The Three Types of Practice

Anders Ericsson defines three types of practice in his book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. We’ll use a basketball example, but think about how they apply to our work:


1. Naive practice: where we casually do some activity, like shooting hoops in the driveway. 


2. Purposeful practice: where we have a goal to judge ourselves by and we plot out steps to achieve that goal, like repeatedly practicing layups and our jump shot in the driveway to meet some objective.


3. Deliberate practice (the gold standard): where a coach or expert works with us to offer guidance that is both purposeful and informed, like having a coach to give us drills and offer lots of feedback. 


Famously, Ericsson’s work led to what is commonly known as the “10,000-hour” rule. The rule states that with 10,000 hours of practice a person can become an expert. The nuance Ericsson has always emphasized is that 10,000 hours of naïve practice is different from 10,000 hours of purposeful practice which is also different from 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Experts only come from the deliberate group. There are plenty of weekend warriors on the basketball court playing 10,000 hours of H.O.R.S.E., but there is only one Kobe Bryant working with his development coach on 250+ shots every single day


We should notice how stepwise the three types of practice are too, particularly before we run out to hire a coach. We all start by picking an activity and showing up to do it. We transition to setting some goals and creating actions plans. If we still want to rise further, and that’s a big IF, then we should seek another person who can give us the purposeful and informed feedback. There will be only a few areas of life where we want to put this work in, and there will be a ton of areas in life where the average is just fine. The message is that when we really want to succeed, we have to apply deliberate practice.


Peak reminds us that no matter where we are in our careers, we have room to improve. It also reminds us that the majority of people, even professionals, are stuck in some form of a naïve-practice-rut, where they show up to just “mail it in.” That slack creates opportunities in companies and professions of all sizes. Thanks to the internet and modern connectivity, it’s never been easier to find a niche and the guidance to propel ourselves higher than wherever we are now. From YouTube videos to virtual coaches, high quality purposeful and deliberate practice is within everyone’s reach.


If we’re willing to define the goal, map a path towards it, and then collect purposeful and informed feedback, we’ll be well on our way towards accomplishing amazing things. That’s the power of applied practice.