We have all grown up with the mantra that “Practice makes perfect”. If you’re going to be your towns basketball star it’s expected that you spend hours each night shooting free throws. The aspiring hero stands at the free throw line of the neighborhood court night after night, imagining taking that game winning free throw that cinches the championship. If you’re going to be a world class pianist, spending each afternoon tickling those ivories is a must. The young maestro imagines sitting on a stage in front of thousands of admiring fans as she creates her art.
Each time it is the dedication to practice that truly differentiates the average student from the star. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”, the author theorized that it takes 10,000 hours of performing an action to become an expert. There are many anecdotal examples in Mr. Gladwell’s book that lend credence to his theories. (Highly recommend the book by the way, but we’ll get to that in a future post) Natural ability is superseded by practice time and time again.
So if we operate under the assumption that practice truly does makes perfect, why do so many of us not dedicate more time to practicing the things that we care about? I think it's because over time we falsely consider ourselves experts. (way before we get to 10,000 hours)
Coming out of university the new member of the work force is eager to learn their craft. There is rarely a task too menial for the fresh-faced graduate. All activities are an opportunity to become better and log those hours that drive to immediate benefits. The learning curve is short and benefits immediate in those early years.
As we move up the proverbial “ladder”, there is a sense of mastering our skills. We begin to be referred to as the “expert” on certain job functions. “Go see Ted in accounting. He really has that new AP process down and can help you navigate it”. Ted is reinforced in that he has a niche in the organization. This is both a good and bad for Ted. He is rightfully proud that he has excelled at a task for his organization and added value. The negative aspect of Ted’s success revolves around the behaviors that the perception of achieving a level of mastery creates.
Now that Ted’s the expert what more does he need to know? Also, if Ted has become an expert, what incentive does he have to critically look at his role and possibly suggest a change that would lower his perceived value? If anything isn’t it likely that Ted is motivated to spend his time protecting his position as the expert, instead of continuing to grow in his position?
If you’re reading this blog, then I assume you are in a leadership position or are aspiring to one. I pose that even the most seasoned leader should have the same aspirations as the first time manager. There are so many aspects of leadership that the concept of “mastering” them all should only be held for those who have truly dedicated their entire lives to practicing that profession. I am personally very far away from that goal, but I try practice each day with the goal of getting closer each day.
To that end I have worked to identify sources of inspiration for myself that I try to use to become a better leader. These sources are themselves are not magic bullets, but merely tools that serve to provide education and guidance on where best to focus that effort. In the next several posts, I’ll go through sources, give examples of my personal selections that I find inspiring, and even spend a bit of time on the technology that I use to access them. The next posts will focus on books, podcasts, websites, and newsletters that I use on a daily basis.