Sunday, July 15, 2007

Deliberate Practice`

If you Google those two words, you'll find the term ascribed to Dr. K Anders Ericson. His research indicates that expert competence in an area is learned, not gifted, and that it requires special attention to what a person doesn't yet do well. He quotes Sam Snead:
It is only human nature to practice what you can already do well, since it's a hell of a lots less work and a hell of a lot more fun.
He says that practicing what you do well doesn't lead to extraordinary performance; this makes sense intuitively. He must be a golfer since he gives lots of golf analogies, and these do work for me. Apparently I might be a better golfer if, instead of trying a single shot for each opportunity, that I was able to try multiple shots and compare the results.

My problem with his advice, is that in business, as in golf, there are very few "do-overs". In particular if you are leader and you mess up, not only do you forgo an opportunity to fix that opportunity, but you may give up other opportunities as a consequence. That is often true with your customers, your board of directors, your boss, and your employees.

It's great to know that research indicates that you can learn to become great with deliberate practice, but it's disturbing to note that in so doing, you may not be able to practice any longer. His recent article in HBR talks about simulations, such as reviewing past histories of medical information with proven outcomes, and attempting to reach the correct conclusion based on the evidence. Unfortunately I can't think of an analogy for business decisions.

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