Take a look around you.
Take a look at the people you work with, the people you meet at parties, even the people you just casually pass in the street.
How do they spend their days?
Most of them work. They do some other activities as well. They sleep, eat, cook, hang out with friends, watch TV, play sport and some might play an instrument. Nothing, however, comes close to the hours that they dedicate to work.
Now, ask yourself, honestly, how well do they do it? Well enough to not be sacked? Maybe well enough to get a promotion now and then? But are any of them awesomely great at what they do? Truly world class? Excellent?
Why? How can they spend so much time at it, going through school, through university, maybe even an MBA, some executive seminars, coaching, mentors, high-flyer programs… but they are not great at what they do.
Some people have been working for a long time. They have been going at it for 20, 30 even 40 years. After all these thousands of hours most people are just plain ok at what they do.
This is sad.
“Being good at what we want to do – playing the violin, running a race, painting a picture, leading a group of people – is among the deepest sources of fulfillment we will ever know. ” Geoff Colvin.
So, what does lead to great performance? What is the secret that Tiger Woods, Mozart, Jack Welsh, Steve Jobs have found?
First, let me tell you what it is not due to:
- Experience (alone)
- Innate abilities
- High general intelligence, powerful memory or other “general” cognitive ability.
Let me now tell you what 30 years of scientific research say it is due to:
What is deliberate practice? “For starters, it isn’t what most of us do when we’re practicing” Geoff Colvin. The key piece of scientific literature on this subject is “The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance” by Anders Ericsson.
There are five things that characterize Deliberate Practice:
- It is designed specifically to improve performance
- It can be repeated a lot
- Feedback on results is continuously available
- It is highly demanding mentally
- It is not fun
A note on Tiger, Mozart and the Polgar sisters (top 3 female chess players): It was due to something they were born with: Their fathers. Earl Woods was a golf fanatic and an expert in the process of teaching. Leopold Mozart published the leading book on violin instruction in the year his son was born. Lazlo Polgar wrote “Bring up Genius” before marrying and deliberately putting into practice his theories with his three daughters.
I finish with a sentence for my friend Piero in response to a profound statement that he managed to use in normal conversation “the zero point field that sustains the energy of the universe”. In the words of a group of scientists investigating talent: “Whatever it is that an IQ test measures, it is not the ability to engage in cognitively complex forms of multivariate reasoning”.
They are saying of course, that high IQ doesn’t help you succeed in the real world. If you are interested I will write more on the three models of deliberate practice: The musician model, the chess model and the sports model. Only if you are interested…