In the early 1980s, Benjamin Bloom, an educational psychologist from the University of Chicago, launched a massive research effort to answer a simple question: how do extremely talented people become good?
His team identified 120 individuals who achieved international recognition. They were split evenly between the following fields: concert pianists, tennis players, swimmers, mathematicians, sculptors and research neurologists.
Over a period of five years, his team conducted extensive interviews with the individuals (and their families) to reconstruct their path to superstardom. The important result from this study was not what Bloom found, but what he failed to find: There was no trace of prodigies.
These stars got good only after many years of deliberate practice. Not only did it take a long time, but for many of these years there was no evidence that they would one day be great. After 6 years of serious training, the future concert pianists, for example, were still competing only at the local level. And they lost as much as they won The swimmers, on average, competed for 8 years at the national level before they started placing first, second, or third. Among the mathematicians and the neurologists, no one become renowned until their late 20s or early 30s.
This begs a natural follow-up question: if practice is key, why did these 120 individuals practice so hard while so many others give up? Fortunately, one of the researchers from Bloom’s team thought this question was worth exploring.