Topic: Selection, IO Psychology
Publication: Social Psychological and Personality Science (2011)
Article: Deliberate Practice Spells Success: Why Grittier Competitors Triumph at the National Spelling Bee.
Authors: A.L. Duckworth, T.A. Kirby, E. Tsukayama, H. Berstein, & K. A. Anders Ericsson
Reviewed By: Scott Charles Sitrin
In 2011, the winning word at the National Spelling Bee was cymotrichous. Now look away, and try to spell that word. If you can, great; you are a championship-grade speller. If you can’t, you should probably practice. Better yet, do some deliberate practice.
Ericsson’s deliberate practice is a form of practice that is characterized by being effortful and not enjoyable. Sounds great, huh? Though doing something that is not fun and hard is not initially appealing, deliberate practice is a powerful tool that has enabled individuals to become experts in a wide variety of fields in the domains of both athletics and arts. Thanks to the work of Duckworth et al., performance in a spelling bee can be added to that list.
Specifically, it was shown that the amount of time the contestants spent memorizing words alone, a form of deliberate practice, predicted performance at the National Spelling Bee. Moreover, the contestants’ level of grit, or their perseverance and focus on long-term goals, affected the amount of deliberate practice they engaged in, and in turn, their performance. It was shown that the grittier contestants engaged in more deliberate practice, and as a result, performed better.
Though few of us aspire to be competitive spellers, the results of this study are tremendously valuable, and can be applied to a multitude of settings. In the world of business, for example, employees must learn new skills and perform under pressure, just as contestants must learn a huge amount of words and compete in a high-stakes tournament. In knowing that grit, through the mechanism of deliberate practice, predicts individuals’ ability to learn and perform, employers deciding which employee to hire could evaluate this characteristic, and use this piece of information in making the hiring decision.