In the Oct. 4 Rule Breaker Investing podcast, David Gardner interviews Anders Ericsson, one of the world’s top experts on expertise. His work has been cited in multiple best-sellers and was also the basis for an idea of the 10,000-Hour Rule that Malcolm Gladwell popularized. But as Anders has often repeated since then, there’s a lot more to mastery than that, and he and David discuss the keys to it this week.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Oct. 4, 2017.
David Gardner: Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing. I’m David Gardner.
Happy October! I trust it will be for all of us. October is always an enchanting month that ends with Halloween, which is certainly one of America’s cherished holidays. But in the meantime, the leaves begin to turn. Our area of Washington, D.C., becomes truly beautiful. I know many other places across America and in the Western Hemisphere somewhere around this line of latitude do as well, so I always enjoy October.
I’m going to enjoy this October of podcasts. We’ve got some great ones for you, and one of them is today’s. This is an interview I’ve done with Anders Ericsson, who is one of the co-authors of the book Peak, P-E-A-K, a book about human potential. A book about excellence and expertise. It puts me in mind of one of my very favorite poems. In fact, it’s such a favorite poem that I’ve memorized it, and I’m going to attempt to do it without looking at anything right now for you. It’s Stephen Spender’s “The Truly Great,” because I really do think that Dr. Ericsson is helping us understand greatness a little bit better. So here we go.
I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light, where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the spirit, clothed from head to foot in song,
And who hoarded from the spring branches
Desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.
What is precious is never to forget
The delight of the blood drawn from ancient springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the simple morning light,
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit.
Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And the whispering winds in the listening skies.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center.
Born of the sun, they traveled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.
It’s a beautiful poem, and while I can’t claim that my interview with Dr. Ericsson — which I’ve already done, so I know it already — is quite that good, I think that this is one of the better interviews I hope that you’ll hear in the year 2017. I just think Dr. Ericsson and his work is outstanding. I hope you’ll enjoy this.
Dr. Anders Ericsson is the world’s reigning expert on expertise. He is a Conradi Eminent Scholar and professor of psychology at Florida State University. He studies expert performance in domains such as music, chess, medicine, and sports. His groundbreaking work has been widely cited in major newspapers, magazines, and such best-sellers as Moonwalking With Einstein, Outliers, and How Children Succeed.
His research was the inspiration for the popular “10,000-Hour Rule” that I’m sure many of us have heard of — the idea that you should practice something for 10,000 hours, and therein lies mastery — although that’s not all there is to it, as we’ll shortly find out. He’s worked with major international organizations, medical schools, military groups, and professional sports teams. He lives in Florida.
And I want to make special note of Robert Pool, his co-author. We don’t have Robert Pool with us today — we do have Anders Ericsson — but I know it was an excellent collaboration between you both. Welcome, Anders!
Anders Ericsson: It’s a pleasure to talk to you.
Gardner: I want to begin as your book begins, and that’s with you telling the Steve Faloon story. Would you do that?
Ericsson: That’s really how we got started. I was interested if one could actually understand how people improve memory capacity. At the time I actually moved from Sweden to the United States, there was a lot of interest in this kind of invariant short-term memory capacity that people differed in, and the test that was used was reading random numbers and then having people repeat them back. And the question is, how many of those numbers can a given individual reliably report back once you hear them at one per second?
We were interested in whether that really was something that would constrain people’s thinking ability and skill acquisition, so we wanted to test that by giving somebody a lot of practice on that task. And I think that’s where my interest in what’s possible with practice was really becoming apparent.
So after about 200 hours of testing and experiments, he initially increased his ability to reproduce seven digits to over 80 digits, and I think what was the most interesting was the kind of changes in his thought processes that were associated with this dramatic improvement of his performance.
Gardner: And it is remarkable. So you are sitting there for hours and hours, and you are one-per-second saying something like this: “Seven, six” — could you just do it briefly just so we can all be Steve Faloon for a sec?
Ericsson: OK. So 4, 7, 1, O, 2, 3, 0, 4, 3, 6…
Gardner: All right. I probably won’t be able to do much better from that point, but 4, 7, 1, O, 2, 3. Something like that. I’m sure I know a lot of Rule Breaker Investing listeners were right there with me, and thank you.
So you just gave us a special experience. You gave us what you were doing that famously starts your book with Steve Faloon. He went from knowing seven or eight or so, which is what our short-term memory capacity typically can do, to over 80.
Ericsson: Yeah, and I think the most interesting part was that it was a qualitative shift that allowed him to actually increase his memory. So what most people do is that they listen to the numbers. And then when they get to the end, you know, you kind of go back to the beginning and then try to basically just read them off from your short-term memory.
What he ended up finding was a way to expand on this, was to actually concentrate on the first three digits and thinking of them as running times. He was a runner, so he could actually think of it as 4 minutes and 26 seconds, which would be a mile time, and that would now make contact with his long-term memory. And over time he started out doing one of those groups before he rehearsed, and then he added on groups and eventually developed a scheme, a hierarchical scheme, of a lot of these different groups that led him to be able to do over 80 digits.
Gardner: And this is a key point early on in your book, Peak, which is what we’re talking about on Rule Breaker Investing this week. It turns out that our brains change. They grow. Parts of them can shrink just like our muscles, even though that wasn’t always how science understood the brain. In fact, how recently have we discovered that, Dr. Ericsson?
Ericsson: I think it was this belief that the brain was growing until you were about 18, and by the time you were 18 your fundamental, basic mental capacities were pretty much determined. But what we’re now finding is that the brain can be changed throughout the entire life span.
If we look at some types of skills, I think the one with the digit span is interesting, because when Steve started, he was close to 20 years old, so he supposedly had already, you know, his fixed capacity, and basically at that age he was able to make this dramatic improvement. And we actually have tested and replicated this, and other researchers have shown that this is not something that was just unique for him. This is something that you can see — a large number of people, if they’re willing to commit to this pretty exacting training, people’s abilities are more determined here by what they’re willing to do here in terms of training, especially training when you’re instructed by a teacher.
Gardner: And we’re definitely going to get more into practice and whether practice makes perfect. We’re going to talk about that in a little bit, because that’s the real meat of your book, Dr. Ericsson. But before we go there, I wanted to talk briefly and hear from you about the amazing gains, not just by Steve Faloon in the one experiment that you conducted over the course of a few years, but all of our fellow humans. Memorizing digits of pi, for example.
Elsewhere in your book you talked about David Richard Spencer of Canada. He had the world record in 1973. He had memorized 511 digits after pi. And then you said by 1978, as people start getting competitive, five years later the record had been increased from 511 to — wait for it — 10,000 digits of pi. I did want to ask you before finishing this question. Was it actually 10,000? Because I’m of the school that round numbers are usually lies.
Ericsson: Well, these records had to be demonstrated to a jury that was appointed by the Guinness Book configuration, so at that point you had to prepare a certain number of digits, and given the choice here, you could basically do 10,000. That would seem like a good, nice, round number, especially if that would be the record.
Gardner: It sure is, and it was the record, but not for that much longer, I gather. Subsequent to 1978 and that 10,000, now we’re here in 2017. At least as of 2015, as your book documents, Rajveer Meena had pushed the record out from 10,000 digits of pi memorized to 70,000 digits. You said it took him nine hours and seven minutes just to recite his memorized digits of pi.
This is just another example, and we can talk about examples throughout all kinds of human endeavors from sports to music, games. There’s something bigger happening here, when we talk about just the incredible acceleration of expert performance that we’ve seen in just the last 30 years or so. What is going on?
Ericsson: I think one issue is that you’re actually being recognized. If nobody cared, then putting in that amount of time into a skill that you want to demonstrate — we worked with a student from India, and apparently in India Guinness Book records were recognized as something that was up there with the Nobel Prize and stuff like that. So obviously you need to have a goal if you want to invest the amount of time that it would take for somebody to be able to memorize 50,000 or 70,000 digits. That would typically take several years, where you have to start with the beginning and then you keep adding on more and more digits until you can recite the whole long series.
Gardner: I’m curious. Have you looked at spelling bees at all? Spelling bees seem to have reached more popular currency here in the United States, as you know. The championship will be on ESPN or maybe ESPN2 each year with kids. Do kids spell much better this year than they did 30 years ago?
Ericsson: Well, if you look at the competitors, that’s kind of the interesting finding. Once there is some reward associated with achieving something, it will now motivate parents and children to engage in training that would actually increase the probability that they would perform really well on these different kinds of events.
It’s rare that you would find somebody sitting by themselves memorizing these digits without telling anyone. Now obviously if they didn’t tell anyone, we wouldn’t know about it, but these skills are very clearly motivated by the kind of recognition that individuals get from their performance that they can demonstrate.
Gardner: And probably a digressive point, which I won’t belabor, but maybe the advent of the internet — and more globalization, more global awareness and communication that somebody is really great at something and everybody around the world is competing — maybe this is all accelerating things.
Ericsson: I think that’s a really interesting point. I guess when it comes to memory, they now have these international, now, memory competitions that some people refer to as the “Mental Olympics,” where you have national teams competing against each other along with the more individual competitions.
Gardner: Now we have to talk some about practice. There’s practice. There’s purposeful practice. There’s deliberate practice. These three terms, while a lot of us may not have association with them, are really technical terms and they’re very important to Dr. Ericsson’s work. Glibly, I asked, earlier, does practice make perfect? One of our podcast personalities here at The Motley Fool, Mac Greer, said that he had a junior high band director who used to say, “Practice perfect makes perfect.” Let me ask you, Dr. Ericsson. Could you lay out these three types of practice?
Ericsson: Just taking an example of a tennis player who’s playing doubles tennis. You basically start up, and then maybe after six months or a year, you’re able to play. You keep the ball so you can actually have a game with your friends. Now, just engaging in that kind of play, some people might refer to as practice. And some people, when they’re just doing their job, they would think of that as being practice. Well, we refer to that as “naive practice.” You’re just reacting to the situations you’re in and doing your best. You’re really not trying to change what you’re doing.
I would argue that what we call “purposeful practice” is that when you actually look at what you’re doing, you’re pinpointing out something that you want to change. This is now something that you would spend extra special time engaging in. So if you want to practice your serve, you could actually do that by yourself. Do one serve after the other. You could see where they’re landing, and you would try to improve the power and control that you have over the serve.
We refer to that as purposeful practice, because you have identified, now, something that you can change, and you’re now focusing in on training that would actually allow you to change and improve that particular aspect. One of the problems is that if you’re just trying to improve something like your serve, it becomes even harder if you want to improve your backhand. When you’re figuring out things that you can do by yourself to improve, this is purposeful practice.
Now, when you seek out a teacher and that teacher can take a look at your game and say, “Hmm, you would really be able to improve your game if you worked on your backhand volley,” now the coach can help you get the fundamental strokes right when you’re standing there by the net, and then you would be forced to run up to the net, perhaps, and finally integrate it into the game. The argument is that with a coach, you will actually be able to improve your backhand so much more than if you were just playing the game and occasionally running into an opportunity for a backhand volley that you may not be able to control.
Gardner: So from naive practice — the phrase I should have led off with — naive practice to purposeful practice to “deliberate practice.” And you use a term called “homeostasis,” which I think is one of the key concepts that I want my listeners to hear about. Could you define homeostasis and its role within better and better practice?
Ericsson: Right. Maybe running is a good example. If you just run the same route at the same speed day after day…
Gardner: Guilty as charged, although I wish I did do it day after day. I’d be a much better human being. But keep going.
Ericsson: Well, the thing is that after a while you will adapt to that, and if you see how fast you can run races, you’re not going to see an improvement. The argument is that if you want to change something, you need to do something that will get your body out of this comfort state of doing an activity that you’re used to be doing, so you actually have to push it. And one of the more effective ways to improve your speed for running, say, 10Ks, is “interval running,” where you actually are running as fast as you can for maybe 10 or 15 seconds and then you walk until you recover, and then you push yourself again.
That kind of pushing will now push you outside this comfort zone, and the biochemicals that are generated will stimulate genes to start to be activated. That will lead to more capillaries and all sorts of physiological adaptations in your body, which, in turn, will actually allow you to run faster.
Gardner: So it is that process of getting outside of what I might call and you call, quotes, “good enough,” and pushing ourselves outside of that if we want to get better at something. And I think it’s worth putting in a quick note here, for those lazy bums among us — and I include myself for most — that homeostasis being good enough for a lot of areas of life is just fine.
Ericsson: Exactly, and if you tried to be world class in any of a hundred different activities, I would be very surprised if you were able to get even close.
Gardner: And actually, I want to mention that I first heard about your book from one of my listeners here at Rule Breaker Investing. It’s a guy named Evan DaSilva, who was, at that time, a senior at the University of Michigan. He mentioned this book and I’ve read and enjoyed your book so much.
I did ask Evan to send me a question or two for the author, since I’m getting to talk to him right now, so these next two questions are coming from Evan. I’m dropping them in right now, because it connects very much with something that you just said in terms of trying to be really great at more than one thing.
The question that Evan had was, “First Abraham Lincoln learned geometry, even though his profession was law, because he thought mastering a hard topic would help boost his intellectual abilities to deal with other problems that came up. Is it possible, Dr. Ericsson, that learning something in-depth that is unrelated to your career could actually make you better at the field that you want to master?”
Ericsson: I think that’s a really interesting question, and one that, I guess, I’ve been talking to a lot of people about. And it has to do with how do you actually learn to engage in what we call deliberate practice? Because that really requires you to set goals outside of what you’re currently able to do and then actually focus and gradually stretch yourself toward those goals.
And I believe that learning how to understand something, whether it’s geometry or some other domain, if you approach that in that kind of systematic way, where you’re actually developing your understanding, as opposed to — which I guess a lot of students do — they’re trying to figure out the easiest way to get their homework done and basically are not really interested in fundamentally understanding what they’re doing.
And we believe that if we look at people who have engaged in music and been successful during childhood and adolescence, or sports, or any of these other domains, that they have now learned some more general aspect of learning that they then can apply to whatever professional interest or, you know, professional domain that they eventually select for their lifetime.
Gardner: So, and that kicks, then, into Evan’s second question, and I’m kind of paraphrasing here. It’s sort of the Renaissance man question a little bit that we’re talking about. So he wanted me to ask you, “How realistic is a character like Sherlock Holmes, who’s mastered a number of intellectual disciplines, which he ties together with unparalleled logical skills while also being notably strong and skilled in jujitsu, shooting, boxing, violin, and other physical activities? Did Conan Doyle have some unique insights into performance? Indeed, Holmes certainly doesn’t try to balance his interests, but rather he works obsessively on whichever one interests him at the moment.”
Ericsson: I personally think that I don’t know of anybody who’d reach international and world class that basically have a lot of different activities that they are trying to reach that extreme level. I think I know of some people who decide to be good at certain things. But one of the things that I’ve found when I explored more carefully these individuals is that they maybe pick two or three things that they are clearly better than most of their friends, and then focus in on those three things, and they really don’t do the other things or aren’t willing to be part of activities that would reflect their ability.
So it’s almost like you get the impression here that they’re great at everything because they’re only restricting themselves to the kind of activities where they really made that investment. But they wouldn’t really be world class, or at least that’s not been my experience, that people become world class in really competitive domains at the same time.
Gardner: We can certainly think of Michael Jordan trying to take up baseball when he took that really interesting departure from the basketball court for a few years in his prime as maybe one such example. I’m wondering, Dr. Ericsson. How has your study — and your understanding of expertise in the book that you’ve written with Robert Pool — changed you as a person?
Ericsson: I think in some ways, some of these ideas kind of emerged from my research, and I’ve always tried to basically live by the insights that I have. I think being able to structure your day where you really, in some ways, prioritize something — and in my case, writing scientific articles — you really protect that very best time that you have. At least I have never seen people being able to invest more than four or five hours a day when they’re really, in some ways, trying to do something that is at the limits of their ability.
And that then means that some of rest of the day you’re going to be doing things where you’ve organized it in such a way that you really wouldn’t be demanded to be exhibiting your peak performance. So organizing one’s day so you get two or three hours. And if you’re an academic like I am, you need some energy for your teaching and for your other responsibilities once you stop writing and going to your office.
Gardner: Dr. Ericsson, I’m wondering. If I’m a student at Florida State University, where you live and work — Tallahassee, Florida?
Ericsson: Yes, that’s right.
Gardner: Do I have an opportunity to take you as a professor? Are you one of those that gives lectures? Talk a little bit about your life on campus and your thoughts about Florida State.
Ericsson: This year I’m on sabbatical leave, but typically I would be teaching an undergraduate class in cognitive psychology and then a graduate seminar on expertise. And we also have students working in my laboratory. We’ve really tried to provide them with the opportunity of learning a skill as part of their assignment here during the semester.
Sort of this idea is that if you’re really going to understand here how one can improve in sort of different domains, taking a domain and then reading about what’s actually known about effective training. And then I also try to match them up with teachers so basically they would have, for a short period of time, that opportunity of really seeing how they can improve and then actually testing themselves to kind of describe how their perception of what they’re doing is changing as a function of their improved performance.
Gardner: It makes a great deal of sense, practicing, truly practicing what you preach by having kids do that. That sounds like, in your case, a deliberate practice. Is that fair?
Ericsson: Well, you know, if you find the right teacher, then you would meet their requirements for deliberate practice.
Gardner: What are you reading right now?
Ericsson: What I really enjoy is reading about research, and given that there’s so much interesting stuff now happening in expert performance, if I have some free time I’m going to be spending it reading about the newest research that has been published so I can keep up with it.
Also what I tend to do is get opportunities to talk to experts, because I find that is very interesting — both getting their perceptions and also sometimes having arguments with experts about things that will help me focus our own research on some of these questions.
Gardner: You know, we are The Motley Fool, and our name comes from Shakespeare. The fools were the ones who fought conventional wisdom. That’s how we’ve kind of framed it up. They were the only ones who could tell the king or queen the truth back in medieval courts without having their head lopped off. They mixed some humor in.
I feel like I’m talking to somebody who is — this is a compliment from me, of course — a capital-“f” Fool. There is some amusement in your book, which I enjoyed, but primarily you’re taking on a lot of subjects that people had set ideas about and it turns out they weren’t right. And by the way, if you want to just start railing against anything, I enjoy that. If there’s a conventional wisdom that really bothers you, either in your field or outside of your field, I’d be curious what you’d have to say. But at least one, maybe to get you started, is this idea that older people can’t learn things.
Ericsson: Yeah, there’s this real confounding here between what people believe they can do and what they’re actually doing. So if you don’t believe that you’re going to be able to master a new language when you’re older, you’re not going to do that. And I think what we’re now seeing is emails and other kinds of contacts from older people who, after reading our book, are really reassessing what it is that they should be able to do. I think that’s so exciting to see demonstrations of people who actually thought that they couldn’t do something and then maybe a year later can report back and say they’re working with a teacher.
And I think it’s really important here that you have a teacher that has experience with people of your age or with your background knowledge, because the path to successful performance is going to depend very much on the kind of background characteristics that you have, so you need a teacher who had those kinds of experiences with their previous students.
Gardner: You know, the great line — and I can’t remember whether you included it in your book or not, Maybe you know this one and maybe you don’t. But from Henry Ford, the American entrepreneur. I’ve used this one a number of times on Rule Breaker Investing. I love this line. “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you cannot — you’re right.”
Ericsson: Well, that’s certainly the case. I guess I would just constrain it here that this thinking that you can do something is not going to be enough. You really need to have somebody else, at least in my mind, have demonstrated the path that they took to get to the point where you want to be. So basically, having that validation that other people have been able to do it, and by actually studying them or getting the help from teachers who have helped other individuals reach that point, that’s the promise that I see. and that I’m trying to convince people that they should pay attention to.
Gardner: I think one of the great points that you make that is going to be very resonant with a lot of our listeners and a lot of Motley Fool fans is — and you’ve used the word a number of times now — teaching, coaching, teaching, finding a good teacher. And I’m thinking — this is a little bit of a digression. Humor me, if you will. But I read a wonderful book in the last year or so called The Smartest Kids in the World. It’s by Amanda Ripley. I’m not presuming you’ve necessarily heard of that or read that book. Have you?
Ericsson: I think I own the book, but I have not had a chance to read it yet. So it’s on the sort of stack of books that I’d like to read.
Gardner: Excellent. Well, I do recommend it to you. And you’ve read so much more than I have that I very humbly nudge that one forward. But one of the things that Amanda Ripley does in her book is she profiles the approaches to education taken by different countries in the world, a lot of it is based on the worldwide test whose acronym I’m forgetting right now. Perhaps you know it. But it’s this sort of, like, hey where does the U.S. rank in math worldwide?
She focuses on a few countries that are in the top 10 and ahead of the U.S., and they’re very different cultures. South Korea, I think was No. 3, Finland was No. 1, and I think Poland was No. 8. She chose American exchange students — this is part of what makes the book compelling, because as Americans we like to see through American eyes — and she takes us into those educational cultures through American eyes with exchange students in those three radically different environments.
By no means am I going to start summarizing any of them now, but I do want to say what comes across clearly is the power and value of good teaching. Finland is No. 1 worldwide for its educational system. I know you’re from Sweden. Sweden, of course, also ranks very high. The Nordic countries always do well on these tests.
But there is a tremendous amount of effort to train teachers, and it is probably not the highest-paying job in those countries. It pays decently, but really there is tremendous respect accorded to teaching and coaching. So a little bit of a digression there, but I wonder if you have any reflections either about your native country of Sweden or what I just said about The Smartest Kids in the World.
Ericsson: I think that general research fits very nicely. One of the little pieces that I’ve taken out of that work is when an American teacher asks a question, he or she only waits for a few seconds before they give the answer; whereas in, basically, Japan — I think that was the research that was explicitly done with videotapes — they basically wait for the students to come up with answers, forcing them to actually, you know, generate and think.
And I think if there’s one thing that cuts across all the different domains that I see is that focus on understanding what you’re doing and very thoughtfully reflect, especially on what you just did, so you will be actually able to identify things that you need to correct, or improve, or think about ideas about how you can do things differently. So basically, that kind of understanding of the task that you’re trying to improve upon, making that into a mental activity as opposed to something that, where you’re just accumulating more and more experience, I think that’s a very general theme that I see cutting across all these other domains where you see excellent performance.
Gardner: Well, you’ve been very generous with your time, Dr. Ericsson. I could certainly — I’m going to ask one or two more questions, but thank you very much for what has been very enlightening. Not that you care that much, but I bet we sold some books here this week, because I just know that a lot of Rule Breaker investors are people who are wondering, “How can I can get better?” There’s a lot of entrepreneurs who listen to this show and these are often people who are into self-improvement. That’s something that I think is powerful and I try to do the best I can as well.
I wanted to ask you. What, for you, at this stage of your research and your understanding, what is your biggest unanswered question right now about expertise?
Ericsson: One of the things that I’m really intrigued by is how would you be able to set up, kind of, opportunities for professionals to actually improve their performance? And we’re looking — I’ve been talking to people in surgery. So what are the methods that would actually help somebody who is an existing surgeon do even better and, in some ways, produce even better patient outcomes?
And I think the same thing goes for education. How would one be able to help a larger percentage of children really engage in this kind of purposeful and deliberate practice, where they are feeling like they’re now understanding what they’re doing? I think once you get to the point where you understand the task and the knowledge that you’re acquiring and seeing how you can actually use it in the real world, I think that gives so much satisfaction and also stimulates you to apply the same way of mastering other domains.
And getting across how one would be able to help children get started or even professionals get started on this path, and then giving them support for how to keep improving — that kind of individualized learning, that is supported by available teachers, you may not need all the time, but if you know that they’re available to you, I think that helps people push their boundaries a little bit and really strive to become even more successful in what they’re doing.
Gardner: Before we go, I have to ask you. Are you a stock market investor?
Ericsson: I’m basically a part of funds here that other people are doing.
Gardner: That’s what most people do, and so it’s an understandable answer. Have you ever bought an individual stock?
Ericsson: I have never done that. I’ve been talking to some really interesting people who are involved in investing, and I think it’s interesting that there are certain types of activities where I believe you’d be more likely to be successful and reliably reproducing successful performance than maybe in some of the markets. Where the market by itself is imbalanced, it would be very hard to actually be able to do better than the average market itself.
Gardner: Well, it’s certainly a subject of ongoing interest for everybody listening to you speak right now. It’s something that I’m sure over the course of time humans will get a better and better understanding of — how to beat the market — or if it is, indeed, achievable, which I do think it is. And even under changing conditions, sometimes investors look better or worse because of a certain period or era.
One thing that I love about your work that helps all of us, as investors, is the recognition that we can deliberately think about what we’re trying to do and what we would like to get better at. And that doesn’t just go for picking stocks. That goes for really any aspect of our financial lives.
And we can be choiceful about that. I’m never going to select taxes for me, personally. I’m never going to try to get really good at taxes, but there are certainly other aspects of one’s financial life and, of course, one’s life outside of finance. We tend to live inside that shell a little bit here on this podcast.
Ericsson: I think the excitement that a lot of people feel when they’re actually breaking through and doing things that they never thought was possible is something very liberating and exciting about that, and I think if more people could have that experience, I think it would be a benefit to all of us.
Gardner: That’s a beautiful sentiment to end on. And I would normally end it right there, but I have to ask you the “next book” question, because for fans of yours, are you and Robert Pool collaborating on a new book coming out in 2018?
Ericsson: You know, we’re talking about basically maybe doing a book on mental representations, which seems to be a theme that people felt that we could expand on. And I think especially I’m interested in talking a little bit about the work that I’ve been doing on thinking aloud, where you actually get a better immediate idea what actually goes on in experts’ heads and then basically using that information.
We talked about, you know, some of the relevant information in the book, but actually getting into the issue here of what is it that people actually can give valid reports about versus, you know, where we know that some people’s self-knowledge is biased and basically not appropriate? But actually giving expression to what you’re thinking about right now seems to be something that offers some really unique insights into what distinguishes experts from less-accomplished individuals.
Gardner: And I greatly enjoyed your section — it was a shorter section earlier on — on mental representations. Thinking about a chess player who can play against 25 players. And not only is he walking up and down competing against them, but he’s not even looking at a board. He’s just doing it in his head. and how does humanity do that?
But we’ll save that question for maybe, I hope, a return visit — if you will grace us with that in a year or two — and when you’ve got something more to say about that, we would enjoy learning.
Ericsson: It was just a tremendous pleasure here talking to you. I’m really excited to hear if you’re taking up something and enjoying the journey to becoming expert, or at least much better, at something.
Gardner: Thank you very much, Dr. Anders Ericsson, for joining us this week on Rule Breaker Investing. Very best wishes, sir.
Ericsson: Thank you so much for talking to me. I really enjoyed it.
Gardner: Well, we have to end it right there. I hope you enjoyed that. I think it was a treat. I hope you’ll share it with friends and family. There’s a lot to learn. Most of all, I hope you’ll enjoy his book. I haven’t actually finished the book yet myself, because I did the interview one week ahead of time. I did this interview last week, because I’m at Motley Fool One Charleston this week. I didn’t get a chance to read all of the book before I interviewed him, but I know you’ll enjoy the book, and I’m sure some of you have already read this book. It is a pretty remarkable work, and I hope that came through in our discussion.
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