"I think the most general claim here," Ericsson says of his work, "is that a lot of people believe there are some inherent limits they were born with. But there is surprisingly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of exceptional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it." This is not to say that all people have equal potential. Michael Jordan, even if he hadn't spent countless hours in the gym, would still have been a better basketball player than most of us. But without those hours in the gym, he would never have become the player he was.
Ericsson's conclusions, if accurate, would seem to have broad applications. Students should be taught to follow their interests earlier in their schooling, the better to build up their skills and acquire meaningful feedback. Senior citizens should be encouraged to acquire new skills, especially those thought to require "talents" they previously believed they didn't possess.
From this great NYTimes piece by the Freakonomics duo, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Link via Tyler Cowen, who also points to other resources related to the article: an old, link-filled article in the Economist, a link-filled note on the Freakonomics blog and Ericsson's home page.
The key to becoming an expert (at anything, actually) is the process called 'deliberate practice', which "involves setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome."