The Science of Success

Matthew Syed describes in this exhilarating book how champions are made and the science of success.

The notion of success – as in life success – varies from person to person. Some are self-driven and others by outward competition—the most vivid, primal, and dramatic of human pursuits. Before this majestic book, I would question what would make some more successful than others and what factors allow for a gap between the elites to the rest. Can ALL of us be the best? Are we holding ourselves back? Could the ability to overcome mental hurdles be enough? Matthew Syed, bestselling writer and international table-tennis champion (after insane hours of practice) take us on a revelatory exploration of being the best in his field and the true nature of talent in combination with success.

Let’s address the elephant in the room—Talent is not what you think it is. A psychologist at Florida State University, Anders Ericsson, conducted one of the most extensive investigations ever taken into the causes of outstanding performance. Essentially, Violinists at the renowned Music Academy of West Berlin in Germany were split into three groups. One group contained the cream of the crop, the remarkable and “gifted” students, the other two groups consisted of great performers and the least able performers successively. During the interviews of the different groups, Ericsson discovered the biological histories of the three groups were remarkably similar and showed no systematic differences. So, what separated them? There was one difference. Simple and logical— the number of hours devoted to serious practice. As Syed illustrated, “By the age of twenty, the best violinists had practiced an average of ten thousand hours, Two thousand hours more than the second group and six thousand hours more than the third group.” Noticeably, the initial portion of the book is to convince you with tangible evidence that Ericsson is right about the “Ten Thousand Hour Rule” and that your idea of talent may be flawed.

There’s a hidden logic of success. They are often known as “advantages”. I’ve noticed people hate referring to a condition or circumstance that puts one in a favorable or superior position as an advantage. But, that’s exactly what it is. I mentioned Matthew Syed was an international table-tennis champion but maybe I wasn’t clear enough. In January 1995, Matthew became the British number-one table tennis player. He illustrated his speed, guile, mental strength, adaptability, and “God-given” talents may have been factors that catapulted him to the top. This, of course, is how numerous athletes and successful individuals choose to tell their stories on the big screen. After all, Hollywood and our society love these narratives to appeal to your heart and encourage you. Quite frankly, I love them too. They are inspirational and I'd say they give you a notion that anything is possible. But, what they choose to leave out is rather what interested me and made me pick up this book.

Matthew Syed, for instance, had the fortune that his parents at a young age bought a table tennis table and set it up in their large garage. Please note numerous kids his age did not have that advantage. Besides, Syed had an older brother, Andrew who loved to play table tennis with him for hours. In a sport that requires two players, this is crucial. However, Syed’s biggest advantage was the fact that the UK’s top coach and a senior figure in the English Table Tennis Association happened to be a teacher at the local primary school and invited Syed and his brother to his club Omega— a table-tennis hut open for 24 hours where every member of its exclusive club had their own set of keys. Here, Matthew and his brother trained tirelessly for hours. By the time the official matches began between Matthew Syed and his adversaries, he had already logged ten thousand hours of serious practice. His opponents never had a chance. Hear me out, during the 1980s, this one street in the UK by Omega, and the areas around, produced more outstanding table tennis players than the rest of the nation combined. Movies in Hollywood would probably say a genetic mutation spread throughout the local vicinity of this area.

You should read this book to find out more about other figures you’ve seen on TV or might’ve seen in a Hollywood Movie about their success. I don’t ever want my own opinions or views on certain aspects cloud your reasoning so I highly encourage you to read this book and decide how you view success. In my opinion, Bounce by Matthew Syed is a compelling book that allowed me to understand at a young age to devote all my resources into maximizing the advantages given to me. Syed, in a way, illustrates that almost every person who has achieved exceptional levels of success has simply been a beneficiary of unusual circumstances. However, I would say that “Free Will” is also a factor to consider. Free will is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded and this seems to be everything in success. In other words, Matthew could’ve chosen not to go to Omega, use the table, or play with his brother and never become a champion. However, it’s much deeper than this simple explanation— another reason to read this book.

Speaking of advantages, I was probably fortunate enough to be able to pick up this book on the science of success before you. But, no worries, the second part of my goal in maximizing the advantages granted to me is to ensure I assist others in doing so as well. Here you go— Bounce by Matthew Syed.

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Photo by David Gavi on Unsplash