May 062011
 
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There Is No Instant Success

Deliberate Practice Is The Only Way To Become Great

Occasionally, we hear of a competitor, an athlete, or a person in a particular field of endeavor who “came out of nowhere” and appeared on the scene as a major contender. This “instant success” is hardly ever the case. Upon further investigation, almost invariably, this person has had years of preparation and training, and not just random practice here and there. In order to reach expert level in most anything, according to prominent researchers on the subject (for example, see many of the works of K. A. Ericsson), it takes around 10,000 hours (or 10 years) of deliberate practice. This is a form of practice where you don’t just go out and hit a bucket of balls (for example) each day; rather, you hit that bucket of balls (or 20 of them) with a particular iron, with a particular objective in mind, bearing in mind and noting any issues you had. You then focus in on improving your swing and your approach in your areas of weakness. This is a “continuous feedback” loop that will keep you improving. You don’t just go out and “hit your favorite iron” over and over again and hope for improvement.

I am lucky to have an advisory and coaching practice that spans strategic planning, startup and entrepreneurial development, and peak performance coaching. It is a truly fascinating area, as it deals with human potential and performance, individually and in teams and larger organizations. In my experience and observation, the “10,000 hour rule” really does hold true. While it may not be a hard and fast rule at 10,000 hours, it’s a good approximation of the time anyone will need to invest if they want to reach “master” or “expert” level in their chosen endeavor. Most remarkably, this benchmark is not widely known or talked about, and further, even among those that are aware of it, they don’t often stop to consider the implications. The main implication, from my perspective, is that most people will never reach the expert level at anything. Why? Because even if they do end up doing something consistently for ten years, and most will not, they will not have done it in a “deliberate” way. Rather than have 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, they will have had 10,000 one-hour, relatively random, relatively unconnected experiences.

This reality holds true regardless of the field of endeavor we look at. If you are a golfer, or you understand golf to some extent, think for a moment about how the vast majority of people shoot almost the same score (let’s say within 5 strokes), for 30 years or more! How is this possible? Is it because they are simply incapable of doing better? In most cases, OF COURSE NOT! It happens this way because most of them are not practicing “deliberately”. The easiest way to do so would be to work with a coach who understands the concept of deliberate practice. But it’s also very possible, though perhaps a bit more difficult, to practice deliberately on your own. Do most people do so? No they do not. Instead, they essentially go out and play the same round of golf over and over again. Now that may be OK, depending what their objectives are. For example, if their score really doesn’t matter much to them and they just want to be out there to get some exercise and enjoy themselves, so be it. That is a perfectly valid pursuit. If, however, they are truly trying to become “masters” or “experts” with this approach, they are deceiving themselves. It will never happen.

So does this reality only apply to sports? Not at all. It applies to any endeavor, physical or mental, at which you are trying to become an expert. Think about it in terms of your small business or your job. Do you “practice deliberately”? Do you analyze your weaknesses and constantly strive to improve in these areas, day in and day out? Or do you just stick to the things you like to do and feel comfortable with and metaphorically, like the golfer above, continue to play the same round and shoot the same score, day after day, quarter after quarter, year in and year out? Take a close look. Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if you are willing to do what it takes to become a “master” or “expert” in your sport, business, field, or other area of endeavor. If not, consider doing something else, as dabbling will not get you anywhere you are likely to want to go.

I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Paul Morin
paul@companyfounder.com
www.companyfounder.com.

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