Practice Perfect: A book review by Bob Morris

Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better
Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2012)

How and why “practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent”

For several decades, Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State University have been conducting research on peak performance, and he began to attract attention after the publication of a Harvard Business Review article, “The Making of an Expert” (July/August 2007), he co-authored with Michael J. Prietula and Edward T. Cokely. They observe, “Before practice, opportunity, and luck can combine to create expertise, the would-be expert needs to demythologize the achievement of top-level performance, because the notion that genius is born, not made, is deeply ingrained. It’s perhaps most perfectly exemplified in the person of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who is typically presented as a child prodigy with exceptional innate musical genius. Nobody questions that Mozart’s achievements were extraordinary compared with those of his contemporaries. What’s often forgotten, however, is that his development was equally exceptional for his time. His musical tutelage started before he was four years old, and his father, also a skilled composer, was a famous music teacher and had written one of the first books on violin instruction. Like other world-class performers, Mozart was not born an expert—he became one.” With rare exception, the research suggests that peak performance requires at least 10,000 of highly disciplined (“deep, deliberate, sharply focused”) practice under expert supervision in combination with being in the right circumstances at the right time.

All this serves to help introduce Picture Perfect, the latest of several excellent books whose authors or co-authors discuss the meaning and significance of revelations for which the research of Ericsson and his associates is primarily responsible and duly acknowledged. Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi introduce and discuss “42 rules for getting better at getting better” and devote a separate chapter to each, organizing them within six sections:

Example: #7 Differentiate Drill from Scrimmage
Comment: There are significant differences between iterative practice of a drill and correct application of it.

Example: #14 Make Each Minute Matter
Comment: Activity often wastes time whereas productivity never does

Example: #22 Get Ready for Your Close Up
Comment: Make certain that the example you set or select is memorable…and relevant.

FEEDBACK (23-30)
Example: #23 Practice Using Feedback (Nit Just Getting It)
Comment: Beware of the “Knowing-Doing Gap.”

Example: #33 Make It Fun to Practice
Comment: “Work without joy is drudgery. Drudgery does not produce champions, nor does it produce great organizations.” John Wooden

Example: #40 Keep Talking
Comment: Name the discrete skills and drills that you practice.

Then in the final section, CONCLUSION: THE MONDAY MORNING TEST, Lemov, Woolway, and Yezzi recommend specific rules for organizations, for a mentee or small team, and for the reader (“yourself”).  Then in Appendix A, they suggest teaching techniques from Lemov’s book, Teach Like a Champion, and in Appendix B, sample practice activities. With all due respect to the books written by Geoff Colvin (Talent Is Overrated), Daniel Coyle (The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent), and Malcom Gladwell (Outliers) — duly cited with appreciation by Lemov, Woolway, and Yezzi  — I think Practice Perfect is the single best source for information, insights, and advice on how to apply what Ericsson’s research has revealed. That is, how to use the aforementioned highly disciplined (“deep, deliberate, sharply focused”) practice under expert supervision — in combination with being in the right circumstances at the right time — to achieve peak performance.

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