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With all the other stuff going on this week, we missed this the first time around. Former White House budget director (and quirky DC celebrity) Peter Orszag is now writing a regular column for The New York Times, and last Thursday's offering contains some nice matters to ponder over the weekend. Orszag continues his earlier theme about "purposeful practice [being] the key to high performance." What that means, Orszag muses, is that almost anyone can will themselves to genius. Here's how he breaks it down:


Some readers have questioned the evidence, arguing that it is too simplistic and that ... not everyone could become Mozart. ... But at the very least, the evidence presented in Matthew Syed's "Bounce" and elsewhere should convince skeptics that the conventional wisdom significantly exaggerates the relative role of innate and immutable ability in complex tasks. ... Or to phrase it differently, it seems plausible that many more people than commonly believed (but perhaps not all people!) have sufficient innate skill to perform at world-class levels in complex fields with sufficient practice; the problem is that they do not undertake the necessary practice. 


A fundamental question thus becomes why some people are willing to undertake repeated and focused practice and others aren't. It is not sufficient merely to log 10,000 hours “practicing” a complex task; one must sustain an intensity that seems beyond the reach of most people, and that must come from loving the process. You can’t just force yourself to do it; you must somehow actually enjoy it.


Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck suggests that what she calls "mindset" (in her 2006 book of that name) plays a crucial role in sustaining the necessary type of intense practice ... Dweck puts forward two mindsets--a fixed mindset, which occurs when someone believes that personal qualities like intelligence are immutable, and a growth mindset, which occurs when someone believes that skills and characteristics can be cultivated through effort. In the fixed mindset, success is showing you're talented; in the growth mindset, it's developing yourself.


If the evidence from Syed and Dweck is right--and it seems that way to me--embracing the unconventional perspective that the effort itself is the prize is ironically also more likely to lead to the conventional "prize."

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