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Deliberate Practice Examples

June 12, 2021    •   minute read

This article is about deliberate practice examples for these professions: knowledge work, writing, teaching and training, and entrepreneurial expertise.

Read Deliberate Practice by Anders Ericsson: What It Is and How Can You Deliberately Practice Something to learn about the theoretical framework for deliberate practice and the eight techniques to start practicing deliberately.

Otherwise, let’s get started.

Deliberate Practice Examples for Knowledge Work

You can find excellent examples of deliberate practice for knowledge work in Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. The book introduces four approaches to deliberate practice: monastic, bimodal, rhythmic, and journalistic.

Deep Work quote

Examples of monastic approach to deliberate practice

An example of the monastic approach to deep work is the famous computer scientist Donald Knuth. He quit email in 1990 after having used it for 15 years. His reason? “To learn certain areas of computer science to exhaustively; then… digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don’t have time for such study.” As a result, he produced one of the best physical-science monographs of the century by American Scientist, The Art of Computer Programming (TAOCP). This comprehensive monograph started in 1962 and covers many kinds of programming algorithms their analysis.

Another example of the monastic approach you can find in Deep Work is Neal Stephenson, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Seveneves, Anathem, Reamde, and Cryptonomicon. Stephenson does not use an email and rarely accepts speaking engagements. Instead, he writes deliberately, and that’s how he wrote all his bestselling novels that so many people enjoy reading.

Bimodal approach to deliberate practice

Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist who developed analytical psychology, is an example of the bimodal philosophy of deep work. He worked full-time in his clinic in the city of Zurich, Switzerland. But, he would also retreat regularly to his lakeside tower for deep work. There, Jung would rise at 7 a.m., and after breakfast, he would spend two hours of undistracted writing time in his private office in the tower. In the afternoons, he would meditate and go on long walks. According to Deep Work, this bimodal approach to deliberate practice was how he became one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century.

Another example of the bimodal philosophy found in the book is Adam Grant. He is an organized psychologist and professor at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, recognized as the school’s top-rated professor for seven straight years. Think Again and Originals are his #1 New York Times bestselling books. Other books he has written by the age of 40 include Give and Take, Option B, Life and the Fall, the Gift inside the Box, and Power Moves. How could he achieve so much? According to Deep Work, Grant would finish his annual course teaching requirement in one semester and spend the other researching and writing.

Rhythmic approach

The rhythmic approach to deliberate practice involves creating a rhythm to go deep in knowledge work. The book, Deep Work, raises the example of how Jerry Seinfeld taught Brad Issac how to become a better comic. His advice was to write jokes every day and cross out the date on a calendar with a big red X. By doing so, you will create a visual chain that would motivate us to keep doing it. However, this rhythm method does not have to be visual but could also be time-based. The second example is how a doctorate student Brain Chappell designated time from 5:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. every weekday, without exception, to work on his doctorate research.

Journalistic approach

So, an example of journalistic approach in Deep Work is how Walter Isaacson, the famed journalist who worked with the author’s uncle, would switch into a deep work mode and wrote his famous book 900-page book, The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made, whenever he had free time. Isaacson made his deep work decisions on a moment-to-moment basis, according to the author. And this is called a journalistic approach.

The four rules for deep work

Deep Work introduces four rules for deep work:

  1. Work deeply. The four strategies in the previous part of this article — monastic, bimodal, rhythmic, and journalistic — were those introduced to let us work deeply.
  2. Embrace boredom. The book suggests that deep work requires deep thinking, and that is usually boring. Therefore, you could get distracted easily, so the author advises learning to resist your temptation to distraction. Meditation is a good way to train to embrace boredom.
  3. Quit social media. Cal Newport advises quitting social media to find focus on deep work, and wrote this: “Not only will this preserve your ability to resist distraction and concentrate, but you might even fulfill Arnold Bennett’s ambitious goal of experiencing, perhaps for the first time, what it means to live, and not just exist,” the chapter concludes.
  4. Drain shallow work. The author also argues that to go deep in your domain, you need to make an effort to reduce low-valued tasks, especially emails. It could require negotiating work with your boss and making yourself less accessible.

Read details in the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.

Deliberate Practice Example for Writing Expertise

Writing expertise is not only about general writing ability but also expertise in the domain.1 It would be difficult for a journalist to write a scientific paper, which is also true for a scientist to write for the general public. The Cambridge Handbook on Expertise and Expert Performance (pp. 416-430) introduces the following principles for attaining writing expertise:

Skilled use of language is a distinctive feature for all types of professional writers.

Whether you are a nonfiction or academic writer, you must be able to express yourself skillfully in writing, using language appropriate for your audience and captivating their attention.

In-depth knowledge of what you write about is a must.

For example, if you want to write about developing good habits and breaking bad ones, it is vital to know about behaviors and habit strategies. Having implemented them successfully would be great too.

The capabilities to cope with the heavy cognitive and emotional demands of writing further distinguish expert writers.

Writing requires heavy working memory and emotional loads. They must be able to access their long-term memories to generate ideas for writing. Furthermore, they must cultivate their intrinsic motivation to “commit to long hours of their lonely task of working with ideas and language, rather than with other people.”2 People who want to become a writer must learn to self-regulate their emotions and behaviors to stay on task and produce the texts of thousands of words.

It takes an average of 10.6 years to become a professional writer.

The number came from a study of 215 fiction writers and their progression from the first publication to their best one.3 Some may take 11 years, and others up to 26 years.

Further reading: Zettelkasten Resources for Better Writing

Deliberate Practice Example for Teaching Expertise

The goal of deliberate practice in teaching should be to improve learning, making teaching expertise different from other domains. While athletes and musicians spend most of their time practicing, teachers (and people in management positions) spend most of their time performing their tasks.

So, it is deliberate performance, not deliberate practice, that could improve teaching.4 In addition to the features of deliberate practice such as conscious repetition, timely feedback, task variety, and progressive difficulty, deliberate performance requires four other types of exercises: estimation, experimentation, analysis, and explanation.

With that in mind, The Cambridge Handbook on Expertise and Expert Performance (pp. 431-452) proposes the following factors for improving teaching expertise:

  1. Creating the conditions that enable teachers to practice and strategize
  2. Objectively measuring the learning results of students
  3. Reflecting on what works and what does not
  4. Receiving feedback from knowledgeable others

The handbook provides an excellent example of how these factors operate.

Lesson study as an example for deliberate practice

Lesson study (or Jugyo Kenkyu in Japanese) is a teaching improvement process with its origin in Japanese elementary education for teachers’ professional development practice. Teachers collaborate in small groups in lesson study.

These are common features to lesson study: (1) preparation of a detailed lesson plan with learning goals, background information, the rationale behind the lesson plan, and steps of the lesson along with anticipated responses from students; (2) observation of how their ideas work in the actual classroom; and (3) debriefing for impact analysis on students as well as the implication for future teaching.

There are three systematic levels of lesson study in Japan: school level, district level, and national level. As you can see, Jugyo Kenkyu is an excellent example of deliberate practice for teaching expertise.

Deliberate Practice Example for Entrepreneurial Expertise

The Cambridge Handbook on Expertise and Expert Performance (pp. 389-412) provides a surprising framework for entrepreneurial expertise: “The Ask.”

In his research, Nicholas Dew and his team argue that “the Ask” is an important mechanism for purposeful practice in entrepreneurship. Their reason? “In building an adventure, entrepreneurs continually and iteratively interact with other people. Almost all of these interactions involve Asks.” (p. 398) Also importantly, asking is “intrinsic in the early stages of the entrepreneurial process.” (P. 399)

The research team found that deliberate practice may not be possible in entrepreneurship but argue that “the Ask” framework should sufficiently satisfy the characteristics of deliberate practice.

There are four types of “the Ask” as a deliberate practice example of entrepreneurial expertise.

The Pitch

The investor pitch is familiar to anyone who has experienced entrepreneurship. It is a loose form of Asks. An entrepreneur pitches from people that they know have what they want by casually asking them to invest. As you can guess, the depth of the asking act is rather shallow.

Transactional Ask

A transactional ask is also casual but includes possible transactions between the two parties. “The heart of the [transactional] Ask is “You give me X, and I’ll give you Y,” with Xs and Ys that can vary through interaction between the Asker and the Askee.”

Tentative Ask

This type of Ask is tentative. In other words, entrepreneurs do not predict or negotiate the deal. Instead, they would ask something like, “Would you consider investing with me?”

Co-creative Ask

As the name suggests, the co-creative ask involves the engagement of the prospective investor in setting the terms and conditions that make it possible to invest in the venture. In this form of asking, entrepreneurs do not have to make any predictions but directly engage their investors in shaping the venture.

In summary, Nicholas Dew and his team believe that the deliberate practice of “the Ask” plays an important role in developing and attaining entrepreneurial expertise. However, they acknowledge that research on entrepreneurial expertise is still in its early stage but are optimistic that their research should lay a foundation for future studies.

Conclusion

These are just a few examples and frameworks of deliberate practice for a few domain expertise. I hope that they are valuable for you to further learn of expert performance. You can find other examples such as professional design, decision making, and second language learning in The Cambridge Handbook on Expertise and Expert Performance.

And, I’ll conclude this article with this deliberate practice quote by Professor K. Anders Ericsson:

Peak book by Anders Ericcsson

And I highly recommend you discover my top recommended books on deliberate practice here if you are serious about learning expert performance.

References:

  1. Ericsson, K. Anders, Ed.. The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology) (p. 419). Cambridge University Press.
  2. Ericsson, K. Anders, Ed.. The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology) (p. 420). Cambridge University Press.
  3. Kaufman, S., & Kaufman, J. C. (2007). Ten years to expertise, many more to greatness: An investigation of modern writers. Journal of Creative Behavior, 41, 114–124.
  4. Fadde, P. J., & Klein, G. A. (2010). Deliberate performance: Accelerating expertise in natural settings. Performance Improvement, 49, 5–14.
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