Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 14, Issue No. 12a
April 1, 2016

By Dan Coughlin


Every once in a great while a book comes out that is so useful and so relevant for such a widely diverse group of people that I want to stand on my rooftop and yell, “Read this book now!” Fortunately, it’s way safer for me to just write about it.

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool is the book I encourage you to read. Quite simply, it explains in great detail how to continually improve performance in any type of activity. It also explains what it takes to be the best in the world at whatever you do. These explanations are not complicated or theoretical. This book is remarkably straightforward and pragmatic. And it is based on more than forty years of research into dozens of different types of performance.

I first became interested in the writings of Anders Ericsson when I read his concepts on expert performance, deliberate practice, and the 10,000-hour rule in the books Outliers by Malcom Gladwell and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. After that I read several books and articles by Ericsson and found them all to be intriguing, but also with an academic-orientation to them. Peak, on the other hand, was written for the general public and flows along very nicely from one idea to another. Anyone who wants to do anything better than they are doing it right now will benefit from this book. I’m recommending it to all of my clients, past clients, readers, and audience members.

Ten Reasons I Recommend Peak


The opening question “Why are some people so amazingly good at what they do?” sets the stage for the whole book. Ever since I was in third grade I’ve read biographies and autobiographies to understand how people achieved great success. I was always more interested in learning about the journey than to know what it was like on the mountaintop. This book explains in detail the journey that expert performers go on to reach the mountaintop.

Chapter One

This chapter explains the value of purposeful expanding your physical and mental capacity for generating greater achievements in the future. It emphasizes the importance of taking small steps on a regular basis and gathering feedback on what you are doing effectively and ineffectively.

Chapter Two

Here you will learn how to specifically harness your mental adaptability to develop new skills and move beyond the status quo way of doing things. It also explains how your potential is not fixed, but rather is something that can be continually expanded.

Chapter Three

You learn the importance of mental representations, of actually seeing the level of performance that you are aspiring to reach. By visualizing the details of what needs to happen, you are able to see the pieces and patterns that are necessary for a great performance.

Chapter Four

This chapter explains in great detail the steps involved in deliberate practice, which is the absolute best way to improve your performance in any type of activity. I would try to explain my interpretation of deliberate practice here, but I think you would benefit a great deal more by really studying this chapter and learning the insights that Anders Ericsson developed over a lifetime of studying deliberate practice.

Chapter Five

A great explanation of how deliberate practice can be used in actual job situations regardless of the type of work that you do. I’ve found in my executive coaching sessions that guiding people through the steps of deliberate practice and showing how the principles of deliberate practice connect with their work situations helps them to move forward in a more intentional and effective way.

Chapter Six

This chapter shows how deliberate practice can be applied in everyday life situations whether you’re exercising, parenting, or enjoying a hobby. Literally anything you do you can learn to do it better the next time.

Chapter Seven

If you were ever wondering what it takes for a young person to go on to be world-class in any activity, this chapter explains what is involved. And it’s not for the faint of heart. Literally thousands and thousands of hours of deliberate practice over many years are required to become the best of the best at what you do. But if you’re goal is to be world-class, then this chapter explains how to do it.

Chapter Eight

This chapter explodes the myth of natural talent. It shows in detail that great performers always got there through extraordinary practice.

Chapter Nine

In this closing chapter, Ericsson and Pool guide the reader to think about the future of a world that applies deliberate practice on a regular basis and its impact on education, medicine, health, and relationships. Imagine a world where performance in every area of life gets better and better. They close their book with a new concept, Homo exercens rather than Homo sapiens. They wrote, “Perhaps a better to see ourselves would be as Homo exercens, or ‘practicing man,’ the species that takes control of its life through practice and makes of itself what it will.”


Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool is literally the work of a lifetime, or possibly two lifetimes. It is filled with intriguing ideas and processes to become more effective in any area of life and any type of performance. It will be a permanent member of my all-time recommended books.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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