The Art of Performance

The Art of Performance

My summary of the book in three bullet points

  • "Great performance isn't the result of nature bur rather nurture". We can all achieve greatness if we find our true interest (and hence passion) and grow it in the right way.
  • There are four stages on the path to greatness - novice, amateur, expert and pathfinder. To reach the final stage we need long term motivation (propelled by finding purpose in what we do) and the right development approach (deep practice).
  • Failure should be seen as an opportunity to grow. More often than not it will trigger learnings that we couldn't have experienced otherwise.

Notable quotes

"Bloom's epic study revealed that passion is born out of interest and develops across three distinct stages. And these stages are remarkably common to the development of expert performers in every area"
"(...) people work harder, smarter, longer, more generously, and more productively when they can see how their work affects others"
"If we are not improving, it's not because we lack talent, it's because we're not practicing the right way"
"Our growth curve is triggered by failure and the learnings that follow"

Overview of the book

  1. The Power of Purpose - find your interest and grow it.
  2. The Hidden Logic of Mastery - talent is a myth, to achieve greatness you need deep practice.
  3. The Necessity of Grid - achieve flow to keep you energized.

Chapter "The Power of Purpose"

  • Interest is at the core of our passions and hobbies. These interests are developed early on in our lives and are deepened through three stages - Stage 1 is Discovery; Stage 2 is Development and Stage 3 is Deepening. Another words The Bloom Model.
  • Our interests can be categorized under six different buckets - (1) Investigative, (2) Artistic, (3) Realistic, (4) Social, (5) Conventional and (6) Enterprising. Depending on where we fit we may be better suited to be leaders, artists, doctors etc.
  • Once interests are identified and triggered then our development journey begins. To keep our interests alive and to keep us motivated we need to keep adding the metaphorical wood to the fire of our interests. If we do not do that, we may end up in a so called Summit Syndrome where do not provide enough novelty to our brains and end up bored.
  • To keep us motivated and focused we need hedonic and eudaimonic happiness. The former refers to our pleasure, which is often the immediate gratification. The eudaomonic happiness refers to the purpose we find in our work
  • Purpose is power. Purpose can be cultivated. Research shows that Purpose is best maintained when we focus on serving others. Research of Adam Grant proves that we tend to work better when we have greater appreciation how our work contributes to the well being of others.

Chapter "The Hidden Logic of Mastery"

  • There is no such thing as "talent". The concept of one person being talented and another not is a myth. We say that we lack talent far too often. To prove this point Laszlo Polgar conducted an experiment with his own children whereby he declared, before they were born, that they would become world class chess players. What happened in the end was that each of his three daughters went on to be a world champion. One of them, Judith, is still considered the best female player of all times.
  • To achieve greatness, we need to travel on a Mastery Curve. This is a development process in which we go from Novice level to Amateur to Expert to Pathfinder. Only top 3% achieve the Pathfinder level.
  • To get through all these stages we need to constantly keep pushing ourselves. As our skills develop and we move higher on the mastery curve we need to start upgrading our game or otherwise we will plateau.
  • The training tactic we need to adopt is one of Deep Practice. To relate that to our day to day lives this would involve the right education (e.g. going to a great University), the right teachers or mentors (learning from experience of others), applying the right tools (using latest technology to monitor our performance and find weak spots - think athletes).
  • Deep Practice includes four crucial stages:
  1. Chunk It [ building chunks, patterns and connections of knowledge, the more we practice the more layers of knowledge we build and the more sophisticated chunks we build ],
  2. Repeat It [ practice makes perfect - you probably have heard that already; well repetition here is about getting the skills into our DNA so that we can recall it instantaneously when needed - think about a Heart Surgeon who performed 1,000 operations vs. one that just started],
  3. Solve It [ finding thematic / systematic errors and fixing them ] and
  4. Find It [ find others to learn from and once there is nobody else who can help development to the next level becomes a personal discovery; progress at that stage is very hard as we are best of the best - who could Mozart learn from when we was at his best? ]

Chapter "The Necessity of Grid"

  • There are two types of mindset - "fixed mindset" and "growth mindset". Proposed by Professor Carol Dweck from the Stanford University. The fixed mindset internalizes failures and produces a negative outcome after they occur. The growth mindset externalizes failures and takes a positive approach.
  • Failure should be seen as opportunity to learn, however for this to work there needs to be a trigger that sparks learning. If that is absent failure may create more damage than good. How we categorize failure depends highly on whether we are optimists or pessimists. When a failure happens do we say "why did I run so slowly" or "how can I run faster next time". We can learn to be optimists by rationalizing and reasoning with ourselves in search of the positive elements.
  • There are three types of failure - screw-ups that happen when we are not paying attention. Systematic errors that we repeat over and over and if we can identify them we can fix them. Big failures - these are the real opportunities for growth providing we can identify them and learn from them.
  • The single most important element that motivates people is making progress. Small action can lead to a reward that in turns lead to greater motivation and hence greater action and reward. Think about an example in sports, say running. When you go for your first run you may feel great resistance. There are tons of better things to do, including washing up the dishes. However, once you get moving you feel much better. By the time you are done you are already looking forward to the next session. As your fitness level improves and you can run faster and further, you pick up bigger challenges and longer courses. This is what action triggered motivation looks like.
  • To ignite the action triggered motivation and energize us in the long term, we need to get into the flow. Sometimes also referred to as the zone. This is the state where our abilities match the challenge at hand. The zone provides the perfect balance between the skills and the challenge and energizes us for the long term.

Author's Proposed Three Learnings

  1. Mixed in the right way, passion and purpose are an endless energy source.
  2. To become a world-class expert, to become a true master in any field, we should grow our skill set using technique science calls "deep practice".
  3. Most of us believe success drives our journey to the top. But in fact, it doesn't. Our growth culture is triggered by failure and the learning that follow failure.


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