!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Practice, Practice, Practice

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Practice, Practice, Practice

In two previous posts, I've talked about Anders Ericsson's work on the role of "deliberate practice" in fostering expert performance in just about any field. Now Fortune has taken up the the subject of talent vs. deliberate practice in an article in their October 30 issue.1

What Geoffrey Colvin, the author of the article, contributes to the discussion is a set of principles for deliberate practice in the business realm. Colvin notes:
Many elements of business, in fact, are directly practicable. Presenting, negotiating, delivering evaluations, deciphering financial statements — you can practice them all. Still, they aren't the essence of great managerial performance. That requires making judgments and decisions with imperfect information in an uncertain environment, interacting with people, seeking information ...
Colvin then goes on to describe the principles for deliberate practice that apply to all aspects of effective performance in business:
  • Instead of just aiming to get a task done, aim to get better at it each time you do it. "As you do the task, focus on what's happening and why you're doing it the way you are." This puts you in a different mindset, one that fosters deeper thinking and more elaborate consideration of different perspectives and options.

  • Make sure you get feedback. If knowledgeable people, such as your manager, don't offer feedback spontaneously, seek it out.

  • Use systems thinking. This equips you to respond quickly and effectively to changes in the business environment, including unexpected changes.

  • Make your deliberate practice a regular part of your work life. That way you improve your performance as rapidly and steadily as possible, as opposed to hitting a plateau.
Aside from providing feedback, managers can help by using references to the accumulating evidence for the value of deliberate practice to demystify the process of developing expertise.
1 The Fortune article defines deliberate practice as "activity that's explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one's level of competence, provides feedback on results, and involves high levels of repetition."