Jul 052012

practice does not make perfect

Practice Does Not Make Perfect; Practice Makes Permanent.

I was at a soccer (“football” for most outside the United States) training session recently and heard this expression, which I hadn’t heard for a while:  Practice Does Not Make Perfect; Practice Makes Permanent.  It never made much of an impression on me in the past, but this time it really resonated, as I was watching players make the same technical errors over and over again.

The corollary expression is, of course:  Perfect Practice Makes Perfect!  But what is “perfect practice”?

In many cases, as I’ve written elsewhere, perfectionism can be very destructive and can impede you from reaching your goals, rather than helping you get there.  When it comes to practicing correctly though, seeking perfection, in my opinion, is a worthwhile goal.  I have always believed that you will compete the way you practice.  I have seen it time and again in my own athletic endeavors and those of the teams and players I have coached.

Does this same concept apply to business and other endeavors beyond sports?  I would argue that it does.  The most effective and successful business people I know are meticulous about how they “practice” and they are very deliberate in taking note of and adjusting to the feedback they receive from their markets and other constituencies.

The concept of the 10,000 hour rule for becoming an expert and the related idea of deliberate practice have been widely embraced in recent years.  They are often credited to Malcolm Gladwell, as he popularized the ideas in his book Outliers, but they were, in fact, originated by Ericsson and others, many years before.

An important element of “deliberate practice” is feedback.  The idea is that it is not sufficient to just practice for 10,000 hours; rather, in order to become an expert, you must practice deliberately, with feedback, always seeking to correct and improve upon errors you are making.  In other words, you are seeking perfect practice!

So, what is “perfect practice”?

First, notice that nowhere in these concepts is it expected that you will be perfect all the time, in practice or in the “game”.  This is where many athletes and other achievers become confused, I think.  They mistakenly believe that they must be perfect all the time, and if they’re not, they become frustrated and many quit.

As you are practicing and seeking to improve your performance in athletics, business or whatever other endeavor you may undertake, be careful to approach perfection correctly.  Understand that you will not be perfect all the time.  That’s OK!  The key is, rather than becoming frustrated and quitting because you are not perfect all the time, learn from your errors and continue to improve.  See every mistake and “failure” as an opportunity to improve.  That’s “perfect practice” in my opinion.  You put in your best effort.  You don’t slack off, but you also realize that you will make mistakes.  Rather than allowing those mistakes to demoralize you though, you use them as motivation to get better, always seeking “perfection,” but willing to acknowledge that it will always be (slightly, hopefully) out of reach.

Achievers are notoriously hard on themselves and those around them.  That’s OK too, as long as you don’t become so obsessed with perfection that your desire to be perfect ruins your attitude and your chances to become your best.  On the other side of the coin, don’t become lax and allow yourself to be too sloppy in your practice.  Remember, as you practice, so will you perform in competition!  If you’re serious about your sport, your business and your other endeavors, you owe it to yourself to take practice seriously and remember, if you continue to make the same mistakes without correcting them, you will never reach your full potential.

I look forward to your thoughts!  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin



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May 152012

precision and practice

The Importance Of Precision And Practice:  The Formula One Pitstop Example

I was watching a Formula One race this weekend, waiting for an English Premiership game to come on, and it reminded me of the importance of precision and practice.

It has been a long time since I watched Formula One racing and I was completely amazed by everything I saw, from the onboard cameras that make you feel like you have the point of view of the driver, to the incredible concentration of the drivers and their ability to make split-second adjustments based on the actions of other drivers and the performance of their car.   Nothing amazed me more though than the speed and precision of the pitstops and the pit crews.

Under normal circumstances, how long do you think it would take to change four tires and refuel a car?  I’ve not tried it recently, so I’m not exactly sure, but I’d estimate that we’re talking a matter of minutes, at best.  How fast do you think the Formula One crews can get it done?  The best I saw was 3.5 seconds!  What?  Yes, they changed four tires and refueled the car and had all the equipment out of the way and the car back underway down pit lane in less than four seconds!  If they had to change the nose cone of the car as well, it was still under ten seconds!

I had to check my glasses a couple of times to make sure I was seeing it correctly, but it was indeed less than four seconds.  That completely blew my mind.

So, being a coach and someone who’s always been focused on peak performance and how to make it happen, I asked myself how in the world the pit crews got this done.  It boiled down to the following:

1.)    They understood the task at its most basic elements.  As I’ve written many times before, if you want to become great in any endeavor, you must first understand the key requirements to achieve greatness.  Those pit crews have done this and they’ve used every technology and technique available to understand the key elements at their most basic level.

2.)    They separated the tasks and assigned specific team members to become specialized in those tasks.  Just as most any team in business or sports has members who are specialists and who need to become proficient in their specialty, Formula One pit crews are no different.

3.)    They understood the benchmark performance of other teams and they set their own incremental goals to meet and exceed that level of performance.

4.)    They practiced incessantly, both individually and as a team, to perfect their roles and work toward improving their performance.  They employed deliberate practice, that is, practice with a feedback loop, for as long as necessary to achieve their objectives.

5.)    They identified their weaknesses and worked with team members to improve in those areas that were slowing the team down.  Team members who could not meet the standard were replaced with others who could.

6.)    They sought world-class analysis and coaching of their performance, in an effort to make the pitstop a competitive advantage for their team.  In one case I heard of, the team hired a human performance coaching company started by Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson to analyze every aspect of their performance and recommend specific training exercises to address and overcome any areas of weakness.

Granted, these Formula One teams are extremely well funded and they pull out all the stops to optimize their performance, from both a training and equipment perspective.  It’s all about precision and practice, and of course, results.  Not everyone has the luxury of spending the kind of money these teams do, but I think you’ll agree, most of the principles they employ can be used by anyone.  In fact, all but number six above can be used by any individual and any team.

So, ask yourself a few questions with regard to the performance of your teams’ and your own individual performance:

1.)   Do you have an in-depth understanding of the key elements required to achieve greatness in your endeavors, whether they be business, sports, personal, or otherwise?

2.)   Have you become proficient in all of those tasks?  If not, have you identified and trained team members to be proficient in those elements?

3.)   Do you understand the benchmark, best-in-class, performance of other individuals, companies, and/or teams with which you compete?  Have you set incremental goals to get you to the point where you meet, then exceed your competitors’ performance?

4.)   Are you committed to practice incessantly and deliberately until you meet, then exceed your objectives?  Do you and your team members have that type of commitment and perseverance?

5.)   Are you willing and do you possess the necessary knowledge to take a critical look at your performance on all levels, identify your weaknesses, then do what it takes to reach an acceptable level of performance?

6.)   Have you sought the counsel of coaches and experts who can help you achieve your objectives more quickly and efficiently.  I understand that you may not have the luxury of contracting with a world-class performance analysis company or coach, but if you’re serious about performance improvement, you should find a way to work with professionals, even if it’s just a little at a time.

I hope you will take a close look at your performance and that of the business, sports and other teams and organizations with which you are involved.  Be honest with yourself and decide if you’re ready to step up and seek greatness in your endeavors.  Either way, your decision is your own.  It may change, but trust yourself to make the right decision for where you are now.  Regardless of what you decide, usually you will be better off being proactive and committing to a course of action, rather than just letting things happen.  Take control of your future.  Be proactive.  Be precise.  Practice.

I look forward to your thoughts.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin



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Nov 032011

Goal-setting - Where am I?

Goal-setting – Do You Know Where You Are?

A lot of times a coaching relationship will start with a goal-setting exercise.  This makes some sense, because if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know if you get there?  Goal-setting is necessary, but not sufficient.  In order to get started correctly, you MUST first know where you are!

What does it mean to know where you are?  In part that depends on what your goals are, which we’ll get to later, but fundamentally it’s about who you are and how you think.  For example, what are your core values?  Are you more individualistic, or are you more interested in the consensus of the group and the status quo?  Are you more cautious or are you comfortable being daring and making bold decisions without a lot of data?  Do you think mostly with your head or your heart?  The permutations are almost endless, but there are assessment instruments available that allow you to zero in on your core values, decision-making and communication style.

I have taken a variety of such instruments in my career and I’ve used several in my work with family businesses and other coaching and advisory clients.  Recently, I was introduced to a few of the tests developed and administered by Innermetrix.  I found these instruments to be some of the more helpful and informative ones I’ve used.  In particular, they allowed me to get a great deal of clarity around my profile as an entrepreneur and gave me insights into why coaching and helping people is so appealing to me.  In my opinion, such clarity is important and really acts a “starting point” in any discussion regarding your goals and the most effective and efficient path to achieving them.

Goal-setting - Do You Know Where You Are?

Per the diagram above, depending where you are starting from, the correct route to your objective or destination will vary significantly.  There is no one size fits all solution; what you should do and where you should go depends almost entirely on from where you are starting.  Think of a street map or GPS system; there is no way to get precise and optimal directions to your destination without first knowing your starting point!

So, at a fundamental level, you must know your starting point.  You must know your mindset.  At the next level up, which is the skills you’ve already developed that will help with your journey, you must also understand your starting point.  For example, if you want to take your soccer game to the next level and ultimately try to play professionally, you must follow a progression.  There is a fairly well worn path.  You must know your starting point on this path, before you can put together the optimal training program to follow the path as efficiently as possible.  Forgetting age for a moment and just talking about skills, let’s say that you do not yet know how to shoot, pass, and dribble effectively.  If that’s the case, you should develop proficiency in those areas before moving on to more complex aspects of the game, otherwise you will only ingrain your bad habits more deeply.  The same is true in business and almost any other endeavor.

This is not to say that everyone will take the same path, even if they have the same starting point.  Everyone’s path will be slightly, or very, different, depending on the individual, coaches and the particular endeavor.  However, it is key to learn the fundamentals first, then move on from there.  If you don’t, you may still make it to your goals, but it is likely to be a much less direct path, and in my experience and observation, your odds of making it at all are greatly diminished.

In summary, first understand where you are as a person.  Understand your own mind and how to make it work in your favor, rather than against you.  Next, understand the fundamentals of what it takes to excel at your endeavor, and where you stand in regard to development of those fundamentals.  Then, chart a path that takes into account your strengths and weaknesses, trying to maximize use of your strengths and minimize the harm of your weaknesses.  As you are on your way, monitor your progress.  Make sure you are practicing deliberately.  Be sure to incorporate feedback from your previous performance, in order to improve your future practice and performance.  This approach of “deliberate practice” will increase the probability that you get to your destination, and it is also likely to get you there more quickly.  Be patient though, as most research points to ten years or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice as the typical amount necessary to become an expert at anything.  If becoming an expert is not your objective, then you will be able to get by with a shorter period of practice and learning.

It’s key that your goals excite you and get you fired up enough to tap into your willpower and stick with the journey for as long as it takes.  Don’t be another victim of shiny object syndrome.  Set goals that really matter to you and make sure you are committed to achieving them, so you will persevere through the inevitable challenges that arise when you are trying to achieve something worthwhile.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin



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Jun 222011

How To Set Goals So You Will Achieve Them

Assuming you agree that setting goals is a worthwhile step, it is key to understand how to set them in a way that will increase the likelihood that you achieve them. The best and simplest model I have seen and used for setting goals effectively is the S.M.A.R.T. approach, which encourages you to set goals with the following characteristics:

[S]pecific: The goals you set for yourself should be as specific as possible. So, for example, you wouldn’t say “I want to have a profitable business”. Instead, you’d say I want to have a business that generates $2 million in sales and 25% EBITDA by year-end 2013. If you are setting a goal for yourself in the area of marathoning, you wouldn’t say “I want to run a fast marathon”. Rather, you would say, “I want to run a 3:10 marathon, with a 1:30 half split, by November 2012”.

[M]easurable: The goals you set should be measurable. That is, they should have a numeric or quantitative element that is measurable, rather than just be qualitative. If you cannot come up with a numeric element, you should at least come up with something that a third-party, objective observer could look at and relatively easily say whether you have or have not achieved that goal. For example, in business, it may be hard to specifically measure “empathy,” a desirable characteristic particularly for sales people, however if you’re working with a coach or mentor, they may be able to observe whether your demonstration of empathy toward prospective and current clients has improved over time. In sports, it may be hard to measure “awareness” of overall scenarios during a game; however, you may be able to come up with a proxy statistic that gives you a sense of the improvement in your awareness. Such a statistic in hockey or basketball, for example, may be assists. Where possible though, you will want to make as many of your goals as possible directly measurable. Examples in sports would be x number of assists, goals, wins, runs, etc. Examples in business would be sales, new accounts opened, net income percentage, etc. Chances are that in your endeavor, whatever it may be, you have a good sense of the metrics that you should be measuring and striving for.

[A]ttainable: It is important that the goals that you set for yourself are “attainable” or that you at least believe strongly that you can attain them and can put a plan in place to do so. If you are simply throwing down huge, unreasonable goals with unreasonable timeframes, you are setting yourself up for failure. I’m a huge fan of “stretch” goals and I strongly believe that you should challenge yourself as much as possible. That said, it is important that you set incremental goals along the way, so that you can see a clear path to your ultimate objective(s) and so that you can experience some successes along the way. If you structure your goals in such a way that you cannot experience success until the very end, you run a great risk that you will lose interest and/or belief in the process. So, in sum, challenge yourself with your goals, as that is the only way to achieve greatness, however, you should do so in such a way that you are able to experience incremental successes along the way.

[R]elevant: Often times I’ve seen the “R” of the S.M.A.R.T. acronym for goal setting used to represent “realistic,” but as far as I’m concerned, that is too similar to “attainable”. For this reason, I prefer to use “R” to represent “relevant”. Given that if you are focused on becoming great at your endeavor, you are undoubtedly a very busy person, it’s important that your goal setting be not just effective, but also efficient. It does not make sense to pursue goals that are not relevant to obtaining your ultimate objective of greatness. This idea relates closely to the concept I covered elsewhere of “taking out the trash,” or doing those things that you may not necessarily love doing, but you know need to be done. For example, in the context of goal-setting, it does not make sense to note goals for concepts or activities you have already mastered, even though it may feel good and be squarely in your comfort zone to do so. Rather, you should focus your efforts and your goal-setting on mastering those things you need to work on to accelerate your journey toward greatness in your chosen endeavor(s). There are exceptions, of course. For example, in tennis, if getting your first serve in is absolutely critical to success, there’s no harming in noting a first service percentage goal, even if you are already a great server. The point is, don’t do so to the detriment or exclusion of, for example, setting lateral and forward quickness goals, even if those may be areas that you don’t enjoy quite as much.

[T]ime-sensitive: Make sure that ALL the goals you set have a deadline or target date associated with them. This is of critical importance. A deadline usually forces us to become more focused. It ignites our competitive spirit and usually makes us achieve more, more quickly. Without a deadline or target date, a goal is more like a wish and it is far less likely to be accomplished. On the subject of time, it is also important to bear in mind that you should set short-, medium- and long-term goals for yourself. There are a couple of major reasons for this. First, as mentioned above, if you have some short- and medium-term incremental goals, this is more likely to permit you to enjoy some successes along the way to your ultimate goals. This should help with your self-confidence. Second, having incremental goals along the way is more likely to allow you to “course correct” on the path to achieving your ultimate goal(s). If you simply have one long-term goal out on the horizon, it makes it a lot more difficult to know if you are on the right track and make sensible adjustments if you are not.

It is important to set goals for yourself in all areas of your life. In particular, it is important to do so in the area(s) where you are trying to achieve “greatness”. It allows you to enjoy incremental victories en route and it also makes it easier to determine whether you’re on the right path and make course corrections as necessary. Make sure that as you develop your goals, you do so in a S.M.A.R.T. way.

I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Paul Morin

Jun 202011

Where Does Greatness Come From?

Let’s focus in on human greatness here, as there are a lot of types of greatness in the world. So, where does human greatness come from? No one knows exactly, but I will give you some ideas of the steps to get there, based on my in-depth study of over 250 of the all-time great historical figures in a variety of fields, as well as my interviews and conversations with a large sample of contemporary greats, in fields ranging from entrepreneurship, to the military, to science, sports and many others.

The first and most important lesson is that generally speaking, people are not “born great,” simply knowing from the very start that they are gifted in a certain area and that they will become one of the “greats” in that area. As previously discussed, as much as there’s a great deal of folklore and exaggerated stories out there to that effect, most human beings do not become great at something from one minute to the next, without a huge, concerted and inspired effort. The common wisdom now is that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to move from beginner to expert in a particular endeavor. That does not necessarily make you “great” of course, but usually, if done correctly, it will at least get you to “expert” status. You will know more and be better at your chosen endeavor than the vast majority of the remainder of the human population.

So if it’s relatively clear what it typically takes to become an expert in a field, is it also clear what it takes to achieve “greatness” in a particular endeavor or field? Unfortunately, not really. In my experience as an advisor and coach and in my research, I have found a wide variety of paths to greatness. That’s good news and bad news, as the saying goes. It’s good news, since even if you are not or have not been on a particular path, it doesn’t, de facto, mean that you cannot become great in your chosen field or endeavor. It’s bad news because it doesn’t give us one well-defined path to zoom in on in an effort to achieve greatness. That being said, in my experience and my research, I have found some common threads of the path to greatness. I will lay out those commonalities in the form of a ten-step process to become great at anything. There are no guarantees, of course, as most of the hard work rests on your shoulders, but by using this approach, in my opinion, you will maximize the probability that you can become “one of the greats” in your endeavor.

The first step is to identify the area of greatness that you are pursuing. You should be as specific as you can, given that the more nebulous you leave it, the more difficult you will find it to make focused efforts toward achieving your goal in the steps that follow.

The second step is to uncover the key requirements to become great in your chosen endeavor. The four main approaches you will pursue in uncovering these requirements will be the following:

a. Go directly to the “horse’s mouth”. That is, you should contact one or several people who have already done what you’re trying to do – become great in your field – and ask them how they did it. Try to get as many specifics as possible.

b. Talk to one or several coaches in that domain. These could also be referred to as subject matter experts (SMEs) or maybe even SMEs with a bit extra, as they have chosen to be coaches and thus are likely oriented toward understanding how to maximize performance in your particular endeavor.

c. Read books by experts in the field. Reading appeals to some folks and does not appeal to others. There are also many books on tape now, which you can listen to when you are driving or exercising. If you are more oriented toward learning from video, you should also be able to find plenty of resources in that medium.

d. Watch true professionals in action. If what you’re trying to become great at is a sport, watch as many events as you can, but don’t just watch as a fan or casual observer; watch as a student of the game. Likewise, if your focus is in business or another area, become a curious student of all that happens in your field.

The third step is to take stock of your natural abilities. Take a look at your physical and mental attributes. Don’t judge yourself or determine whether these attributes are good or bad at this point, just take stock. Are you exceptionally tall? Are you great with numbers? Etc.

The fourth step is to look at your strengths and weaknesses relative to what you’ve determined that it takes to be great in your chosen endeavor. You’ll want to go into great depth here, as understanding where your weaknesses are, for example, will allow you to structure your practice in a way that helps you to optimize your use of time and accelerate your road to greatness.

The fifth step is to focus in on your “why”? That is, why do you want to become great at this endeavor? What is it that’s driving you? Is it a “strong why”? In other words, do you think it is sufficiently strong to drive you to put in and maintain the extraordinary effort and concentration level that will be required to become great?

The sixth step is to set goals for yourself. You will want to set short-, medium- and long-term goals that take into account the requirements to become great, as well as the specific areas you’ve determined where you need to make improvements. Monitor progress toward your goals and make sure that you set a timeline for completion of each goal.

The seventh step is to constantly reinforce your belief that you can attain the goals that you’ve set for yourself to become great in your endeavor. This belief will be reinforced regularly if you have set your goals in a way that they are achievable on an incremental basis. Allow yourself to achieve small victories along the way, as this will nurture your belief. As with the later step of maintaining calm, you will also want to use positive self-talk and visualizations in this step.

The eighth step is to develop a detailed preparation schedule that is oriented toward reaching your goals and achieving greatness. Regardless of what your endeavor is, you may want to work with a coach or other qualified third party to ensure that your preparation schedule makes sense in terms of getting you to where you want to be without burning you out in the meantime.

The ninth step is to make sure that you have in place a calming mantra and approach for when you get into stressful situations on the road to achieving your goals. If you are trying to become great at anything, no matter what the field, it is inevitable that you will encounter some, maybe even a huge amount of stress along the way. You need an approach to deal with fear and stress and keep progressing toward greatness. That approach will likely involve extensive use of positive self-talk and visualization.

The tenth step is to constantly work on and nourish your will to succeed and concentrate. In fact, based on my experience and research, this may be the most important step and factor in your success. There are very few exceptions among the historical and contemporary greats that did not have to exercise enormous power of will and concentration, usually on many, many occasions. Becoming an expert is challenging enough. Becoming great is another whole level and it almost always requires many instances of calling on massive willpower to overcome the inevitable obstacles that lie in the path to greatness.

We’ll go into each of these steps in much more detail, but this summary gives you an idea of the path you need to follow to move from beginner to expert, and then, if your “why,” your belief and your willpower are strong enough, on to greatness.

I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Paul Morin

Jun 162011

How To Succeed – Doing What Needs To Be Done

Once you have determined what it takes to succeed and become great in your endeavor, business, or sport, you need to do it. Sounds simple, right? Then why do we so often have a tendency to do other things, instead of what really needs to be done?

The reality is that, as human beings, we tend to do the things we like to do, rather than the things that need to be done. The term “comfort zone” arose from this tendency. We like to stay in our comfort zone as much as possible. Some naturally don’t mind venturing outside their comfort zone, but they are rare animals indeed. For everyone else, there are tricks to get you to “do the right thing” with greater frequency.

It all starts with ensuring that you understand what “the right thing” is. Have you carefully determined, as much as possible, exactly what it takes to be great at your endeavor? If you skip this step, you are shooting in the dark and leaving it largely to chance whether what you do and what you become good at have much relevance to becoming great in your endeavor. In startup entrepreneurship, for example, you may have heard that it’s important to raise capital, either via loans or from equity investors. So you become very good at raising capital and bring several million dollars of investments into your startup. You then quickly realize though that having sufficient capital on hand is only part of the picture and you squander the investments you’ve received. You must understand and strive to master as many of the key requirements as possible, not just the one that gets the most press, or the one you like the best.

If you’ve taken the time and put in the effort to truly understand what it takes to become great in your endeavor, you’ve created a very good foundation for reaching your goals. Speaking of goals, and we’ll talk about this more elsewhere, have you put any in place? If not, how will you know if you’ve succeeded? What will you use to motivate you to do all the things you need to do for success, rather than just some of them? Be sure to set goals that are well-defined, have a timeline, and are attainable. Set smaller goals along the way, so you can feel “successes,” however small they may be, which help you gain confidence and will further motivate you to “take out the trash” – to do those things you don’t necessarily like to do, but that you know need to be done in your preparation.

Ok, so now that we’ve brought up “taking out the trash” or doing what you don’t necessarily love to do, let’s go back to the example we used elsewhere – trying to become a great clay-court singles tennis player. Let’s take another look at the simple requirements/strengths/weaknesses table that we used in that example.

self assessment matrix - tennis

In this example matrix for becoming a great clay-court singles tennis player, our previous focus was on first understanding the requirements for becoming great, estimating their relative importance, and then assessing ourselves against those requirements, potentially with the help of a coach or other third party. The idea was then to prioritize our actions, giving higher priority to those areas of greater importance where we were not currently as strong. An example above would be working on improving our forward speed – it has an importance of 9 on a 1-10 scale and we assess our strength in that area as a 6 (also on a 1-10 scale). Our coach assesses our strength in that area even a bit lower. This would be a great area to focus in on, given that it has significant potential to impact our ability to achieve our goal of becoming a great clay-court singles player.

Continuing with this example of improving our forward speed, which would come very much in handy on a clay court, where opponents tend to hit a lot of drop shots, let’s say that you really dislike running drills. Then, to use the terminology from above, this would be an example of “taking out the trash” – doing something that you don’t necessarily love to do, but you know needs to be done. Given that your lateral speed in the example matrix above has similar importance and was also assessed as a relative weakness, it wouldn’t be too surprising if you truly viewed running as “taking out the trash.” What would most people do in this case? Quite frankly, they would do absolutely nothing. They would find every excuse not to “take out the trash” and they would continue to be mediocre at best with their forward and lateral speed. Those that were truly determined to become great, on the other hand, would do as much speed and running work as they could to overcome this known deficiency. They would also do the same with any other known deficiencies, thus giving their opponents less weaknesses to pick on and giving themselves more confidence to proceed en route to achieving their goals.

So what is “taking out the trash” in your endeavor? If you’re an entrepreneur, is it making phone and in-person sales calls to new prospects? If you’re a musician, is it practicing a certain note that constantly gives you problems? If you’d like to become a veterinarian, but don’t love math and sciences, is it somehow learning how to love them so you can achieve your dreams? If you’re an aspiring basketball player, is it shooting free throws? You get the idea. If you’ve done your homework to understand the requirements and been honest with yourself in assessing your abilities versus those requirements, you’ll know what needs to be done. Some of it you’ll enjoy doing. That will be what you want to do most of the time. Some of it you won’t enjoy doing; in fact, you may really dislike it. It may however be very important to your success. This will be the “trash” you need to take out.

Do you care enough to “take out the trash” as much as possible? Can you stomach going outside your comfort zone and doing whatever it takes to succeed?

I look forward to your thoughts, questions, and comments.

Paul Morin

Jun 152011

How To Determine Your (Relevant) Weaknesses

In order to determine your weaknesses, presumably so you can address them and improve in those areas, you must first put a frame around the question: “what are my weaknesses.” This means that in order to identify and address your weaknesses, you must first determine which weaknesses are relevant. What is it that you are trying to accomplish? For example, if you’re trying to become a great entrepreneur, it wouldn’t be particularly relevant that you can’t sing very well, unless of course, your business is a singing telegram service with you as the solo performer. Likewise, if you’re trying to become a great marathon runner, it wouldn’t be particularly relevant that you don’t excel at the 100 yard dash.

First, of course, you must decide what it is you are trying to be great at. Be as specific as you can. For example, just saying “running” is not sufficiently specific. It should be more along the lines of: running the 100 yard dash, the mile, marathons, etc – you get the idea. Likewise, it wouldn’t be sufficient to say, “I want to be great at business.” It should be more specific, such as, “I want to be a great startup entrepreneur,” or “I want to be a great CEO of a medium-sized company,” or “I want to become great at identifying undervalued companies, buying them, and then selling them at a large profit.” What is it that you are trying to be great at? Write it down as specifically as you can.

In order to further frame the question, let’s go back to an earlier concept about how to determine what it takes to be great at something. There we discussed that there are four principal ways to find out what it takes to be great at something (below is a summary of each of the four ways; for the full article go here):

The first, quickest and most direct method of obtaining the requirements for becoming great at something, is to go directly to the “horse’s mouth”. That is, you should contact one or several people who have already done what you’re trying to do and ask them how they did it. Try to get as many specifics as possible.

The second method of finding the key requirements is to talk to one or several coaches in that domain. These could also be referred to as subject matter experts (SMEs) or maybe even SMEs with a bit extra, as they have chosen to be coaches and thus are likely oriented toward understanding how to maximize performance in your particular endeavor.

The third manner of uncovering the key requirements for greatness in your endeavor is to read books by experts in the field. Reading appeals to some folks and does not appeal to others. There are also many books on tape now, which you can listen to when you are driving or exercising. You can also find many instructional videos if you happen to be someone who learns better by watching video.

The fourth way to discern the key requirements for achieving greatness in your field is to watch true professionals in action. If what you’re trying to become great at is a sport, watch as many events as you can, but don’t just watch as a fan or casual observer; watch as a student of the game. Use the stop action (pause) on your DVR. In many endeavors, you can also often watch “professionals” in action by just asking permission.

These approaches to determining how to be great at something are not mutually exclusive. You can and should use of mix of these approaches to accelerate and optimize your learning.

Once you have a good idea of what it takes to become great at your chosen endeavor, you are now ready to compare your personal abilities against the “requirements.” Often times, it’s a good idea to take a look at this on your own, but then to follow up with a coach or some other qualified third party, as it can be difficult to be objective in looking at your own abilities. That said, if you don’t have access to such a third person, a self-assessment is far better than doing nothing at all and just fumbling along blindly.

How you do this assessment of your weaknesses may vary, but one simple way to do it is to make a basic matrix that includes the key requirements, the relative importance of each requirement, then your and another person’s ratings of your abilities. The following is a simple (and incomplete) example of such a matrix for someone looking to become a great clay-court singles tennis player. The ratings are on a scale of 1-10, with ten being most important and the highest attainable level for the self- and coach assessment.

requirements/weaknesses assessment - tennis

We won’t go through this assessment in excruciating detail, but let’s focus in on a couple of key points. First, bear in mind that this is a simple and incomplete example of an assessment. While something like this sample will get you much of what you need to assess your strengths and weaknesses, if you truly want to become great at something, whatever it may be, you’ll want to take this assessment to as granular a level as possible, so that you can really home in on the key areas you need to work on. Second, it’s key to focus in on those areas that have high importance, on which you and/or your coach also rated you with a low score. It is by prioritizing this way that you will optimize your efforts and get the most from the time you invest. It should also accelerate your improvement, which will in turn give you additional confidence and likely better performance in all areas. Third, based on this example, you can see the importance of getting the input of a coach or another qualified third party, as the tendency in most cases is to rate yourself more generously than a third party may. Also, it is likely that, if selected well, that third party or coach will have a much broader frame of reference in the selected endeavor than you do and will thus be able to give you a more objective and complete assessment. Finally for now, note that although this example assessment pertains to a sport, it is equally applicable in almost any endeavor at which you are trying to become “great.”

You may recall from a previous article that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” has been identified as the benchmark for what it takes to become an expert in anything. Deliberate practice refers to a form of practice that involves not just simply showing up, but rather very deliberately setting objectives, performing practice, and getting feedback on the results. Implicitly such practice involves zeroing in on weaknesses and attempting to address and correct them on an ongoing basis. In other words, to use golf as an example, just going to the driving range and hitting a bucket of balls is not sufficient. Rather, you should go to the driving range with a specific objective or set of objectives in mind, attempt to accomplish them, and note where your results vary from those intended. You should then determine what errors or weaknesses caused the variance, and then work on correcting those issues. It is in this way that you are most likely to see continuous improvement and progress toward your objective of becoming great. As noted above, this approach applies equally to sports and non-sports endeavors.

I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Paul Morin
www.CompanyFounder.com .

May 202011

We all have fears. It is part of the reality of being human. Those who deny having any fears typically are lying or are not being honest with themselves.

The following comments are based on my work and research with athletes, business people and other elite performers such as Special Forces members. Further resources for information on this topic include many articles, books, audio and video works, including the 2009 History Channel documentary called The Brain. The GAMES Approach mentioned below is adapted from a Navy SEAL approach to dealing with fears, which was covered in the History Channel’s The Brain documentary.

Can fears get in the way of accomplishing your objectives? Can they keep you from becoming great at whatever it is you want to conquer? Absolutely! Fears can stop you dead in your tracks, quite literally. This is due to how the brain functions and sometimes this reality works to your benefit, particularly in the area of physical safety.

However, in the area of “mental safety,” fear can be a real problem. In the brain’s desire to protect you from the unknown and apparently dangerous, it can actually impede you from accomplishing your most important goals.

Rather than focus in depth on the physiological realities that cause you to stop “dead in your tracks,” I’ll give you a basic primer on what happens in your brain when confronted with “scary” situations, then we’ll quickly move on to what you can do about it, so that you can, to quote the Doors, “break on through to the other side”.

When you are confronted with a scary situation, in basic terms, your brain presses the “panic button”. The danger is perceived by your senses then makes it way over to the Amygdala, one of the regions of the brain that deals with emotion, where if the danger is perceived to be real and imminent, the brain starts a cascade effect of panic responses. Your heart beats faster, you breathe faster, your blood pressure rises, and if the level of panic is sufficient, chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol are released into your bloodstream. The fight or flight system is thus activated and you’re in full panic mode, like it or not.

Unless the Frontal Lobes of the Cerebral Cortex can get the Amygdala’s panic cascade under control, or prevent it from occurring in the first place, the likelihood of pushing through your fears is quite limited. The Nervous System response and blood stream chemical effects are simply overwhelming. The problem is that research has shown that the sensory data arrives more quickly to the Amygdala than it does to the Frontal Lobes, where rational thought could potentially prevent the fear reaction from cascading out of control. Then how can the Frontal Lobes possibly prevent the Amygdala from reacting and triggering panic mode? Per The Brain documentary mentioned above, this was a question very much on the mind of instructors at the Navy SEALs Special Warfare Command in San Diego, California.

They came to the realization that they were losing a large number of potential SEALs from the training process due to one simple fact: they could not control their fear response.

Image of BUDS - Navy SEAL Pool Competency Training

Image by Official U.S. Navy Imagery via Flickr

This inability to control the fear response was most apparent in what’s called the Underwater Pool Competency Test. This is the test where SEAL candidates spend as much as 20 minutes underwater with SCUBA equipment, during which time they are constantly harassed by instructors. The instructors will turn off their regulators, tie their breathing gear into knots and generally make it difficult to breathe from the SCUBA tank for more than a short time. This harassment leads to a steadily worsening mental and physical condition and the candidates must do everything they can to resist the desire to surface for air. It is an incredibly strong desire that is extraordinarily difficult to suppress. The human brain has been hardwired to understand that breathing is absolutely fundamental, that we cannot breathe underwater, and without oxygen for any prolonged period, we’re dead.

So realizing that the Amygdala pushes the panic button, and further realizing that the only way to overcome this automatic response would be to get the Cortex/ Frontal Lobes involved, the SEAL commanders came to the conclusion that it was important to be pro-active and condition a “non-panic” response by repeated exposure to the “right” emergency procedures. What it boils down to is that the Cortex / Frontal Lobes cannot get involved “realtime” before the Amygdala at the moment the danger is perceived, as they receive the sensory input more slowly, so the response needs to be conditioned based on practice before any event that could induce panic. The candidates need to override their panic system, based on previously obtained and internalized knowledge and a set of step-by-step procedures and techniques. While there are more, SEAL instructors decided to focus on what they call the “big 4” techniques: Goal-setting; Mental Rehearsal; Self-talk; and Arousal Control. I have added a fifth, “Endurance,” and re-orderded them a bit to come up with the “GAMES” Approach to conquering your fears. Next we will touch on each of the elements of the GAMES Approach.

[G]oal-setting: This involves creating very short-term and achievable goals, so that you are not overwhelmed by a bunch of extraneous thoughts and concerns and can remain focused on the task at hand. So, for example in the case of the Underwater Pool Competency Test, when you were underwater and the instructor tangled your breathing apparatus, you wouldn’t think to yourself, “I wonder what he’s going to do to me next…”, or “I’m not sure how much more of this I can take…”, or “I wonder how the candidate next to me is doing…”. Rather, you would say to yourself, simply, my goal is to untangle these knots – nothing more and nothing less. You would then say to yourself: I will employ the knot untangling procedure we learned in training step-by-step. Then you would execute step one, step two … etc. In other words, you would block out all extraneous thoughts and factors and focus totally on the task at hand, step-by-step. Can you see how you could use the same approach with any fears you may have in business, sports or life?

[A]rousal Control: This element focuses mainly on breathing. Taking deeper breaths with longer exhales stimulates the body’s relaxation response and helps to mitigate some of the effects that the Amygdala’s panic response can create. So, in the Pool Competency example, when the instructor tied your hoses or pulled your mask off, rather than immediately starting to try to breathe rapidly (which you couldn’t anyway if what the instructor interrupted the air supply), you would calm your mind with a decent exhale and then calmly get to work on accomplishing your goals and following procedures to address the issue, step-by-step. The relaxed breathing is harder to do in this example underwater, but can you see how breathing in a more relaxed fashion in business, sports or the rest of your life, and remaining calm rather than immediately going into panic mode, could help your performance?

[M]ental Rehearsal: Often referred to as visualization, mental rehearsal involves running through in your mind whatever it is that you are trying to accomplish, envisioning all the steps, then reacting calmly to any stress and ultimately, achieving a successful outcome. Mental rehearsal is seeing yourself doing it over and over again successfully, as if in a movie. You can visualize the scenario from a first-person perspective, where you are seeing it through your eyes as you perform the actions, or from a third-person perspective, where it’s as if you are seeing it through the eyes of someone else who is watching you perform the task successfully. You should visualize the scenario in as much detail as possible, so it looks and feels as realistic as possible. There is a great deal of research out there that indicates that your mind has a hard time differentiating between a scenario vividly visualized and one that actually occurred. As one SEAL psychologist says, by performing this step of mental rehearsal, the first time you do something “in real life,” as far as your mind is concerned, it won’t be like the first time at all and you may have greater success controlling the panic reaction that typically would occur. The process of mental rehearsal has been of great assistance in enhancing SEAL performance; can you also see how doing this could help you perform better in all of your endeavors?

[E]ndurance: This element is a recognition that this pro-active approach to mastering the fear response is not something that will happen quickly. It is a war of attrition against your Amygdala’s fear response. You will have to have a great deal of endurance and determination as you do as many iterations as necessary to conquer your fear response(s) in your particular endeavor. You will need to commit to stay at it as long as necessary, bravely confronting and conquering your fears head-on, knowing that by doing so, you will greatly increase the probability of achieving greatness in your chosen endeavor. Your mantra should be: As long as it takes, as many times as it takes. It’s a marathon not a sprint. Commit ahead of time. Be brave. Do not give up until you conquer your fears and reach your objectives.

[S]elf-talk: As has been discussed and proven in many other contexts, the Navy SEAL commanders came to the realization that in becoming an effective Special Forces team member, what you say to yourself, particularly in times of stress, is very important. You can say as many as 1,000 words to yourself in a minute, but at a minimum, you are likely to say several hundred words. If you are filling your mind with negative thoughts, you don’t increase your chances of success; instead, you increase your probability of failure. Discipline yourself to focus on positive self-talk. Repeat encouraging phrases to yourself. Find specific phrases or words that are particularly calming for you, or particularly motivating for you. Use them constantly to prepare for scenarios and use them during scenarios that occur, in the “heat of the battle”. Be your own best fan. Be your own cheering section. Prove by your self-talk that you believe in yourself and in the probability that you will succeed. This will help you keep the stress response under control and it will help you succeed in every aspect of your life.

So there you have in a nutshell the GAMES Approach to overcoming fears and achieving your goals and “greatness” in all areas of your life. Don’t limit yourself to one or two of the elements of the Approach; use all five. Use them pro-actively and use them together, in concert. Some fear responses are so strong that they will overwhelm anything but a coordinated effort to make sure that your rational Cortex wins out over your emotional, panic-prone Amygdala. In the effort to control the fear response and increase the probability that you will accomplish your objectives and become great in your chosen endeavor, you need all the reinforcements and coordination you can get.

I look forward to your comments and questions.

Paul Morin

May 172011

If you seek to be great at something, whatever it may be, you must first understand what it takes to be great in that endeavor. Without this knowledge, you are guessing as you create your plan, goals and preparation schedule. You could actually head off in the wrong direction and do more damage than good, if you’re not careful.

So, how do you find these requirements then? There are several methods, which are not mutually-exclusive. You should do them all, if you’re serious about achieving greatness in your endeavor as quickly as possible.

The first, quickest and most direct method of obtaining the requirements, is to go directly to the “horse’s mouth”. That is, you should contact one or several people who have already done what you’re trying to do and ask them how they did it. There are a couple of challenges with this approach. First, top achievers are often very busy people and they are difficult to reach and get time from. Second, even if you do reach them and you manage to ask them your questions, they may not even fully understand how they did it! Some people are great performers, but are not particularly introspective or analytical, so when you ask them to “break it down” for you and give you insights, they may not know where to start. That being said, it is very much worth taking this step. At a minimum, in this process, you may just find a role model or even a mentor.

The second method of finding the key requirements is to talk to one or several coaches in the domain. These could also be referred to as subject matter experts (SME) or maybe even SMEs with a bit extra, as they have chosen to be coaches and thus are likely oriented toward maximizing performance in your particular endeavor. Depending on the area you’re looking at, they may even have attended school for many years and have completed specialized study and certification, in order to be considered coaches. For example, if you are looking to achieve greatness in tennis, speaking with a tennis coach or a certified teaching professional would be a step that could make a lot of sense. You may still want to take the first step of talking to some people that have already done what you’re trying to do – become great at tennis – but a coach is the person who could likely best take you through it step by step, and perhaps more importantly, give you specific feedback on your progress as you go. This is an important part of “deliberate practice”. While this may become a bit costly, as you’ll likely need to receive coaching over an extended period of time, if you’re truly trying to achieve greatness in the endeavor, you likely don’t mind spending some money to do so in the most direct manner possible.

The third manner of uncovering the key requirements for greatness in your endeavor is to read books by experts in the field. Reading appeals to some folks and does not appeal to others. There are also many books on tape now, which you can listen to when you are driving or exercising. You can also find many instructional videos if you happen to be someone who learns better by watching video. Whatever your favorite medium for learning, you would be wise to seek a variety of learning materials to increase your exposure to all sorts of techniques and opinions on achieving greatness in your chosen field of endeavor. While some may be concerned about becoming overwhelmed with information, just be careful to take all information you consume “with a grain of salt,” use what you can at present, and then discard or file the rest away for later use.

The fourth way to discern the key requirements for achieving greatness in your field is to watch true professionals in action. If what you’re trying to become great at is a sport, watch as many events as you can, but don’t just watch as a fan or casual observer; watch as a student of the game. Use the stop action (pause) on your DVR. Try to watch the bigger picture as well as the fine points of what the players are doing. Take notes and discuss your observations with other players, fans and coaches. Learn as much as you can through inference as you watch and try to “get inside the heads” of the players, so that you may understand the key requirements for success that they, as professionals, are focusing on. Depending on the level of the players you are observing and their accessibility, try to talk to them after the competition and understand what they were thinking. If what you are trying to become great at is not a sport, the same approach applies: observe professionals in action, try to understand the big picture and the finer points, take notes, discuss with others, try to talk to those involved in the action and try to incorporate and emulate the best of what you see in your own “game”. To become truly great at something, besides putting in a ton of hard work, you must become a serious student of that endeavor.

Fifth, and finally for now, put to work everything you’ve learned in the above steps. Practice your chosen area of greatness tirelessly, constantly trying to improve and never giving up. Practice is the best method of learning, as long as it is “deliberate practice” rooted in the repetition of the key requirements you learned in the steps above, followed by feedback, so you can continuously improve. It does not serve your cause to practice the wrong methods and steps over and over again – that sort of repetition will only take you further away from your goal of greatness.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin

May 062011

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