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Bounce summary

Matthew Syed

The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice

4.6 (93 ratings)
17 mins
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    If you want to excel, 10,000 hours of training will take you much further than your natural abilities.

    Mozart is considered by many to have been the greatest composer who ever lived. Traditionally, most people would assume outstanding achievements like his are due to natural abilities, or even divine inspiration or fate. This assumption holds especially true for child prodigies like Mozart who already had the world mesmerized with his musical talent at the age of six.

    But looking more closely at the phenomenon of child prodigies, we find that in fact they had to practice for thousands of hours before showing their so-called prodigious talent. In fact, scientists studying the phenomenon have found that typically a prodigy’s training begins at a very early age and that they compress endless hours of practice into their young lives.

    For example, when the six-year-old Mozart toured Europe to display his precocious piano skills, he had already undergone 3,500 hours of musical training. If you compare this to other pianists who have practiced for as long, Mozart’s performance wasn’t all that exceptional.

    It seems then, that outstanding abilities come from vast amounts of rigorous practice rather than natural talents.

    This is illustrated by a study of young violinists’ concerts, where the only factor directly linked to the students’ level of achievement was the amount of time they had spent practicing seriously: while the star performers had practiced for an average of 10,000 hours, the least skilled students only had 4,000 hours under their belts. What’s even more telling is that there were no exceptions: all of the best-performing students had devoted great efforts to practicing, and all of the students who had practiced for 10,000 hours belonged to the best-performing group.

    It seems that no prodigious talent can exist without thorough practice.

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    What is Bounce about?

    In Bounce (2011), Matthew Syed explores the origins of outstanding achievements in fields like sports, mathematics and music. He argues that it is intensive training, not natural ability that determines our success, and people who attribute great performances to natural gifts will probably miss their own chance to succeed due to lack of practice.

    Who should read Bounce?

    • Anyone who has big plans but is not sure that they have what it takes to succeed
    • Anyone who’s interested in the secret of brilliant performances
    • Anyone who wants to raise children who achieve their goals
    • Anyone who wants to understand the underlying mechanisms of “choking” under pressure 

    About the Author

    Matthew Syed is an award-winning sports journalist who writes columns for The Times and also works as a commentator for BBC Sports. As a table tennis player, Syed was the English number one for almost ten years and played in two Olympic Games.

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