Posts Tagged ‘deliberate practice’

Practice Makes Performance

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

The old saying, “practice makes perfect” is not completely accurate. In fact, only perfect practice makes perfect, because the more you practice making mistakes, the better you get at making them.

Princeton University tennis coach, Glenn Michibata said, “I tell my players they have to practice two hours a day to stay the same, and more if they want to get better.” Of course, he’s talking about elite level players. But even for a recreational player, less than two hours, three days a week and one is barely going to maintain a level of performance. He or she will likely not improve with that little practice.

I started thinking about how that applies to the workplace. How often does a manager or leader practice management or leadership skills? How often does a worker practice the skills they need? Some would reply that they’re doing that every minute of the day, and with most putting in over eight hours a day, that’s a lot of practice.

But it’s not practicing the way Michibata’s tennis players do.

Remember, practice does not make perfect – only perfect practice makes perfect. How much of that eight hours is spent practicing the right skills, and how much the wrong ones?

Sticking to the tennis example, do you think that when Michibata’s players practice for two hours, they’re practicing by playing a match? They’re not. Instead, they’re using deliberate practice strategies: They hit serves, then forehands, backhands, volleys, overheads, and then practice footwork. They do drills. In fact, playing a match is a rarity. Why? Because focusing on separate skills allows a player to practice perfectly. And more efficiently.

So, in the workplace, what if managers and leaders or anyone else practiced specific skills, just like tennis players do?

For example:

  • As a leader, one needs to listen, so why not practice listening? Prior to walking into a meeting, remind yourself to focus on listening. Then listen.
  • Practice making decisions – look for opportunities to make decisions in all walks of life. When people ask, “Where do you want to eat?” make the decision.
  • As a manager, one needs to think both tactically and strategically, so why not practice that? When faced with a project, take time to think tactically for a while, and then switch and look at what’s best from a long-term strategic basis.
  • When writing a memo or email, take just a few extra minutes to consider whether you can make it more clear. Practice communicating through writing.
  • As an employee, pick one skill that if you could improve it, would make you a superstar, and focus on practicing it.

    With just a little focused, specific, deliberate practice, your performance could take you to an all-new level. And who knows what impact that would have on your professional and personal life.

    Who Wants To Be A Superstar?

    Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

    I have point to make: I could take just about anyone and turn them into a superstar. And just to be clear, it’s not just me that could do it. You could, too. Laszlo Polgar proved it by developing three sisters into the greatest women chess players of all time.

    I’m tired of hearing about athletes, musicians, artists, and business people who were apparently born with some special talent. I’m here to say it doesn’t work like that. High performers were not born that way. They developed into high performers.

    Study after study in recent years, especially a series of them by Anders Ericsson, have shown that high performers in a variety of activities developed their talent through very focused, deliberate, hard work. Practice leads to talent; birth doesn’t.

    From Mozart to Michael Jordan, from Steve Jobs to Roger Federer, the key to high performance was and is not what one is born with, but what one does with what they’re born with.

    But it’s not just practice. It’s strategic practice that makes the difference. In a study of violinists, what separated the average from the great is that the latter practiced more. As much as eight times as much, in fact. The surprising finding of the study is what separated the greats from those who are even better – the superstars. The super-high performers practiced no more than the greats. But it was the quality of the practice that made the difference. The superstars practiced the real challenging, difficult, unpleasant stuff, and they were more strategic in how they practiced.

    And that’s where I come in. I could take practically anyone, and with the right strategic practice, could turn that person into a high performer. My job is developing the right practice strategy.

    The next time someone talks about natural talent, stop them. Why? Because by labeling someone as having talent, you insult them. You may even encourage the person to practice less. After all, if the person was born with natural talent, they don’t need to practice.

    Instead of complimenting a person on their natural talent, compliment them on all the hard, strategic work they put into developing their skills.

    High performance has more to do with the skills and talent one develops through hard work and strategic practice. And that’s why you or I could take just about anyone and turn them into a superstar. It’s all about creating the right development plan.

    This also means that you’re capable of superstar performance – if you’re not quite there already.

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    The Myth About Natural Talent

    Friday, December 19th, 2008

    I’ve recently read two books that talk about similar subjects: Outlier, by Malcolm Gladwell (author of the best-selling Blink and The Tipping Point), and Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin. Both books back up what I’ve been saying for years, and what I wrote about in my Speed Secrets books. Great performers in any activity, whether sport, music, arts, business or whatever are not born with more talent than average performers.

    What makes superstars what they are is not what they’re born with. It’s what they’ve done with what they were born with that makes the difference.

    Outliers I’d recommend you read both these books, but the simple overview of what both authors write about is that factors other than talent have more to do with success and great performances than anything else. Gladwell, in Outliers, says that cultural experiences and timing have as much to do with success than anything else, and perhaps more. He uses numerous examples that support his claim, including Bill Gates, professional hockey players, and musicians. And one of the most powerful factors that determine their success is the date of their birth! And no, is has nothing to do astrological signs.

    Talent-overratedIn Talent is Overrated, Colvin counts on research from a variety of sources that support his claim that
    practice plays the biggest role in great performance. And not just any practice, either. It has to be what he and researchers call “deliberate practice.”

    Interestingly, both these books have been published within months of each other, and they strongly support each other’s message. It’s like both authors were on the same wavelength. And, while my theories follow directly along with what’s said in each book, and some of it was based on research that I’d read, most of what I’ve talked and written about has come from my observations of great performers, and not-so-great performers. I observed exactly what the research in these books suggest.

    I’ve personally seen people with what initially appeared to be average (at best) talent rise to a point where others begin commenting about his or her “natural talent” making them what they are today. And sadly, I’ve witnessed people who seem to have something special at an early age, but who didn’t use “deliberate practice,” and who turned out to be average performers.

    While reading these two books, I recognized that much of my approach to coaching, and what’s help me make others successful, is my use of “deliberate practice.” I’m “famous” for giving my coachees what I just call strategies for development. Although I’ve known that my approach has worked, it’s nice when one finds scientific research that supports what you’ve known and used for a while.

    Read Outliers and Talent is Overrated.