I recently heard a re-broadcast of a Freakonomics podcast titled “How to Become Great at Just About Anything”. Much of the episode is dedicated to an interview with Anders Ericsson, the co-author of the paper “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance”.
Just the other night, I was considering something along the same lines. If we want to get good at a sport, for instance, we practice. All practice is not equal, but for most common sporting activities, there are very clear methods for getting very very good. They may not be easy, but there are at least dozens or hundreds or even thousands of participants that have excelled and their methods are repeatable.
Business is less like sport. Clearly there are many millions of successful business people, but the methods for getting there are hotly debated. We read, we argue, we think really hard but in the end, it’s difficult to define a way to practice business. Maybe attorneys and physicians have it right when they say they are “practicing medicine” or “practicing law”. For the rest of us though, how do we practice our craft in a way that can yield the results we’d like?
Lets say your sport is basketball and your goal is to make the team. High School level, University, local rec leauge. It doesn’t matter much, because there are clearly defined activities that you can do, without risk, that will yield results. Not good enough to make the Varsity team at your high school? Hire a coach, run more, lift more, practice your shot, your dribble, your footwork. Risk? You don’t make the team, but even in the event you don’t, you are inarguably BETTER at basketball, and you probably have a really good idea of what is necessary to reach the level you desire.
Now lets say your business is IT consulting (as mine is). All I have to do to have a successful business is to get good at the technical skills, good at sales, good at managing employees, good at managing clients, good at keeping up to date, good at judging the market, good at managing money, good at negotiating rent, good at hiring, good at firing, etc etc etc. Deep breath. Ok. Is there a manual? Has someone written down a list of exactly what to do? Yes, of course. Lets ask Google. There are 1.4 BILLION results. Ok, lets narrow the search. There must be a book on business. Amazon? Only 122,000 results. That should only take me, hmm, forever to read them all.
Add to this the fact that experimentation with business, particularly as a business owner, is scary! Failure isn’t a matter of not making the team. Failure may mean bankruptcy. It may mean a law suit. It may mean losing clients, employees, and definitely sleep.
How do we take the practical application of “Deliberate Practice” and make it work in the business world? What practice arena is there to hone ones skills that doesn’t involve significant risk?
I’m in the middle of reading “Tools of Titans” by one of my favorite authors Tim Ferriss, of “The 4-hour Workweek” book and blog fame. Certainly there are mountains of great ideas for success in this tome, but I’m practically paralyzed with indecision and fear. What if I really screw it up?
So i do what everyone else seems to do. I read more. I think more. I do little things, little bits at a time, and I look for The Way. I want to be a Rock Star.