Best-Selling Author of The Sports Gene
Are stars like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Serena Williams genetic freaks put on Earth to dominate their respective sports? Or are they simply normal people who overcame their biological limits through sheer force of will and obsessive training? In the decade since the sequencing of the human genome, researchers have slowly begun to uncover how the relationship between biological endowments and a competitor’s training environment affects athleticism. Based on his bestselling book The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, David Epstein, a reporter at ProPublica, tackles the great nature vs. nurture debate and traces how far science has come in solving this timeless riddle. Read More >
TEDTalk: Are Athletes Really Getting Faster, Better, Stronger?
Juggling Through Implicit Learning
CLSA Investors' Forum 2014
Appearance on Good Morning America
2014 Sports Summit with Tony Hawk
Epstein Versus Gladwell: The Sports Gene Versus 10,000 Hours
As sports have become high stakes, global competitions, the performance margins that differentiate good, great and legendary have shrunk dramatically. Fortunately, cutting edge science has shone a light on the best path to peak performance, and it contradicts the most popular notions about skill acquisition, like the famed “10,000-hours Rule.” That argument says that only accumulated hours of practice matter to success. In fact, though, future experts start off practicing less in their eventual discipline than their peers. David Epstein explains just what it is that future elites are doing during that time that primes them for later (and greater) success. He also dissects how — once at the top competitive level — athletes are using “small data” to find what factors most matters for performance, and which of those they can change in the pursuit of the final 0.5% of performance. The conclusions from elite sports can guide any individual or team in the search to find their personal 0.5%.
What’s the most effective path to success in any domain? It’s not what you think. Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you’ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But a closer look at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule. David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields—especially those that are complex, unpredictable, and difficult to automate—generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.
Today’s rapidly evolving knowledge economy has created a major challenge for every business: employees have to keep learning and evolving on the job. Traditional training approaches — lectures and workshops that are separated from the work experience — aren’t enough. The typical result: after an initial learning period, most people tend not to get much better at the most complicated parts of their work--the parts that entail what psychologists call “wicked” learning environments. A wicked learning environment has too little feedback, and what feedback does exist is either delayed or incomplete, which severely undermines learning. In this talk, David Epstein shares the science of how to build in feedback mechanisms that facilitate on-the-job learning in a constantly changing environment.
Since Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in chess in 1997 — leading to the ominous Newsweek cover, “The Brain’s Last Stand” — every sector has had to grapple with how (and whether) to incorporate AI. As it turned out, though, Deep Blue’s triumph was not nearly the brain’s last stand. A similar cycle of promise and hype has proliferated in the wake of Google-owned AlphaZero’s staggering success. Unlike Deep Blue, AlphaZero taught itself how to play chess, and promptly destroyed the competition. And yet, AlphaZero has not sealed the brain’s last stand — not even close. In this talk, David Epstein will use real-world examples — from chess and self-driving cars to IBM’s Jeopardy!-winning Watson and Google’s flu prediction project — to discuss the opposite strengths and weaknesses of humans and computers, and how you can use that knowledge to smartly incorporate AI into any workplace.
Mass media is rife with “learning hacks” and “brain training” exercises that promise to speed up your ability to assimilate important information and skills. The bad news is that the vast majority of them are total nonsense and have no scientific backing. The good news is that there is a short list of true learning strategies that are among the most rigorously supported findings in all of cognitive psychology, and they work from grade school to grad school. And yet, they are virtually ignored. In this talk, David Epstein details the most effective known strategies for learning, and how they make new knowledge durable (it sticks) and flexible (it can be applied widely). From how to use tests as the ultimate educational tool to how to order learning experiences for maximum retention, science-backed strategies may not be as fast as the shiny new learning hack in that Medium post you read, but they have one major benefit: they work!
As athletes have gotten better, and as the performance gaps between elites have narrowed, sports have become far more than simple physical competitions — they have morphed into learning contests. Sports scientists search furiously for any way that skills can be taught and learned more rapidly and more completely, and much of what they’ve found applies in any teaching arena. Read More >
Epstein shares with audiences specific tips and tools that can applied right away to bolster learning like:
These are just a few of the cutting edge findings from the science of skill acquisition in sports that Epstein will share. With the concrete instructional examples he includes, any teacher will walk away with something new to try. Read Less ^
"The event went great! Everything went very smoothly and his presentation was amazing. Everyone had a great time at the event and so many people were extremely engaged."
"Your message was perfect. Interestingly, the feedback has been as overwhelmingly positive about the science that you provided in addition to the message. Our group thought you had hand designed the presentation for us as sports scientists, and it resonated deeply. The way you approached the book as well as how you presented what you found, combines imagination with well-grounded data and makes your message beyond entertaining...exactly what we were looking for. Thanks again, and look forward to seeing what you get us into next!"
"We were fortunate to have David Epstein, our presidential keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the American Medical Society of Sports Medicine. He was phenomenal. He was very accommodating and gave an outstanding, informed and entertaining lecture. A few examples of the overwhelmingly positive comments from the audience follow: 'One of the best speakers we've ever had;' 'Best session of the day;' 'Certainly enjoyed this discussion.' 'Best talk of the conference, hands down;' 'One of the best lectures I have ever heard. Fascinating, well researched, and funny.'"
"David's presentation made a huge impact at our annual leadership summit. His flawless, enthralling presentation on late specialization was a complete package of fascinating data and illustrations. Speaking to an audience of elite military veterans studying medicine, business, public policy, mental health, law, and the arts, his message was universally applicable to those with unique skill sets who may feel momentarily 'behind' in a new career. He was the highest rated speaker for the second year in a row by our attendees!"
"David Epstein's keynote address was a huge hit with the Strata audience. Through the combination of humor and skillful storytelling, David was able to make sports science come alive for our diverse crowd of data enthusiasts. The most successful keynotes require excellent pacing, great content, and the ability to draw people in and keep them engaged. David did all three successfully at Strata Santa Clara. Based on the comments we've received, his presentations were definitely crowd favorites at this year's conference."
"I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your presentation. Not only were you engaging and the presentation itself visually appealing, but your conclusions and your passion fit seamlessly into the theme of our program. I think our participants were very receptive to your message. Thanks for joining us. You were a highlight of the conference."
"It was great to meet you today. You gave an outstanding presentation. Your talk was extremely generative, not only in terms of understanding sports performance, but also pure science. I found your storytelling and science communication skills to be off the charts. I have worked with a lot of scientists, many among the top in their fields, and while I know you identify yourself as a journalist, your talk was the best science presentation I have ever seen. You are at the top of your game."
"Everyone LOVED David Epstein! We are so looking forward to having him back some day. I can’t tell you how many times I heard 'this was the best talk ever.' Thank you again for you and your team helping with the organization and being so patient with my response time. You all are wonderful. I hope we work together again soon."
"His speech was well received by the audience at the forum…everything worked perfectly. Many of the participants were impressed by the amount of preparation he put into his presentations and visual/audio aids. It made the speech more engaging for the non-English speaking audience."
"David's keynote speech was very well received! His comments hit the mark and resonated very well with the audience. He gave an engaging message, and I am quite impressed with him. Thank you very much for your support through the whole selection process. I will certainly be using your service again!"