Practice Makes Perfect…and Terrible

By Bryan Orr

Much has been made of recently about the “10,000 hours rule” of expertise, which essentially is the notion that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at any one discipline. The problem is that the very man who first birthed the 10,000 hours idea now argues against its popular use.

When I was a kid, I enjoyed playing golf with my dad and uncle. Later in my pre-teens and early teens I was able to receive some excellent instruction at a golf school in Orlando. The only problem with my game, to my understanding, was that I didn’t get enough practice.

When I turned 16, I got a part-time job at my favorite local golf course as the guy who washed the golf carts and picked up the balls on the driving range. The job paid minimum wage but it came with one great perk: I could play as much golf as I wanted in the afternoons when I wasn’t on the clock.

Over the next six months, I played more golf than I even thought was possible. I would usually join some of my co-workers who were mostly retired guys in their 60’s. I got new clubs, I spent extra time on the range, and my game… FELL APART.

There were a few bright spots, but in general my game had never been worse. My mature co-workers were also pretty bad but they were more than willing to help me out with the latest, no fail tips they had read in Golf Digest.

Lucky for me, six months in I met the girl who would later become my wife, and my career and interests changed. If I had kept practicing I may have become the worst golfer of all time.

What was I doing wrong?

I was practicing, but I wasn’t doing it in a deliberate and measured way. This brings us back to the 10,000 hour rule.

The idea of 10,000 hours to expertise was written about by Malcolm Gladwell in his smash hit book, Outliers. In Gladwell’s book he gave several examples of experts who simply practiced the same thing over and over until they obtained mastery. The only issue is that the originator of the idea was Dr. K. Anders Ericsson who did extensive research on the concept of “deliberate practice” which is to say, practice that had clear objectives, quality instruction and a constant feedback loop as to what is working and what is not.

I was certainly practicing my golf game a lot, but I was not deliberately improving the fundamental elements of my game nor was I getting good instruction or feedback (regardless of the best intentions of my co-workers).

Most of the quality, deliberate practice I received as a young player had been unraveled by the haphazard and poorly planned practice as a ball picker. My young muscles were learning repeatable actions — whatever those actions were, so the more I practiced a poor swing, the harder it was to reproduce a good swing the next time.

So what can we implement as business leaders to ensure that we are encouraging and facilitating deliberate practice while discouraging negative practice?

Role Play

Let’s be honest, role playing can be scary and annoying. Standing up with other co-workers and pretending feels like a Kindergarten play. But here’s the thing, IT WORKS. When you are able to practice real life scenarios in a high pressure environment, not only do you have the opportunity for instruction and quality feedback, it tends to burn that practice time into your mind in a way that few other forms of practice can.

Record Interactions

As a podcaster I record my own voice, it sorta comes with the territory. This means that when I’m done with a podcast I’m stuck listening to my voice, my delivery, and my filler words and wishing I had never learned to speak in the first place. The good news is I get the constant opportunity to review my work and improve when I add in the services of a podcasting coach that further improved the feedback loop and my results.

If you are in a business that you can record yourself and your employees as you interact with customers, you can use it as a tool to greatly increase the learning curve. Word of warning: Don’t use recording as a means for humiliation and discipline, otherwise your staff will learn to despise it. Use it as a personal development tool and they might actually find they appreciate it (yeah right, kinda sort of).

If you want to become a master at your business, go ahead and practice, it just might make perfect, but don’t take swing tips from a guy with a 24 handicap. Just sayin’.    

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Bryan Orr
Bryan Orr is a blue collar business owner who helps executives and business owners use storytelling to communicate powerfully with customers and staff. Bryan is a founder of an award-winning small business in Orlando, Fl as well as sought after podcast producer and consultant. Get to know him at Bryanorr.com.

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