university policy.

This must change. Until then, universities are doing a profound disservice to those who place their trust in us to educate them.

For the full commentary, see:

Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. “Harvard Capitulates Instead of Debates.” The New York Times (Tuesday, June 25, 2019): A23.

(Note ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 24, 2019, and has the title “Why Harvard Was Wrong to Make Me Step Down.” The online version says that the New York print version appeared on p. A25. The article appeared on p. A23 of my National print version.)

Blacks Most Hurt by Creeping Credentialism

(p. A15) Nonessential degree requirements aren’t race-neutral. They embed into the labor market the legacy of black exclusion from the U.S. education system—namely, the antiliteracy laws that made it illegal for blacks to learn to read, the separate and unequal schools that kept them from catching up, and the limited progress since then on policies designed to remedy racial discrimination.

This spring, we and six other colleagues wrote a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper that questioned the fundamental assumption undergirding the proliferation of degree requirements: that workers without four-year degrees who earn low wages are low-skilled.

For the 71 million U.S. workers who have a high-school diploma but not a four-year degree, we used the skill profile of their current jobs as a proxy for their employability for higher-wage work. Their job experience suggests they are skilled through alternative routes, so we call them by the acronym STARs. They make up 60% of the active U.S. workforce.

Our research found that 16 million STARs have the skills for high-wage work, defined as earning more than twice the national median. Yet 11 million of them are currently employed in low-wage or middle-wage work. This suggests an extraordinary market failure: U.S. companies are systematically overlooking talent.

. . .

Our research suggests there are changes companies can make to address this problem:

Hire for skills and work experience, not degrees. Rather than using the degree requirement as a default, employers should examine the skills that their jobs require and then use skill requirements for job postings, screenings and assessments. IBM adopted this type of skills-based approach with its New Collar initiative, launched in 2017.

. . .

Black workers face extraordinary barriers to economic mobility. By valuing skills over degrees, companies can improve the way the labor market functions for black STARs—a necessary step to ensure that the economy works for all.

For the full commentary, see:

Peter Q. Blair and Shad Ahmed. “The Disparate Racial Impact of Requiring a College Degree.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 29, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipses added; bullet point and italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 28, 2020, and has the title “A Coronavirus Vaccine: Faster, Please.”)

The NBER working paper mentioned above is:

Blair, Peter Q., Tomas G. Castagnino, Erica L. Groshen, Papia Debroy, Byron Auguste, Shad Ahmed, Fernando Garcia Diaz, and Cristian Bonavida. “Searching for Stars: Work Experience as a Job Market Signal for Workers without Bachelor’s Degrees.” In NBER Working Papers: National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., March 2020.

Tough Advice from Experienced Advisers Helps Us Acquire Skills

(p. R6) Recent studies suggest that people tend to favor advisers who are positive, cheerleader-types over tough talkers and voices of experience. But such preferences, the researchers also say, often lead to detrimental results, a finding with wide-ranging implications for companies and managers.

A paper published in March [2020] in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General summarized the findings of six connected studies. Subjects of inquiry included: what characteristics people predict they will use when selecting an adviser; those people’s actual adviser selections; and the potential consequences of these decisions.

. . .

And when researchers looked at the outcomes of these decisions, they noted a disturbing pattern. Those who relied primarily on cheerleader-types generally underperformed those who were guided more by expertise.

Catherine Shea, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business who focuses on organizational behavior and theory, says that choosing an experienced mentor who may be rough around the edges can be like taking cough medicine.

“It tastes awful, but it works,” she says. “Sometimes you really do need the skill set, and sometimes the nice person is not going to give it to you.”

For the full story, see:

Cheryl Winokur Munk. “People Want Mentors Who Are Their Cheerleaders. That May Not Be Wise.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 15, 2020): R6.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 14, 2020, and has the title “People Like Their Mentors to Be Cheerleaders. That May Be a Mistake.”)

The March 2020 paper mentioned above is:

Hur, Julia D., Rachel L. Ruttan, and Catherine T. Shea. “The Unexpected Power of Positivity: Predictions Versus Decisions About Advisor Selection.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (published online in advance of print on March 16, 2020).

Politically Incorrect Research Is Cancelled from Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

(p. A15) Psychologists Joseph Cesario of Michigan State and David Johnson of the University of Maryland analyzed 917 fatal police shootings of civilians from 2015 to test whether the race of the officer or the civilian predicted fatal police shootings. Neither did. Once “race specific rates of violent crime” are taken into account, the authors found, there are no disparities among those fatally shot by the police. These findings accord with decades of research showing that civilian behavior is the greatest influence on police behavior.

. . .

My June 3 [2020] Journal op-ed quoted the PNAS article’s conclusion verbatim. It set off a firestorm at Michigan State. The university’s Graduate Employees Union pressured the MSU press office to apologize for the “harm it caused” by mentioning my article in a newsletter. The union targeted physicist Steve Hsu, who had approved funding for Mr. Cesario’s research. MSU sacked Mr. Hsu from his administrative position. PNAS editorialized that Messrs. Cesario and Johnson had “poorly framed” their article—the one that got through the journal’s three levels of editorial and peer review.

Mr. Cesario told this page that Mr. Hsu’s dismissal could narrow the “kinds of topics people can talk about, or what kinds of conclusions people can come to.” Now he and Mr. Johnson have themselves jeopardized the possibility of politically neutral scholarship. On Monday they retracted their paper. They say they stand behind its conclusion and statistical approach but complain about its “misuse,” specifically mentioning my op-eds.

The authors don’t say how I misused their work.

. . .

This retraction bodes ill for the development of knowledge. If scientists must disavow their findings because they challenge reigning orthodoxies, then those orthodoxies will prevail even when they are wrong.

For the full commentary, see:

Heather Mac Donald. “I Cited Their Study, So They Disavowed It.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, July 9, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 8, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

The PNAS article co-authored by Cesario, Johnson, and others is:

Johnson, David J., Trevor Tress, Nicole Burkel, Carley Taylor, and Joseph Cesario. “Officer Characteristics and Racial Disparities in Fatal Officer-Involved Shootings.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116, no. 32 (Aug. 6, 2019): 15877-82.

Diverse Distinguished Intellectuals Defend Free Speech

(p. A1) The killing of George Floyd has brought an intense moment of racial reckoning in the United States. As protests spread across the country, they have been accompanied by open letters calling for — and promising — change at white-dominated institutions across the arts and academia.

But on Tuesday, a different type of letter appeared online. Titled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” and signed by 153 prominent artists and intellectuals, it began with an acknowledgment of “powerful protests for racial and social justice” before pivoting to a warning against an “intolerant climate” engulfing the culture.

“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” the letter declared, citing “an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”

“We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other,” it continues. “As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes.”

The letter, . . . was published by Harper’s Magazine and will also appear in several leading international publications, . . .

. . .

(p. A19) The debate over diversity, free expression and the limits of acceptable opinion is a long-burning one. But the letter, which was spearheaded by the writer Thomas Chatterton Williams, began taking shape about a month ago, as part of a long-running conversation about these issues with a small group of writers including the historian David Greenberg, the writer Mark Lilla and the journalists Robert Worth and George Packer.

. . .

“We’re not just a bunch of old white guys sitting around writing this letter,” Mr. Williams, who is African-American, said. “It includes plenty of Black thinkers, Muslim thinkers, Jewish thinkers, people who are trans and gay, old and young, right wing and left wing.” Continue reading “Diverse Distinguished Intellectuals Defend Free Speech”

“The Ever-Evolving Standards of Wokeness”

(p. A6) . . . I was pleased this month when “Hamilton” became available to watch on the streaming service Disney+. But now the show is being criticized for its portrayal of the American Founding by many of the same people who once gushed about it. Is it a coincidence that affluent people loved “Hamilton” when tickets were prohibitively expensive, but they disparage it now that ordinary people can see it?

. . .

The upper classes are driven to distinguish themselves from the little people even beyond art. This explains the ever-evolving standards of wokeness. To become acculturated into the elite requires knowing the habits, customs and manners of the upper class. Ideological purity tests now exist to indicate social class and block upward social mobility. Your opinion about social issues is the new powdered wig. In universities and in professional jobs, political correctness is a weapon used by white-collar professionals to weed out those who didn’t marinate in elite mores.

. . .

To understand the neologisms and practices of social justice, you need a bachelor’s degree from an expensive college. A common refrain to those who are not fully up to date on the latest fashions is “Educate yourself.” This is a way of keeping down people who work multiple jobs, have children to care for, and don’t have the time or means to read the latest woke bestseller.

For the full commentary, see:

Rob Henderson. “‘Hamilton’ Loses Its Snob Appeal.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 15, 2020): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 14, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Excellence Achieved by “Deliberate Practice” That Is Critiqued by Tough Expert Teachers

(p. A12) Dr. Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, argued that sustained practice was far more important than any innate advantages in determining who reaches the top in athletic, artistic and other fields.

That practice, however, couldn’t be mindless repetition. He called for “deliberate practice,” preferably guided by an expert teacher, focused on identifying and correcting weaknesses and monitoring progress. If you were enjoying the practice, it probably wasn’t working.

Dr. Ericsson’s research gained prominence with the publication of “Outliers,” a 2008 book by Malcolm Gladwell. Drawing loosely on Dr. Ericsson’s findings, Mr. Gladwell proclaimed “the 10,000-Hour Rule,” to denote the typical amount of practice time needed to master certain skills, such as playing the violin at an elite level. Dr. Ericsson later wrote that Mr. Gladwell’s rule oversimplified the relevant research.

. . .

He was comfortable in an office surrounded by mounds of books and papers that appeared to have been arranged by a tornado.

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Professor Studied Habits Of World-Class Experts.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 27, 2020): A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 25, 2020, and the title “Professor Studied How Elite Performers Reach the Top.”)

The Gladwell book that made highlighted Ericcson’s research, is:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.

“The Spontaneous, Uncoordinated Effort of Businesses, Entrepreneurs and Innovators”

(p. A1) True Value Co. heard from its more than 4,500 affiliated hardware stores last month that hand sanitizer was flying off the shelves, leaving store staff with none for themselves.

At the company’s factory in Cary, Ill., which makes cleaning products and paint, John Vanderpool, the company’s divisional vice president of paint, recalled asking, “What can we do to help here?” After a tip from his wife, a pharmacist, he consulted with the Food and Drug Administration, then huddled with his maintenance team and engineers over two weekends to retool two paint-filling lines to produce jugs of FDA-approved hand sanitizer.

Starting this week they are being shipped free to stores for their own use. The product will go on sale to the public eventually.

The changeover at True Value’s factory from paint to hand sanitizer is one of countless private-sector initiatives that represent an underappreciated asset in Americans’ fight against the coronavirus. It is a 21st-century version of the “Arsenal of Democracy,” the mobilization of industrial might that helped win World War II, only this time to make personal protective equipment, ventilators, tests and vaccines instead of uniforms, ammunition, tanks and bombers.

And where that arsenal was orchestrated by the federal government, this one has been largely the spontaneous, uncoordinated effort of businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators driven as much by the urge to contribute as by future profit.

. . .

(p. A9) Joel Mokyr, an economic historian at Northwestern University, said national crises such as wars and pandemics historically generate a hive of entrepreneurial innovation, from the late 18th-century search in England for a treatment for smallpox to a German drive in the run-up to World War I to use atmospheric nitrogen for explosives.

“We have this huge reservoir of creative energy spread around the economy. When you have an event like this all of a sudden, everyone says, ‘Oh wow let’s look at this problem—let’s see what I can do to solve it.’ ”

This time, innovators are exploiting tools and methods that didn’t exist in previous crises. In mid-March, Lennon Rodgers, director of the Grainger Engineering Design Innovation Lab at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, fielded a plea from the university’s hospital to make 1,000 face shields.

He often gets requests from around the campus to manufacture random items and “initially, I didn’t take it too seriously,” he recalled. But after his wife, an anesthesiologist, told him the shields were indispensable for dealing with highly infectious patients, he scoured hardware and craft stores for parts.

He teamed up with Delve, a local design firm, and Midwest Prototyping, a contract manufacturer, to design their own “Badger Shield,” named after the University of Wisconsin mascot. They expected to use 3-D printers, then concluded that wouldn’t achieve the necessary scale. They uploaded the design to their website along with the necessary parts for anyone to download. A few days later Ford Motor Co. did, and, with tweaks of its own, began turning out face shields for Detroit-area hospitals.

For the full story, see:

Greg Ip. “Health Crisis Awakens Spirit Of Private-Sector Innovation.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, April 17, 2020): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 16, 2020, and has the title “Shoes to Masks: Corporate Innovation Flourishes in Coronavirus Fight.”)

Early Promising Results from Gilead-Sponsored Study on Remdesivir

(p. B3) A doctor in Chicago told colleagues that Gilead’s drug remdesivir appeared to help many patients enrolled in a clinical trial site at the University of Chicago Medicine hospital, according to a news report in online health publication STAT, which cited a video of the remarks. The doctor said that the hospital had enrolled 125 patients in two remdesivir studies sponsored by Gilead, and that most had been discharged from the hospital, and two had died.

. . .

“Partial data from an ongoing clinical trial is by definition incomplete and should never be used to draw conclusions about the safety or efficacy of a potential treatment that is under investigation,” a University of Chicago spokeswoman said in an email. “Drawing any conclusions at this point is premature and scientifically unsound.”

. . .

Last week, Gilead reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that remdesivir showed encouraging results in treating 53 patients with severe Covid-19 symptoms. The patients were given the drug under so-called compassionate use, which allows for doctors to request unapproved drugs for patients in emergency situations.

Of the 53 compassionate use patients who received remdesivir, nearly half were discharged from the hospital and seven patients died, or 13% of the total, according to the New England Journal paper. Of 30 patients using breathing tubes connected to ventilators, 17 had their tubes disconnected after remdesivir treatment.

For the full story, see:

Joseph Walker. “Gilead Shares Up 9.7% On Encouraging Signs In Covid-19 Drug Trial.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 18, 2020): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 17, 2020, and has the title “Coronavirus Drug Report, Though Inconclusive, Sends Gilead Higher.” Where the versions differ, the passages quoted above follow the somewhat longer online version.)