By Jay P. Mazurowski, CRA, FAHRA
January 2011—Many successful people work hard to research, develop, and hone the skills and talents necessary to catapult them to greatness, while others innately understand many of the principles required to realize their vision. In either case, success is only achieved though planning, action (learning), and persistence. “Peter’s Principles on Personal Development” is a four-part series that parallels a young boy’s journey to the Broadway stage with the same personal development skills employed by millions of successful business leaders.
If we look at great leaders throughout history, we can find examples of those who seem to have been born to lead and just as many examples of those who were made, or learned to become great. But in either case, there’s no evidence of high-level performance without experience or practice.
Countless psychological studies have investigated the differences between expert or “world class” performers and average performers. Whether it’s in music, medicine, atheletics, or business, perhaps the most significant characteristic that separates these top performing individulas from their less talented peers is the amount of “deliberate practice” they are willing to endure.
As K. Anders Ericsson, a cognitive psychologist at Florida State University, wrote in his influential article “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” “The differences between expert performers and normal adults are not immutable, that is, due to genetically prescribed talent. Instead, these differences reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance.” He goes on to say, “these people don’t necessarily have an especially high IQ, but they almost always have very supportive environments, and they almost always have important mentors. And the one thing they always have is this incredible investment of effort.”
These statements ring true in my son Peter’s case. He has enjoyed consistent support and encouragement from his parents from day one. As stated in a previous installment of Peter’s principles (the mastermind module), Peter had access to mentors expert in specialized dance techniques. He also participated in local theater groups to hone his acting skills and soon found a vocal coach expert in musical theater. Peter has always displayed an unbridled hunger for excellence and improvement, which I’m sure on some level, influenced the amount and quality of support he received as a budding performer.
Most people when practicing a skill set tend to work on what they can already do well, probably because it is gratifying and serves to re-enforce their confidence. We feel good about the time spent practicing, but in the end aren’t really improving much. Top performers, conversely, tend to be focused on what they can’t do well with a goal to achieve higher levels of control over every aspect of their performance.
Deliberate practice is about getting and responding to feedback. Many of us will go out to the golf course, hit a bucket of balls, and call it a day. Few will swing an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80% of the time, tracking results and making adjustments accordingly.
Not surprisingly, most of us in the business world don’t bother to seek out feedback at all. We instead wait for it to come to us, and even then, do not necessarily act on it. The problem with this approach is we never actually know how successful we are.
Becoming deliberate in our practice requires a new mindset. While doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable and even rewarding, it’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands. Instead of falling into the habit of practicing on what we’re good at, we must instead determine and focus on what we’re not good at; same activity, different mindset.
Jerry Rice is considered by many to be the greatest wide receiver in the history of the National Football League (NFL). Interestingly, as a rookie, he lacked many of the attributes needed to be successful by NFL standards. He devised intense workout routines focusing specifically on his areas of deficiency, as well as the strengths he could further exploit. Winston Churchill, in spite of being one of the twentieth century’s greatest orators, practiced and refined his speeches compulsively. Tiger Woods began golfing at the age of 18 months, but has never stopped trying to improve, devoting many hours a day to specific types of conditioning and practice. Peter, even after more than 50 performances, still goes into his room a few hours before show time to rehearse key elements of the show. This, in addition to his regularly scheduled rehearsals and show reviews.
In the final analysis, passion is perhaps the single most important driver of world class performance. Passion provides the motivation necessary to practice rigorously. According to Professor Ericsson, “if you don’t love what you do, then chances are good that you will never put in the time needed to master it.”
At the tender age of 14, Peter is not a Michael Jordan or a Tiger Woods, but having reached the Broadway stage as the star of a hit musical, still practicing, still learning, still hungry, and more passionate than ever, he is clearly positioning himself for world class performance.
So, what are you passionate about? Perhaps it’s advancing to the next rung of the corporate ladder; perhaps it’s an altogether new career path, or perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones who have already found your dream job but are looking to take your skills to a higher level. Whatever you’re shooting for, find your passion, practice deliberately, and go make a difference!
Jay P. Mazurowski, MS, CRA, FAHRA is director of radiology at Concord Hospital in Concord, NH. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.