A while back, I noticed a work colleague reading a book with the title ‘Bounce’ on the cover of it. Intrigued, I started to inquire after it, and after scanning the back cover and the book itself, and hearing a little bit about what the book contained, I was enthralled. Immediately, I took photos of the books ISBN, and title, expecting to look it up on Amazon, and order it.. Days passed, eventually I just got impatient with myself, unable to find the time, and decided I might as well just buy it straight onto the Kindle. (Since then I’d only bought a few books on the Kindle, none of which I’d enjoyed reading much to be honest). I’m happy to say, I managed to devour Bounce in less than a week.

It’s the kind of book, that if you’re fascinated by human nature, and developing excellence, or reaching your full potential, then you absolutely MUST read it.

With an active fascination in psychology, and the way we develop our intelligence, and expertise, I’ve always been keen on learning the latest and greatest when it comes to unlocking our maximum potential. Admittedly, it’s been a few months since any book remotely grabbed my interest, and pulled me away, into it’s covers (virtual or otherwise), the way that Syed was able to.

Matthew Syed, a former Table Tennis Champion, turned sports journalist, sheds some remarkable insights into the origins of his own success, and also starts to chip away at the myth of ‘natural’ talent, sharing example after example, of sporting atheletic greatness, that was the culmination of many many hours of focussed, dedicated, practice, with the specific intent of developing and deeping one’s skills.

Syed, skillfully weaves his own sporting example, into a tapestry of stories, from tennis champions, golfers, to chess grandmasters, and even into the realm of musicians, unravelling the many countless hours of practice that are essential before the ‘effortless’ success that so many marvel at, when experts and masters in their respective fields compete with each other.

Studies by Anders Ericsson (a man whose name continues to crop up in a few of the other books I’ve started devouring lately, when researching ‘excellence’ and ‘mastery’ of a skill), and his team led them to conclude:
“that the difference between expert performers and normal adults reflects a life-long persistence of deliberate effort to improve performance.”

During their studies Ericsson and his team discovered that:
“Top performers had devoted thousands of additional hours to the task of becoming master performers.
But that’s not all. Ericsson also found that there were no exceptions to this pattern: nobody who had reached the elite group without copious practice, and nobody who had worked their socks off but failed to excel. Purposeful practice was the only factor distinguishing the best from the rest.”

With example, after example, Syed breaks down the illusions of ‘natural’ talent, and starts to break down the myths, citing countless hours of instruction, in the case of Mozart, that led him to be capable of composing music at a young age.

Syed, even convincingly breaks down the myths around genetics and sporting ability, diving into the myth of Africans being great at long distance running, when in actual fact, it’s not Africans in general, but Kenyans, and even then 90% of the top Kenyan atheletes all come from within a 60 mile radius of Eldoret, a high altitude region of Kenya, where as children, many of these atheletes would run 20km and more per day, just to attend school. At a speed of 15km/hr, this ends up being more than 80 mins of running/day, which means by the time they hit their 16th birthday, they’ve had more than 16k hours of practice. Though of course Syed does a great job of pursuing all the logical arguments of genetics, and shares some of the research associated with it, before presenting this argument, it’s an unmistakable conculsion, that sheer excellence, and mastery of any talent or skill, requires many thousands of hours of disciplined practice, before any semblance of mastery can begin to emerge.

That said, anyone that chooses to devote themselves to mastery of a skill, through deep practice, and sustained effort, will eventually reach those same heights of excellence, that only the ‘experts’ are able to emulate, and display. Syed, even starts to break down the concept of ‘chunking’ and demonstrates through some of his own experiences, and the research he’s uncovered that ‘skill’ or mastery of one discipline doesn’t automatically mean a refined and highly developed ‘sense’.. The skill can only every be applied in the domain in which it was practiced and developed.

As an example, Syed shares his own story, of being served tennis balls at 130mph, and being completely unable to see them, let alone hit them, which didn’t make any sense to him, as the time it takes to return a serve in tennis is approximately 450 milliseconds, which Syed wasn’t able to see, yet, he could regularly return a smash-kill in table tennis in less than 250 milliseconds. Through examination, and research, Syed starts to discover how the body ‘stores’ information in the whole of it’s cells, and muscles, to be able to ‘know’ how to respond, where to react, and how intelligence is physically stored in the body, in a way that makes a chessmaster physiologically different from a tennis champion, who is again completely different to a golf pro. Each ‘expert’ develops, and stores their own muscle memory, and knowledge, and that acquisition, and storage of that expertise takes those wonderful 10k hours of purposeful practice, at a minimum.

Suffice it to say, if you imagined you were limited in your abilities, or gifts, or talents, Bounce will blow that myth wide apart, as ultimately, the only person responsible for how much practice you do or don’t get is you. Of course, there are ways of making those ‘practice’ hours more focussed, and more intense, and more valuable, but I shan’t spoil all the details for you.

Rest assured, if you imagined for one moment, that you were fighting an uphill struggle in trying to be something that you’re not already an expert in, reading this book will give you the assurance, and peace of mind, that true mastery really is just a matter of ‘practice makes perfect’. On that note, I’m going to get back to practicing learning more about psychology, and human limits 😉

If you want to read the book, you can find the full details from Amazon here:

US Visitors, UK Visitors

There’s also a video, where you can hear directly from Matthew Syed talking about his book Bounce:

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