The art of deliberate practice
Over years of working with 100’s of small, medium and large business, and with the people in those organisations, I have noticed one practice that sets them apart. Now, I am not saying this is the secret to a successful business; I would not be so crass. But it is worth a deeper look to understand this practice.
Many of us are familiar with this wonderful quote; yet many of us still miss the meaning behind it:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends on a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where-” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough”.
Many of you will claim it’s obvious; it’s about having a goal and focusing on it. But this is only half of the practice. What I am referring to is the art of ‘deliberate practice’.
To define: deliberate practice is a highly-structured activity engaged in with the specific goal of improving performance. It was first talked about by K Anders Ericsson in his paper: ‘The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance’.
When I speak to people they muse that individuals are born with ‘talent’. But the good news is that the ‘Entrepreneurs gene’ has never been discovered. It does not exist. In fact, when examining the world’s most successful companies/business owners you would have thought that they would be…
more blessed by LUCK
more RISK TAKERS
more prone to making BOLD MOVES
BUT this is NOT the case as outlined by the research that Jim Collins carried out for his bestselling book ‘Great by Choice’. The research demonstrated that none of the above characteristics were in play for the most successful great companies.
So; what is deliberate practice and why is it so important?
Ericson broke down the art of deliberate practice into four stages:
1). You must be motivated to attend to your task and exert effort to improve your performance.
2). The design of your task should consider your pre-existing knowledge so that the task can be correctly understood after a brief period of instruction.
3). You should receive immediate informative feedback and knowledge of results of your performance.
4). You should repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? However, most businesses I meet are constantly looking around for the next thing ‘big’ that will catapult their business forward and race to the next shiny object. It’s how the gurus of this world will market to you with the lure of success.
We have all seen the famous scene from ‘The Karate Kid’ where Mr Miyagi teaches Daniel-san to ‘wax on, wax off’ and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it until it became second nature. In my past, with my dancing, we would practice on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, not Friday (even then I didn’t work Fridays!), lessons on a Saturday and then competitions on a Sunday. And we did this for 8 years.
The key though is we did not just do this willy-nilly, we have a deliberate practice we followed every single time and it is the four steps above.
Your practice must be: intentional, focused on improving your performance, designed for your current skill level, takes you out of your comfort zone, combined with immediate feedback and repetitious.
It is what made David Beckham the footballer he became. He said:
“I must have taken tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands [of free kicks]. I would go to the local park, place the ball on the ground and aim at the wire meshing over the window of a small community hut.”
“I would carry on playing when I got home. I wasn’t allowed a football in the house so I would practice by kicking the Care Bears in my sister’s bedroom. My mum thought it was funny but is showed how much I loved football. I couldn’t get enough of it.”
You see practice does not make perfect, deliberate practice does.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his excellent book ‘The Outliers’, suggests that there is a 10,000-hour rule and after you have performed something for 10,000 hours you have become an expert in that task. This philosophy has been readily accepted and quoted in lots of different journals and to some part, I agree, however, if you are not following the deliberate practice 4 steps rule then all you would be doing in those 10,000 hours is to get better at getting worse.
In business, there are some key skills, knowledge and functions that are needed to run a successful business regardless of what field you are in, and the size of your business areas such as marketing, sales, finance, leadership, product development etc.
It is your role as the business leader/owner to excel, or find someone to excel, in these areas to grow and reap the rewards for your business.