Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Bounce" by Matthew Syed - A Seminal Work on the Science of Success

In his seminal work, "Bounce," Matthew Syed proudly stands on the shoulders of psychologist, Anders Ericsson, and those of Malcolm Gladwell in the work that he did in "Outliers." The subtitle of the book gives the reader a good of the breadth of the topics that Syed addresses as he examines success in a variety of fields: "Mozart, Federer, Picasoo, Beckham, and the Science of Success."

I found this book to be fascinating and thought provoking, especially in light of the fact that it comes on the heels of a recent visit I paid to the Center for Enhanced Performance at the United States Military Academy. A few weeks ago, accompanied by my friend, Detroit Lions coach, Daron Roberts, I spent a day with Dr. Nate Zinsser and his staff at West Point's acclaimed CEP. The principles that Dr. Zinsser and his team articulated - and demonstrated as they worked with West Point athletes - fall precisely within the parameters of the principles that Syed describes in "Bounce." Syed, himself a world class table tennis player, begins with his own anecdotal experience in achieving an extraordinary level of success, and then broadens his inquiries to examine more universally how women and men manage to attain levels of proficiency well above that of their peers.

In a nutshell, Syed makes a valid case for a phenomenon that Gladwell describes in "Outliers": For any individual to attain a level of mastery in a complex task, 10,000 hours of focused, purposeful practice is required over the course of 10 years under the guidance of gifted coaches. He argues strongly against the notion of "child prodigies" and "naturally gifted athletes," and presents a convincing body of evidence to buttress his claims.

The ramifications of Syed's work are staggering and are clearly applicable beyond the realm of athletics or the arts to include business practices and military training: "As one business expert has put it, 'Very few businesses have introduced the principles of [purposeful] practice into the workplace. Sure, the hours may be long in some jobs, but the tasks are often repetitive and boring and fail to push employees to their creative limits and beyond. There is very little mentoring or coaching . . . and objective feedback is virtually nonexistent, often comprising little more than a half-hearted annual review.'" (Page 111)

This is a book that I will recommend to friends who are athletes, business leaders, military officers, coaches, musicians, teachers and mentors. Syed has given us a special gift and a powerful tool to enhance understanding about the mature of how to achieve extraordinary levels of performance in virtually any field.



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