Does “practice make perfect”?

Bobby Fischer in 1960

Bobby Fischer in 1960

At least some people continue to insist that “practice makes perfect.” Does it? No.

Decades of research (notably by Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State University) leave no doubt that an individual’s peak performance is the result (on average) of 10,000 hours of deep, deliberate, and disciplined practice under expert and strict supervision as well as some degree of luck (e.g. the circumstances into which one is born). The quality of supervision is critically important. Without it, a bad golf swing is made even worse by relentless repetition.

With one exception (Bobby Fischer), all this is what was required of the greatest chess players throughout history as well as peak performers in other fields such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in music, Albert Einstein in theoretical physics, Michael Jordan in basketball, and John von Newman in mathematics. Perfection is a process, not a destination. It can occur but, in fact, does so [begin] rarely Nonetheless, the word “perfection” continues to be applied to everything from muffins to inlaid tile.

Although completing the aforementioned process may produce an individual’s peak performance, it will NOT — because it cannot — produce perfection. Their peak performance may well be mediocre, at best.

More often than not, it is.

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