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Do You Know Why You Are Good at What You Do?

Our new “Freakonomics” column in the New York Times Magazine asks a fundamental — but very hard – question: When someone is very good at a given thing, what is it that actually makes him good?

To find the answer to this question, we turned to Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University and the ringleader of what might be called the Expert Performance Movement. Ericsson and his colleagues have spent years trying to figure out how the best pianists, golfers, soccer players, surgeons, writers, stockbrokers, and chess players in the world got so good. How far can talent take you? What role does selection play – and how about practice?

For me at least, this was easily one of the funnest columns we’ve written. Child car seats and crack cocaine and NASCAR crashes may be sexier subjects, but to me the issues of talent vs. skill vs. environment are fundamentally fascinating. And the implications of Ericsson’s work are very broad. As always, we’ve posted some complementary materials, including a few papers by Ercisson and others working in the field.