Learn like an athlete, knowledge workers should train

LeBron James didn’t always have thick calves, a raging six-pack, and arms like the Incredible Hulk.

Ask LeBron about his off-season training regimen, and he’ll share a detailed run-down of his workout plan and on-the-court practice routine. When he entered the NBA, LeBron wasn’t a strong shooter. I’d bet the house that early in his career, LeBron built his off-season training regimen around his weak jump shot and disappointing 42% field goal percentage during his rookie season. As his Instagram posts reveal, LeBron worked for his strength, agility, impeccable history of injury avoidance, and an outstanding 54% field goal percentage during his 14th NBA season.

Athletes train. Musicians train. Performers train. But knowledge workers don’t.

Knowledge workers should train like LeBron, and implement strict “learning plans.” To be sure, intellectual life is different from basketball. Success is harder to measure and the metrics for improvement aren’t quite as clear. Even then, there’s a lot to learn from the way top athletes train. They are clear in their objectives and deliberate in their pursuit of improvement.

Knowledge workers should imitate them.

That is from David Perell, more at the link.  Recently, one of my favorite questions to bug people with has been “What is it you do to train that is comparable to a pianist practicing scales?”  If you don’t know the answer to that one, maybe you are doing something wrong or not doing enough. Or maybe you are (optimally?) not very ambitious?


Perhaps not all knowledge workers are equal. Software engineers spend much time in self-directed learning.

Yep, every good software engineer spends a lot of time researching and learning new techniques and technologies; and they continuously try to improve their approach in terms of design, etc.

It's not quite analogous to practicing scales or a jump short, but that's probably because software engineering isn't composed of small, discrete tasks that can be mastered by repetition.

Jump shot. Though "jump short" better describes my basketball skills as a knowledge worker.

Seriously, I don’t know who David Perell is, but apparently he’s training to up his troll game. Knowledge work is notorious for its ageism, with the only protections being to keep current or move into management. I spend most of my time learning enough to keep my ass paid.

It seems like you're making a case for ageism, at least in this one dimension. In academia, there is no such incentive. Old professors ossify or move into management.

I mean, freezing everyone’s skills in time is not desirable, but aligning business needs with maintaining a transferable skill set becomes its own optimization problem, and there is a structural bias against people who do things like buy homes, have children, and maintain and extend the product that got your company where it is. I’d love it if our society weren’t actively racing toward Logan’s Run.

Great point re transferable skill sets vs. over specializing to fit the current job.

Basically all athletes are alike and their skill set is similar. Knowledge workers simply don't fit that pattern and in fact for some of the most outstanding in the field of knowledge work we have no real idea how they do/did what they did. So to suggest some kind of contrived mental exercise to improve their skills seems to imply that the suggestion comes from ignorance (however well meant) and not from deep thinking on the subject.

Engineers waste valuable company time and resources on learning when they should be making money. Its better to fire them and hire cheap Ukranians who don't have to study because they already know. Better ROI.

Boeing 737 Max project managers approve this message

+1 Now that it has come out that the software that caused the crash was written in India by $8 an hour Indian techs who had never flown in a plane and some had never seen one.

I saw an interesting split. Some engineers researched things, and did hobby or side projects. Some punched the clock. There were actual programmers who asked me in the mid-80s "why would I want a personal computer?" That question boggled my mind.

Maybe we are focusing on a rather intense category of information worker, but I suspect you will always find that split. Some accountants jumped on new tools, some didn't. Certainly a lot of rank and file office workers were slow to "use the computer."

How many people older than 35 are good at Google?

> How many people older than 35 are good at Google?
All of the VPs, senior staff engineers, and fellows.

+1, How can you be a serious engineer or programmer and not be. Maybe you can slip by as a project manager without being able to keep up with tech changes, but I strongly doubt it.

Did you both think that was a noun. IDK, maybe the verb should be uncapitalized.

To be clear, how many over 35 can craft an effective query for a Google search?

I'd say for top score you have to know (1) how to exclude extraneous results and (2) not introduce bias.

"California Ducks" is a bad search.

"Rose Garden kerfuffle" would probably be a biased search. "What just happened in the Rose Garden" would not.

I should try to train like late career Barry Bonds.

I know there area many people who enjoy dumping on BB for his PE drugs ( maybe not you) but man, though I couldn't be bothered to watch a baseball game, I would drop everything to watch his at bats. Every at bat was magnificent.

Apparently, Barry Bonds was clean through 1998. Even without steroids he was the best player of the 1990s. He got frustrated by the absurd praise of the roided-up Sosa and McGwire in 1998 and resolved to show the world what a real all-time great could do on PEDs. Thus his 2000 to 2004 seasons around age 40.

I consider myself fortunate to have lived in the Bay Area during the years 2000-2004 and attended many Giants home games just to watch Barry at the plate. And I swear, It seemed like he hit a home run every time I was there.

I miss the steroid era. The batters were using it and so were the pitchers (Clemens, Pedro Martinez, etc). Balls were flying out of the park at a breakneck pace. It was a fun era.

Not sure if Bonds was really a better player after his alleged PED days. He wasn't as good overall player in my opinion. I think his batting average, stolen bases, and other numbers went down. Of course he was near 40 years old at the time, so that could have something to do with it.

@SS - try Adderall, after you talk to your doctor, since I hear that drug actually does enhance intellectual ability. Reminds me once of a guy who scored a perfect grade in his physics exam in uni, supposedly after taking amphetamines.

Cigarettes and coffee work better than amphetamines.

I agree with that statement, though I use a cigar to get my nicotine hit.

There is zero chance James is clean.

A lot of it is to do with working out how your reward system works and then massaging that to build on its strengths and cover its weaknesses. After all, in general, a fit person is someone who likes to exercise, rather than a lazy person who has done a cost/benefit analysis and then followed through on the results.

Not all fit people like to exercise. However, it's probably true that fit people are not lazy. Personally, I pay someone to make me exercise, because I hate it.
Also, I see going to conferences as a mechanism for forcing continued learning. That's not the only function of conferences, but merely one of them.

One-third of my job is saying, "Hey, there's this new thing that is a slight improvement over what we had before so we'll see more of it," and one half is, "This new thing is crap and don't waste your time on money on people who say it isn't." The rest is watching cat videos.

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

― Socrates

Oops, meant for the comment below. I guess I should train my website commenting skills more.

I agree with Tyler. Knowledge workers don't train. These millenials are very lazy and have large salary entitlements. I can't wait for the next recession to bring humility to these little socialists.

I've been told more than once by Americans that my country is socialist. And if things keep going as they are in a few years we'll be collecting a smaller percentage of GDP as tax than the United States. Maybe you should try going socialist as a tax cutting measure.

The NBA and the NFL are socialist. They have salary caps, big spending teams get taxed more, big market teams subsidize small market teams. Yet they manage to produce a compelling product that I pay money for. It is all about finding the right set of rules.

'The NBA and the NFL are socialist. '

Somebody is not clear on what socialism means, considering that the owners of the NBA and NFL teams are the ones are in charge of their respective leagues.

And you exclude all but .0005% of the people from that revenue.

Another way to view this stellar performance by Lebron is to say that as a superstar, Lebron James got breaks from the officials over the years, and thus was able to score more. I predict the "Greek Freak" of the Bucks will also go this route. He apparently (I don't watch b-ball) has a terrible 3-point shot, but if the refs call constant soft fouls against his opponents, I'm sure his shooting percentage will also go up. After all, I've read a good pro basketball player, who is completely unopposed (no hand in the face, not running) can make three point and/or foul shots like 80% of the time. See: https://www.teamrankings.com/nba/player-stat/free-throw-percentage

oops! Lebron James show 54% field goal percentage in 2018 and 51% in 2019, regression to the mean? Or is he just getting lazy? Or maybe refs don't think he has cache any more?

see: https://www.teamrankings.com/nba/player-stat/field-goal-percentage?season_id=215

You self-admittedly aren’t a big b-ball guy so I will cut you some slack. FG% as a stand-alone metric is very much at the disposal of shot selection, as shifts in shit selection (from 2-pt to 3-pt) happen you can see fluctuations in points-per-shot and fg-% which seem counter to each other.

The relevant point here is that his Effective-FG-% (eFG%) and true shooting percentage (TSS%). Have gone up consistently. It trends up and to the right with the last 8 years being significantly higher than the 7 before.


Lebron James eFG% has still been trending down, just like his FG%, since his peak in 2013-14. He also must have been injured in 2014-15 (Wikipedia confirms this), as his stats went down dramatically.

His team mates, role, and competition are not the same....

Comparing knowledge to sports demonstrates that you arent a knowledge worker.

Marginal Revolution is where terrible analogies go to achieve immortality.

I'd say it's more like where elephants go to retire.

The main difference is you can train at specific things in sports and have measurable results. In knowledge work, it's really hard to come up with accurate metrics to can use to track your performance.

Another difference is that sports and thinking are utterly, completely, totally, entirely different things with absolutely nothing in common whatsoever.

Unless you want to count "people do both," which is the extent of effort that went into this God-awful analogy, dutifully re-posted on MR.

I don't know if that's true, but the way it's wrong doesn't really undermine your point. It's taken more than a century to develop good performance measures in something as seemingly straightforward as baseball.

How are we supposed to do that in something like software engineering management, where everything is changing all the time?

That's a good point.

I was thinking more along the lines of something like law or medicine. How do you determine the success of a lawyer or surgeon who only takes on easy cases and does great at them vs. one who takes on challenging cases and falls short more frequently? How do you define a challenging case? How do you define success?

With Basketball, you shoot. It either goes in or doesn't (although, as another commenter noted, the refereeing may be unequal).

Another important difference is that in sports (and pianists for that matter) achievement depends on short focussed bursts of extreme high performance; training is partly a way to stay on form between these bursts.

Knowledge workers' training is called school. They go for many hours per day from the age of 5 often to their late 20s. That's more training than most athletes, musicians, and performers.

Two objections:

1) Everyone goes to school. Most athletes, musicians, and performers spend 13-17 years in school. So you can't count all of that for knowledge workers specifically.

2) How much of that schooling is spent on activities specifically directed at improving their competency in their field? In my experience, not a huge portion--even in a four year bachelor's degree aimed at making me a "knowledge worker", a lot of the time was NOT spent on improving my craft.

I appreciate that Lebron's FG percentage is higher than ever but the Lakers haven't sucked this badly in a while. With Kawhi moving in, the Lakers might not even be the best team at the Staples Center. The talent monopoly in CA almost reminds me of the tech monopoly in CA.

Well, Houston has James "Neymar" "Magellan" Harden who was the MVP this season if you follow the 95 part argument the Rockets published 8 seconds after Giannis unfairly stole the crown

His field goal percentage is not "higher than ever." In the year following the 13-14 season it dropped about .080 percentage points and hasn't been as high since. Didn't you wonder why there wasn't any data after 2013-14 in that graph?

A better profession to compare against would be a classical painter. A painter would spend a good amount of time doing studies (prototyping in programming) and playing around with the final composition (designing the system). And with each finished work, there'd be lessons learned and the artist would get better (same with the programmer). The actual execution takes long enough that there's enough time to get expert/peer feedback and improve as you go.

Knowledge works retrain when technologies changes. e.g. with the whole AI boom a number of the bay area tech workers are taking AI courses at Stanford to retrain and retool.

The general point is valid that you can always get better, but the real question is why and at what cost? If you're already on a path to retiring by 40, why not focus on other things in life that bring you more joy? The LeBrons of knowledge economy are probably working just as hard (elon musk or any number of startup founders).

Performance frequency:

Athlete: 3-5 hr/day, 4-6 month / yr
Musician: 4-20 hr/wk, 3-12 m/y

Knowledge wkr: 40-60 hr/wk, 48 wk/yr

To win his 4 gold medals at the 1984 Olympics, Carl Lewis worked out in the preceding months an average of 8 hours per week.

In some sports, either you have it or you don't.

Yes and Tony Gwynn, a great baseball player who passed away recently, pointed out many times that most baseball players did little homework or preparation.

But those days are probably over for performers of all kinds. Today there's too much science in performance and too many people willing to work hard for the lazy to survive.

Yet athletes and musicians are worshipped and paid well by society while knowledge workers are forgotten if known at all. Very inefficient way to become rich or famous.

"while knowledge workers are forgotten if known at all. "

Well, except for all those billionaire tech company owners, and the like.

Heck, I'm confident the top 50%, 20%, 10%, 1%, and 0.1% of knowledge workers are paid better than the equivalent athlete and musician. You don't just need to look at the very top to see that Bezos makes more than LeBron - it's true all the way down.

Athletes are _visible_. They are not well compensated for their skills.

Not all training is created equal. Most knowledge workers can easily coast through the day without breaking a proverbial sweat. Training means pushing to at least close to your limits, or beyond, in an attempt to expand them. Look at the people spending an hour on the treadmill at 3mph, reading magazines. They'd do better doing intervals for 15 minutes to hit their max heart rate a couple of times.

'impeccable history of injury avoidance'

Why yes, it is always an advantage to have impeccable luck when avoiding injury.

we reckon there is more to injury avoidance than luck
good technique and smart training reduce injury

'good technique and smart training reduce injury'

Reduction and avoidance may be equivalent, but they are definitely not precisely equal. Which is where luck comes into play, at least when using a word like 'impeccable.' A hundred athletes all using the same good technique and smart training will not all have an impeccable record of avoiding injury, though as a group, they will undoubtedly reduce the possibility of being injured.

we reckon mebbe Dr. Cowen chose the word "impeccable" precisely because it looks funny next to the words "history of injury avoidance"
we reckon this is also funny:

cnn real news correspondent brian karem
also diagnoses demons/demonism!

Well, it was not Prof. Cowen writing impeccable.

And I guess it depends on how you define injury. This link suggests that LeBron James has had one injury that I would consider an injury (pretty much a football fan, so injury for me routinely includes things like broken bones), making him less than perfect - https://www.foxsports.com/nba/lebron-james-player-injuries

Crikey! you changed the subject
you were talking about luck as a causal factor for injury.
outside of the sociology cult & bauhaus
in the animal world
physical injuries are better defined through the lenses of anatomy, physiology, free will genetics & cunning&reflex. (not so much luck)
i.o.w.-whats for breakfast?
we reckon Dr. Cowens use of the word "impeccable" in this context could represent a complete rejection of postmodern bullshit.

now if cnn thinks they are seeing demons
sumbody should probably call yale medical school

'you were talking about luck as a causal factor for injury.'

Um, no I was talking about luck as the sort of factor that cannot be avoided, though it can be reduced.

Interestingly, for the second time, you overlook that Prof. Cowen is merely quoting when using the word "impeccable." Leading me to again wonder whether this is just another bot foray.

seriously, it has been reported that a cnn reporter is seeing demons
we reckon this could be the reckoning the new york times.com predicted!

we reckon "load management" is a postmodern euphemism

How does the luck thing work? Rabbit's feet? properly hung horseshoe? Prayer?

Well, maybe you would prefer another term? There are quite a few of them, depending on your perspective. Basically, there are factors involved in life beyond one's control - such as the other car driver. You can reduce such accidents, but it is impossible to completely avoid them.

"Basically, there are factors involved in life beyond one's control"
Exactly. Everything that has happened since the big bang (or thereabouts). It applies to everyone that has lived and will live, exactly equally. It seems to go without saying. What information is added to the situation by introducing the concept (by any name)? It is merely... something that happened. One thing among countless others.
Admittedly a pet peeve, but the concept, as far as I can tell, is completely void of actual substance, and when used, too often results in an unresolved implication.
Bob broke his leg and couldn't race. There is nothing else. Not bad, or good luck (for his nearest competitor).

LeBron James isn't playing basketball professionally eight hours a day, five days a week. If he was, I imagine he wouldn't have a ton of time to train - he would have to get better mostly by playing lots of basketball. Aside from a few professional training programs here and there, this is the world that knowledge workers live in.

Before he started experimenting with PEDs in 1999, the great Barry Bonds barely was able to lift weights during the 162 game regular season. There are just so many games to play that he couldn't afford to what a hard lifting session did to his muscles on the next day.

And Bonds won 3 MVP awards before steroids.

BB's skill is underrated. The most difficult task in baseball is to actually hit a round ball moving approximately 135 ft/s with a cylindrical bat. Forget about home runs for a moment. To hit a line drive, you have to hit the ball "on the nose". It is so difficult that to succeed 30% of the time confers superstar status. At his peak, which lasted at least a decade, the best pitchers in baseball could not throw a strike past him.

What happened to Barry Bonds was tragic.

My favorite SB Nation Chart Party asks the question, "What if Barry Bonds played without a bat?" See the link below.

I feel like, as a nation, we've mismanaged the response to PEDs and could have come up with something better. Because Bonds was amazing and it's sad to lose that.


As your wrestling coach will tell you, the more and smarter you train (drill) the better your luck will be. although it probably won't be "impeccable". *

In any sport you have to take risks to score (succeed) and risks bring the possibility of injury.

'In any sport you have to take risks to score (succeed) and risks bring the possibility of injury.'


And then there is (or was) NHL hockey, and mid-70s international soccer - injuring opponents was a strategic decision in terms of winning games.

Our interest is in Australian basketball.

There is a shortage of ambition these days. Only a few obvious ones like Elon or Bezos have it. But everybody else just wants to get paid big bucks for paper shuffling and do the bureaucratic dance. How many truly ambitious ideas come from the prestige industries like consulting or banking? Shockingly few. It is a place for the elite to park their idiot nephews whose collective mediocrity can be richly rewarded and occasionally bailed out. It is neither work nor knowledge.

Seriously, do Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg (or Steve Jobs, Bill Gates in prior periods) practice the intellectual equivalent of musical scales? I wonder how they'd answer this question. I think someone like Buffett or Munger would say they read a whole lot.

Gates was well known for systematically taking a week off every year, and reading a literal pile of books, on a wide range of topics.

His current fave is Vaclav Smil - he has committed himself to reading all of Smil's books.

“What is it you do to train that is comparable to a pianist practicing scales?” Nothing like playing scales but knowledge workers train playing the full song.

Contract negotiation is trial and error in its purest form. It's much better to support and be advised by a mentor during a real contract negotiation than role play with your colleagues as client and consultant in a meeting room.

Learning a new language to get more clients is another way of training. Finding an interesting publication, understanding the math behind it, and successfully sell the idea to a client is knowledge work. It's a bit embarrassing to compare knowledge work to physical training.

Finally, athletes have a team of babysitters behind them providing them food, shelter and medical care. They require the attention of several people to function properly. Knowledge workers often take care or are responsible of other people such as family, colleagues or juniors. Thus, please don't compare attention black holes (athletes) to people who give a lot of time to others (knowledge workers).

Other commenters have already pointed out huge flaws in David Perell's and Tyler's arguments, I'll add one more:

In any research-oriented field, there's a continual flood of new information that the worker must keep up with. That means continually acquiring new information and learning new skills.

So the equivalent of practicing of scales or shooting baskets is to be reading articles, working out the equations yourself, writing new code (or learning new software), and then trying to do your own research or write your own article or produce your own program.

If LeBron James was continually faced with new rules of basketball: the 3-point line getting moved each season, introduction of a 4-point line, adding a sixth player on the floor, etc. etc. then he'd have to continually do what researchers do: spend time learning how to deal with the new environment. Or if a musician was faced with learning a new instrument before each performance, they wouldn't even be able to practice scales at first, they'd need to learn how to produce a middle C note that didn't sound like a yowling cat.

Perhaps Sure or another MD might comment on how much time MDs (GPs vs. specialist) spend on training (skills or knowledge) after they begin to practice.

I have family member who is a CPA. They are required to do 40 hours a year of "continuing education" to maintain their license. Depending on the CPA's attitude, this ranges from complete waste of time "I sat there" attendance to very directly useful "detailed review of this year's changes in the tax law". I'd class this as knowledge rather than skills training, although there is some skills training available, often classes as practice management.

Perell's article is basically B's, but the topic is a good one. His emphasis on his pal that learned R and studied tax code is uninteresting.

Otoh, continuing education is an interesting topic. Personally, I use EdX and Coursera. Time is finite and precious, so I gave up Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The most famous athlete who sold us "hard work" as his recipe for extraordinary success was Lance Armstrong. It's normal to be a little bit suspicious...

Careful - Lance has successfully sued people after accusing them of lying about his reasons for success.

Basically, Lance Armstrong is a total scumbag cheater, and these days, he can no longer claim that he is being defamed when someone states the truth about him.

>Lance Armstrong is a total scumbag cheater

Nice job being careful, there.

I'm guessing you are unaware of what happened after those successful defamation lawsuits, after Armstrong was unmasked as a lying scumbag.

I am a lawyer, which is a form of knowledge worker. What happens in law is the tendency to narrow one's expertise (and focus), to learn one thing, learn it well, attract clients (work) as a result, and then repeat what has worked in the past. In the past, almost all lawyers were generalists, and as generalists had to constantly learn new areas of the law. Lebron is a basketball generalist. A basketball specialist would be a player whose primary role is situational, such as a player who comes off the bench to injure an opposing player who is having a good night scoring. I exaggerate to make the point - although in truth there are such situational players. As a generalist, Lebron must constantly work to improve different facets of his game as opposing teams make adjustments intended to limit his scoring opportunities. Because the game around him is constantly changing, Lebron doesn't have the luxury to learn one thing, learn it well, and rely on that one thing for his career. Cowen has many blog posts lately about the value of generalists. Lebron, a basketball generalist, adds a lot of value to his team.

The so-called Human Performance Institute is built around the idea that we should train in a way similar to athletes. It started as a program for tennis players.


I was originally trained to be a tax lawyer, going an extra year of law school taking only tax courses to get an advanced degree, and starting my career in the tax department of a large firm. Fast forward to the 1980s and an accountant called and asked if I could advise a group of surgeons who wished to organize an outpatient surgery center (my state had just deregulated surgery centers in the sense of eliminating the CON requirement), this long before there were any so-called self-referral laws, federal or state. In my naivete I accepted the engagement. And the rest is my history. As new laws and regulations were adopted limiting physicians' ability to self-refer, I constantly had to learn the new law and apply it to specific situations. Observant readers will see the similarity between practicing tax law and what's now called health care law: interpretation of constantly changing laws and regulations of general applicability and applying them to specific situations. The point of this post is that knowledge workers in particular areas of expertise have unique skills that can be applied to different areas that require the same kind of thinking skills (such as deductive or inductive reasoning). Am I a better basketball player because I trained myself in a different area of the law? No, but I am a better lawyer.

r u s u r e ?

James and all professional performers spend a small fraction of their professional lives performing, so it makes sense for them to spend time training. Without looking at their schedule, I'd be quite willing to bet I spend far more hours a year in my knowledge worker job than he does in his game. I train while doing, and don't have time to play around practicing scales or whatever the equivalent might be.

Interesting that I should read this on the same day that I read another article specifically pointing out that there is more than one way to "train like an athlete". https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jul/12/generalise-dont-specialise-why-focusing-too-narrowly-is-bad-for-us

The Tiger Woods model is not the only way. Frequently, generalists > specialists.

Perell is right, yet he offers no advice regarding evidence-based learning strategies. I'm a professional musician and I've been researching the topic for the last few years. Without the right learning method where are blind.

Tyler, how do you structure your learning?

Training like an athlete is a great idea. How Dani do it? Where can I get a specific training plan for topic X?

Anyone got a link to some Excel drills I could run in my spare time?

There's another crucial difference that I'd like to point out. When was the last time that the rules of basketball radically changed? Were pianists practicing scales and technical exercises that differently fifty years ago?

In software, for example, the technologies and the approach to development can change at such a pace that new technologies can be almost incomprehensible to those working with yesterday's code. Sure, there are fundamentals that rarely change, but that's the basics, not the stuff that can make someone a virtuoso in the marketplace.

It would be like LeBron James waking up one day to discover that the game of basketball had morphed in to something more like ice hockey.

Does this topic suggest that Americans have forgotten the numerous sophistries that came out of Harvard University three decades ago with the "multiple intelligences 'theory' (sic)" of Howard Gardner?

--or does this tell us instead that Americans did such a poor job of burying Gardner's "theory" of multiple idiocies that it now returns from its putrid grave at the behest of a new cohort of pedagogical frauds and hucksters?

(Do female economists employed by schools of public affairs spend much time [any time?] analyzing training drills of professional athletes for application in their analyses of public policies? What explanatory power might this hold?)

perell is a salesman. note the generalities, the overly confident tone of the piece, the lack of enthusiasm for counterarguments. note the hilariously brazen choice of endpoints for the graph (lebron shot 48.8% and 52.0% in the two years after '13-'14). this is just modern-day tony robbins whipping up sophisticated bullshit trying to directly or indirectly route you to his paid courses.

and it's not that i have a problem with salesmen. tiago forte, who perell has collaborated with, has the same sales instinct but is also smart, insightful, and selling valuable, specific techniques. perell i genuinely don't think there's anything underneath; it's fluff and air all the way down. the "product" is a brief dopamine hit of understanding that disintegrates after 30 seconds (or sooner if you're in the habit of thinking while you read).

Even the photo accompanying Perell's story is misleading. The woman in the picture is not lifting that weight; it is supported by uprights in the rack where it is secured. She simply has her hands on the bar.

Most people who keep playing get better and better at shooting.

Look at LeBron's free-throw percentage over time and you will see that he is getting worse. Always the iconoclast.

This idea can be found in HBR in 2001, The Making of a Corporate Athlete by Loehr and Schwartz. The first step I have with any idea is to make sure it isn’t nearly 20 years old. The main idea is how did LeBron James actually improve his FG%. As noted above, he can only spend so much time lifting weights. Probably shooting form study and repetition and in game video study.

Tyler, what is it you do to train that is comparable to a pianist practicing scales?

I write this blog, for one thing.

Best self-recommending satire site on the Internet.

Lebron James doesn't play basketball every single weekday already.

u can monetize debt as well

The analogy only goes so far as we have seen in the above posts. But in the end it is a good reminder (at least for me) that in order to improve we have to do something, get feedback on that performance, and then determine if we want to make improvements. This alone won't lead to great results (or million dollar salaries), but it is likely a necessary if not sufficient part of the performance equation. Tom Gilbert built a time-tested model for how this and the other pieces fit together in his 1978 book -- Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance. So we have known for a good while what works, we typically just choose not to do it (i.e., the ROI isn't there maybe). Lebron can make millions by improving and will lose millions if he doesn't, for most of us the gains/losses are not that dramatic. Loses/gains might be that dramatic for our companies, but improving team performance is more complex than improving individual performance.

For me, the best approach is often forcing myself through commitment. Once I committed to doing a science podcast (parsingscience.org), for example, then I committed to daily reading of research articles from diverse disciplines -- and getting feedback from my co-host on what I missed, what was good, what should be questioned, etc. It is not exactly like shooting a thousand free throws, but there is a parallel in there somewhere (I think).

Lebron most certainly always did have massive calves and a six-pack. You don't just "work out" to get his physique – he is probably one of the most naturally talented athletes of all-time, and would have become an NBA superstar without any off-court training.

In my prior life, a co-worker once met and asked Lebron specifically about his huge legs. Lebron said much of his physical makeup is natural, and he indicated he didn't do anything special or unusual to get his build.

LeBron James was a genetic freak who was attracting national attention at the age of 14 because of his freakishness.

He's not LeBron James because of his hard work.

His FG % has gone up because he's taking fewer bad shots, not because he's working so hard on his craft. His FT% (a simple product of practice) has in fact declined in recent years as has his 3PT. Unlike Jordan and Kobe, who were known for their incredible work ethic and expanded their games to the post when their athletic abilities declined, LeBron has not developed a post game despite his size.

"He's not LeBron James because of his hard work."

He's Lebron because of genetics AND his hard work. There's been a thousand stories about how he will go and practice a shot he missed in a game over a hundred times at the next practice, ect. That and studying his opponents.

He was a superstar as a teenager. He hasn't improved his shooting or skill level very much as a professional. He's largely a star because of genetics.

Did you miss the big honking graph at the top of the page? Improving, and at a time where he's got more minutes played than any other active player.

Talent isn't uniformly responsive to practice across disciplines. A 2014 meta-study found, ‘deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions.’ Knowledge workers may or may not find practice helpful. Fluid intelligence is not the sort of thing that works like piano scales. More here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/do-you-even-know-what-good-talent-looks-like-anymore-how-henry-oliver/

Good read. Thanks. Last night I almost wanted to leave a flip quote about doing drills to increase my IQ, because I really feel that is a constraint and I do see my limitations there.
As to knowledge work, it seems I just get better at new things by diving in and doing more of whatever it is - more of a craft-like approach.

Writers can stay sharp between assignments by posting wryly insightful comments on MR

Taking Tyler's question as how do you keep your very basic skills sharp, I've started memorizing poetry. Considering putting some brain teasers into the daily mix. And practicing my recorder as much as I should.

Virtually all of the software and statistics I currently use did not even exist when I was in school--I've had to learn it.

Playing modern board games may be similar to a pianist doing scaled, but for knowledge workers.

This reminds me of this passage from Richard Hamming's 1986 speech

"Now for the matter of drive. You observe that most great scientists have tremendous drive. I worked for ten years with John Tukey at Bell Labs. He had tremendous drive. One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not. Well I went storming into Bode's office and said, "How can anybody my age know as much as John Tukey does?" He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, grinned slightly, and said, "You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years." I simply slunk out of the office!

"What Bode was saying was this: Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest. Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works ten percent more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity — it is very much like compound interest. I don't want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate. Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime."

What's the point with "learn like an athlete".

Simply learn like Prof. Cowen does.

"They are clear in their objectives and deliberate in their pursuit of improvement."

If only the education cartel taught students, soon to be knowledge workers how to study. Independently. Instead they are conditioned to passive learning while feeding the sinecures of the teachers.

The factors of studying:
1. Provision for Specific Purposes
2. The Supplementing of Thought
3. The Organization of Ideas
4. Judging the Soundness and General Worth of Statements
5. Memorizing
6. The Using of Ideas
7. Provision for a Tentative rather than a Fixed Attitude toward Knowledge
8. Provision for Individuality - develop your own opinion before you consider those of others.

If LeBron intelligently spent time practicing his shooting skills, one would expect to see improvement in his free throw shooting. The free throw is the only shot that is both from a stationary location and unguarded. His free throw percentage is dismal; his percentage for the just-completed season was .665, the lowest since he joined the NBA. Compare that to Steph Curry's .916 free throw percentage last year.

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