by Matthew Syed

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: February 23, 2024
 3 min read

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What are the big ideas?

  1. Getting really good at something often comes from lots of practice, not just being born talented.
  2. To really improve at something, you need to practice in a focused way, try hard things, and learn from mistakes.
  3. Getting feedback is super important for getting better because it helps you know what to work on.
  4. Great ideas and top skills usually come from practicing a lot over time, not just suddenly having a great idea or being naturally amazing.
  5. How you think about your ability to improve and learn can really affect how well you do and how much you can learn.


The Role of Practice in Achieving Excellence

  • “If we believe that attaining excellence hinges on talent, we are likely to give up if we show insufficient early promise”.
  • The iceberg illusion: “What is invisible to us – the submerged evidence, as it were – is the countless hours of practice."
  • “Speed in sport is not based on innate reaction speed, but derived from highly specific practice”.
  • “The development of motor expertise is inseparable from the development of perceptual expertise (chunking patterns)”.
  • “Good decision-making is about compressing the informational load by decoding the meaning of patterns derived from experience”.
  • “Purposeful practice is about striving for what is just out of reach and not quite making it; it is about grappling with tasks beyond current limitations and falling short again and again”.
  • “Progress is built, in effect, upon the foundations of necessary failure. That is the essential paradox of expert performance”.

The Nature of Talent and Skill Development

  • “Expert knowledge simply cannot be taught in the classroom over the course of a thousand rainy afternoons”.
  • “[Talent] is not something you are born with; it must be lived and learned through practice”.
  • “Child prodigies do not have unusual genes; they have unusual upbringings”.
  • “The ten-thousand-hour rule is inadequate as a predictor of excellence. What is required is ten thousand hours of purposeful practice”.

The Importance of Purposeful Practice and Feedback

  • “Futsal is a perfect example of how well-designed training can accelerate learning; how the knowledge that mediates any complex skill can be expanded and deepened at breathtaking speed with the right kind of practice”.
  • “All the successful systems institutionalize the principles of purposeful practice”.
  • “Sometimes learning can be accelerated by something as simple as training with superior players”.
  • “Feedback is the rocket fuel that propels the acquisition of knowledge, and without it no amount of practice is going to get you there”.

The Psychology Behind Excellence and Creativity

  • “Creative innovation follows a precise pattern: it emerges from the rigours of purposeful practice”.
  • “In a study of sixty-six poets, more than 80 per cent needed ten years or more of preparation before writing their most creative pieces”.
  • “Intelligence-based praise orientates its receivers towards the fixed mindset”.

The Power of Belief and Mindset in Performance

  • “The capacity to believe things that are not true but which are incredibly effective”.
  • “The extraordinary capacity of human beings to mould the evidence to fit their beliefs”.
  • “Irrational beliefs can boost performance, provided they are held with sufficient conviction”.
  • “Choking is a kind of neural glitch that occurs when the brain switches to a system of explicit monitoring”.


  1. How does the belief that talent is solely innate influence our willingness to persevere in the face of challenges?
  2. In what ways does understanding the hidden hours of practice behind expert performance change our approach to developing skills?
  3. How can focusing on purposeful practice, rather than innate talent, change the way we pursue excellence in any field?
  4. What role does feedback play in the process of mastering a skill or talent?
  5. How does the belief in one's abilities, even if not entirely rational, impact performance and learning?
  6. In what ways can changing our mindset from a fixed to a growth-oriented one influence our capacity to learn and improve?

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