The recent passing of Anders Ericsson, who developed the deliberate practice theory, got me thinking once again on how profoundly helpful I have found putting that theory into practice. Ericsson influenced many thinkers and many books, including Geoff Colvin’s 2008 Talent is Overrated.
While I believe talent exists, without work, talent won’t get you far. Almost everyone has heard of Michelle Kwan, 2-time Olympic medalist, 5-time World Champion and 9-time U.S. National Champion in Ladies’ Figure Skating. What’s less well known is that she was not, by a long shot, the most talented figure skater of her day, even in this country. She wasn’t even, as she acknowledged, naturally musical. What set her apart?
At age 10, her coach related, she demanded to know, “what do I have to do to be the best?” She didn’t mean her best, she meant the best there was. She didn’t just ask the question, she did the work, the dedicated and deliberate practicing, her more talented competitors did not, and in time she beat them regularly. She retired from competition in 2006, and to this day remains the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history.
So, even great talent won’t get you to the top. Not without doing the work – and not only working hard, but working purposefully. Not, in essence, without deliberate practice.
Look hard at any “prodigy” and you will find that person has done an enormous amount of focused, deliberate work. What’s prodigious in them may be less their talent than their dedication, their application.
Deliberate practice, in a nutshell, is the defining of a goal, determining how and where you need to improve, and stretching yourself past your comfort zone so that you grow your abilities as well as realizing them. Then, reflect on your next goal, how you still must improve to get there. Rinse, repeat. It’s a life-long process, if you let it be, and a rewarding one, as you become better than you ever imagined you could be at the start.
Ericsson, may he rest in peace, transformed our thinking. We no longer believe we can just stumble into the area of our particular gift and be an instant success, living happily ever after.
No, even those with the greatest talent must work toward the goal of realizing and maximizing their talents. Deliberate practice is what gets any and all of us there, and the result is accomplishment.
How have you used deliberate practice to improve your work?
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Until next Wednesday –