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“This is where we are, with people essentially talking past one another,” said Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and scientific director of the Imagination Institute, which funds research into creativity. And because truly elite performance takes many years to achieve, he said, the exact contribution of practice may never be known precisely.

Yet the range of findings and level of disagreement are themselves hints that there are likely to be factors involved in building expertise that are neither genetic nor related to the amount of practice time.

What’s needed, then, is a language to measure the quality of conditions: the emergent combination of effective strategies and motivation that spark improvement. And with that in mind, I’d like to offer the REPS Gauge, which consists of four elements.

  • R stands for Reaching/Repeating.
  • E stands for Engagement.
  • P stands for Purposefulness
  • S stands for Strong, Immediate Feedback.

The idea behind the REPS Gauge is simple: To develop talent, seek to create environments that contain these conditions, and avoid those that don’t.

1: Reaching and Repeating. Does the practice have you operating in the sweet spot on the edge of your ability, reaching and repeating?

2: Engagement. Does this engage your sense of identity--are you activated by a vision of your future self being skilled at this task? Do you have clear, compelling role models of who you want to become?

3: Purposefulness. Does the task directly connect to the skill you want to build? Are you working strategically on the skills that build competence?

4: Strong, Direct, Immediate Feedback. Can you sense when you’re making mistakes and when you’re not? Can you use those mistakes to guide you to better performance?