The concept of what Matthew Syed calls, in his brilliant book Bounce… “Purposeful Practice” is really on my mind. It completely makes sense to me and meshes with my experience in business and sports. To be great at anything requires years of dedicated quantity and quality of practice. We not only have to practice a lot but practice the RIGHT things.
A metaphorical example might be provided by Shizuku Arakawa, the Japanese 2006 Olympic figure skating champion. It is reported that she fell over 20,000 times in her journey from 5 year old novice to gold medal winner. She fell because she, as all great champions do, was always practicing at the edge of her skill level; pushing herself to greatness. She not only practiced all the time, but she worked on practicing the right things and then pushed herself to break through. Hence 20, 000 spills. Of course she got up each time, brushed herself off and went back to purposeful practice. The end result: an Olympic Gold Medal, and the first Japanese gold medal in figure skating.
Purposeful practice involves:
1. Outlining in deep detail the processes that make up the desired expertise and end result.
2. Practicing over and over again every process; especially the ones we’re not good at.
3. Getting very specific process feedback and coaching on every practice so we improve rather than repeat.
4. Apply breakthrough creativity on how we might get better results faster.
5. Do it over and over again.
6. Have the right mind set (the CT!).
Whether we’re salespeople, grocery clerks, butchers, or golfers the same rules apply. If we want to be excellent we have to purposefully practice, and practice with purpose.
Self accountability and purposeful practice go together. The good news for all of us is that talent is over rated. Working at excellence with serious intent is not.
Living in the Triangle,
“I was blessed with hemophilia and hemophilia blessed me.”
That was the motto of my friend Ken Poyser, whose life and death was celebrated at his funeral on September 18. Ken had the worst and rarest form of this difficult disease and against huge odds lived until 65. Before Hemophilia and its complications finally outran Kenny, he received the Order of Canada, led Hemophilia initiatives world wide, and literally was the genesis of saving thousands of lives and raising millions of dollars for Hemophilia research clinics and the like. In his wheel chair, and as a husband, father, and grandfather, he traveled 50 countries serving those affected by Hemophilia. At the same time he became a Chartered Accountant at 24 (after missing months of school due to his countless hospitalizations). And as a self made businessman, he retired at 41. The list of his accomplishments goes on and on.
What makes people like Kenny not just give up? Perhaps more importantly what propels them to greatness in spite of countless hurdles? Here are a few observations:
Self Accountability. They accept their situation, refuse to be victims, and are driven to contribute.
Abundance. They focus and make the best of what they have versus the lack of what they don’t have. They give and give more.
Respect. They have an appreciation of the people and things around them and for what they have. They embrace people for who they are.
Purpose. They seem to have a defined cause and purpose at both a physical and spiritual level.
People like Ken Poyser, who rise above the highest of hurdles, are jaw-dropping inspirations for me. They Live the Triangle to the fullest. They make me want to jump out of bed and to make a difference to others. People like Ken don’t waste time wondering or wishing for something different. They live and die to give. Thank you Ken!
Live the Triangle,
As a CEO I sit in all kinds of meetings within and outside the company. It is interesting to observe the concepts of being “present” and having “presence.”
In the Character Triangle, and also in my June 18 blog, I talk about the importance of being “present” as fundamental to Respect. At the same time I’ve noticed that having “presence” is also important for rapidly developing respect from others. This is what I look for from myself and others at meetings relative to the attribute of “presence”:
Who enters the room making eye contact? Do they firmly shake hands while looking directly at participants?
Are they great listeners by asking great questions that contribute to the group?
Do they listen by taking great notes?
Do they make eye contact with the entire room when they talk AND listen?
Do they sum up key points that the group values and builds upon?
Do they have great command of language and use words with precision?
Do they generously share and contribute without dominating and becoming overbearing? Or do people tune them out?
If we are capable and skilled at the above we will have presence at those meetings.
Being present and having presence are foundation elements for having and giving respect. How do you and I score ourselves on these factors? Here’s homework for you and me: at your next meeting consciously work on applying the elements described above. See if it makes a difference to how you and others felt about our contribution.
Live in the Triangle,
For his new book, The Intangibles of Leadership, Dr. Richard Davis set out to uncover patterns in the attributes that truly distinguish those who succeed at the top levels. One such pattern for developing leadership distinction is to seek out feedback with serious intent and learning.
One suggestion for developing a personal feedback process is to establish a group of trusted advisors. It may be necessary to look outside the organization. The recommendation is to find people who have training and experience in understanding in how to deliver meaningful and actionable feedback. These must be individuals we can trust to give us honest feedback, no matter how difficult it may be to hear.
The following is an excerpt from an RHR International Leadership Newletter written by Jay Robb:
“Remember that feedback is a gift. You need to respect that and do something positive with it. Categorize the feedback into three groupings:
1. What people want you to start doing.
2. What people want you to stop doing.
3. What people want you to continue doing.
Then, come up with just a few action steps that target each area identified. “
Don’t wait for formal performance reviews. Self accountable people are serious learners and seekers of feedback. You are a learner… that’s why you’re reading this blog. Develop a feedback process for learning.
Live in The Triangle,
Ok…..let’s say you believe in Character Triangle values and are now “living in the Triangle”, that is, you have become a practitioner. You are taking real strides in being self accountability and you are reflecting on what else might fuel your efforts. Think about this… what’s your mind set?
At a recent sales conference one of our guest presenters reinforced the mind set that distinguishes successful sales people. Carol Dweck, the Stanford psychologist, in her 2006 book Mind Set outlines two primary categories of mind set: fixed and growth. Those of us with an orientation towards a fixed mind set see success as showing talent while those of us with a growth mind set view success as a journey of development.
Perhaps most revealing about the differences between those with a fixed vs. growth mind set is the reaction to adversity, self assessment, and skill building. Essentially a growth mind set reinforces purposeful practice and the work put into the journey rather than the prize.
What mind set do you and I have? Part of the growth mind set is choosing to turn practice into a habit. The difference between thinking about practice then becomes different. It becomes who we are not what we do.
It is about practice, sweat, and purposeful effort… with few shortcuts.
I sometimes wish it could be different. The myth of what drives success can be a convenient excuse. But as Peter Orszag of the New York Times notes in the September 8th commentary we just have to sweat our way to success. Orszag refers to the research and writing of Matthew Syed and his recently published book Bounce. By focusing on the science of success, Syed shatters the “talent myth”, that top performers are born not built.
Syed introduces and reinforces concepts like chunking and purposeful effort. The nature and intensity of practice makes a huge difference.
I am going to be writing more on this because while the Character Triangle is a foundation, we all need more tools and skills to help us on the journey.
What do you and I practice with intensity and purpose? Hey… self accountability is looking in the mirror. It doesn’t mean we will like the answers to our questions but it does mean taking action; one small forward step at a time.