Jul 052012
 
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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

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

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May 152012
 
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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

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

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Nov 032011
 
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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

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

Go to the right-hand navigation bar near the top of the page, enter your email and click subscribe.  We respect your privacy and will not sell your email address.  Note:  once you subscribe, if the confirmation email doesn’t arrive, check your spam filter.  It usually makes it through, but we’ve had a few get caught up in the filter.

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Jun 222011
 
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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
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com.

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Jun 202011
 
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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
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com.

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Jun 162011
 
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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
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com.

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Jun 152011
 
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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
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com .

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Jun 132011
 
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Self-Doubt:  Your Best Friend or Your Worst Enemy

As an entrepreneur or anyone trying to achieve something, self-doubt can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

In my coaching, consulting and my own entrepreneurial endeavors over the last 30 years, I have noticed that while some people seem to have unflappable self-confidence, most seem to vacillate between self-confidence and self-doubt. By the way, I’ve also noticed that when you dig below the surface even just a bit on those who seemingly have “unflappable self-confidence,” they too have plenty of self-doubt, often times much more than everyone else. They just have well developed mechanisms for hiding their doubts from the rest of the world.

As it turns out, self-confidence and self-doubt are two sides of the same coin. Self-doubt and wanting more are an important part of the built-in mechanism that has allowed human beings to adapt and evolve over time. Self-doubt is also what fuels us to try harder and to learn more, so that we can feel that desired mental state of self-confidence, even if just briefly and periodically.

In the end, it’s really only possible to overcome self-doubt with action. You need to do something, overcome your fears and achieve something you never thought possible. That will do wonders for your self-confidence. You know how the story goes though: after a brief period of satisfaction with your accomplishment, you will likely then start to experience self-doubt again and feel the need to push on and accomplish more. If handled well, it’s what is often referred to as a “virtuous cycle.” If not handled correctly, it is likely to devolve into its evil cousin, the “vicious cycle.” Let me explain.

So let’s say you’re experiencing a serious bout of self-doubt. You’re in a funk, as the saying goes. You’re wondering if you’ll ever do anything successfully. Ask yourself a couple of questions: Am I a perfectionist? Am I always setting goals for myself that I have no possibility of attaining in the allotted timeframe? I see it all the time in the people and companies to which I coach and consult. They set impossible goals then wonder why they don’t reach them. I’ve certainly been guilty of it myself as well.

Here’s the key: set incremental goals that will allow you to reach your ultimate goal(s). Allow yourself to be successful along the journey to achieving your major goals. Will you still experience self-doubt along the way? Yes. But use it to your advantage. Use it to fuel your desire and give you energy to practice enough and correctly. Use it to motivate you to set incremental goals that will allow you to have successes and believe that you can reach your bigger goals. Use it to give you the determination you need to chart your own course to accomplishing your goals.

Don’t set yourself up for failure and constant self-doubt by setting impossible goals. Allow yourself to succeed incrementally along the way and you will be shocked how much better your results are, how much happier you feel and how much you enjoy those moments of self-confidence, even it they come and go as part of the virtuous cycle you’ve created.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com.

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May 312011
 
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You Won’t See Them Practice or Prepare …

Unless You’re One of Them

It does not matter your field of endeavor. You could be an entrepreneur, an athlete, a scientist, a musician, or the CEO of any size company, but unless you are one of them, you will not see the “greats” practice or prepare. They are up early or they stay late, in order to perfect their “game” and bring it to its highest level.

I am in the midst of an in-depth study of “greatness” throughout the ages. This includes taking a close look at the lives of hundreds of history’s greatest people in a wide variety of fields and endeavors. It also includes interviewing dozens of contemporary “greats” throughout sport, business, science, music, art and beyond, and looking for common threads in how they have reached such heights.

One such common thread is that those who reach an extraordinarily high level of achievement in their field almost uniformly are preparing when the rest of the world, including their competitors and often times colleagues or teammates, are sleeping. They shoot free throws, they do extra workouts, they prepare speeches, they create, they analyze, they synthesize, and they hone their skills to levels that others only hope to achieve. This is the time they “steal” to take their game to the next level.

Does this mean that they don’t do all the other preparation that their teammates, colleagues and competitors are doing throughout the rest of the day? Of course not. They’re doing that too. The pre- and post-workday “workouts in the dark” and preparation are fueled by their dedication and drive to become the best they can. Sometimes it’s as though they cannot stop themselves from additional preparation in the “off hours”. They are driven by something deep inside that pushes them to put in all that extra work.

Is such drive and dedication something that can be imposed from outside? No. It must come from within. Sometimes it’s hard to even understand the source of this drive. But in the “great” ones it exists. Their bodies and their minds become “vehicles” of greatness, pushed by a force larger than them to do their best and always try to take it to the next level. Does it feel like a burden or extra work to them? Sometimes. But most of the time, it just feels natural. It feels like what they’re supposed to be doing to fulfill their dreams and accomplish all that they can, individually and for their team or organization.

So, if it comes from deep within, can you try to find it? Can you look for a formula to become great? Well, there’s no simple formula or recipe, like if you were going to bake a couple dozen chocolate chip cookies. One thing is clear, however, based on my experience as a coach and as a researcher in the area of “greatness”: before you can find this drive and become “great,” you must first find the endeavor or pursuit that will allow you to bring out your own greatness. It must be something that “lights the fire” within you. It may take a while and it may show up when you’re least expecting it, but if you’re paying attention, you’ll know when you find it.

It is not something that can easily be forced, even if you have the aptitude. Sure, we try to force it all the time, on ourselves, on our kids, on those around us. We focus on what we think we want or what we think society wants or what we think we “should” do. Trust me; this approach will not work. Yes, you can become good at something because others want you to, but you will not become “great”. The only way anyone becomes great at anything is if THEY want it, and only if they want it REALLY bad. Only if they want it so bad that they will not stop at anything short of greatness. Again, the drive MUST come from within. You can receive guidance and support from those around you, but the drive has to come from WITHIN.

What is the source of this desire? From what I’ve seen, it varies widely. For one person, the drive and desire may come from having been told they cannot do something. For another, it may come from following a family tradition of greatness in a particular endeavor. For yet another, their “why” may come from early childhood exposure to a sport or other endeavor that lights a fire within them. Frankly, this question of “why” is one of the hardest ones to understand. It’s a highly personal and individual driver. There really isn’t a lot of uniformity, but there are some common threads. More on this later, as my study into “greatness” continues.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com.

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May 232011
 
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Punished by Praise

The Early Achievers’ Curse When Seeking Greatness and Peak Performance

Be careful when receiving praise or when heaping it on yourself (self-talk) or others. Too much of the wrong type of praise can be counter-productive and can actually undermine your efforts to become great and achieve peak performance in your chosen field or endeavor.

This sounds counter-intuitive, you may say. Doesn’t praise help to build up your self-image and make you a stronger performer with more confidence? It is indeed a double-edged sword. Praise, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. The issue is that when something comes easy to you and you hear from everyone around you things like, “Wow, you are really great at this … you’re a natural,” it tends to make you say to yourself, “You know what, they’re right; I am quite good at this”. In some cases, this leads to over-confidence and engenders a mindset that is not in touch with what it takes to become great at anything – hard work and “deliberate practice” over an extended period of time.

Based on everything I’ve seen in my own consulting, coaching and execution, there are no shortcuts to greatness, no matter the area of endeavor. You of course do have to believe that you can be successful and you have to have the willpower to make it happen, but it is very dangerous to believe that it will come too easily to you. I’ve seen it time and again, in fields as diverse as soccer, chess, mathematics, sales, entrepreneurship, art and music – the young student or adult beginner gets a lot of positive feedback early in the process of learning. They then do very well for a while and are at the “head of the class,” but then with time, they inevitably get passed by someone with less initial “talent” who wants it more and works harder and smarter to make it happen.

The other aspect of getting too much praise early is that for some, it makes them reluctant to take risks and step outside their comfort zone in the future. In order to become truly great at something, to become a true expert, you need to “take your knocks” and you need to be willing to take risks, make mistakes, learn from them, and then move on. However, if you really enjoy the early praise and recognition that you receive, it may make you less likely to take the necessary risks to achieve greatness in your chosen endeavor. The praise and recognition can actually become addictive and you don’t want to risk damaging your self-image by taking a chance of making a mistake or “failing”. Without the willingness to take risks, you can unknowingly place an artificial ceiling on your growth and your ability to become a master or an expert in your field. Such fear of failure can put an end to an otherwise promising “career” in anything.

So, what’s the answer? Well, it certainly isn’t excessive negativity. Nor is it ceasing to give or receive praise. Rather, when you give praise or receive it, you must include a counter-balancing reality check every time – a reminder that there is always more to learn – that no matter how good you are, there’s always room for growth. If the feedback, whether it be praise or criticism is not balanced this way, it can be very dangerous and can severely limit your potential to become great and achieve peak performance.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com.

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