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Compelling Business Plans That Work

Practice Won’t Get You to Carnegie Hall

It’s a venerable legend that Arthur Rubinstein was once approached in the street near Carnegie Hall, and asked, “Pardon me sir, but how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” He replied, “Practice.”  Yet, at a S2C3 seminar early this week DJ Wilson of Wilson Strategic Communications cited an old adage he learned as a child:

“Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect.”

Perfect practice means a conscious effort not to reinforce bad habits.  But check this!  A recent SciAm article cites the “10-year rule”, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field, asserting that even child prodigies must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others.

This is good news because it means that those with the drive and the passion can achieve their dreams — whether we are improving our golf game or working on our business.  Drive and passion trumps our natural gifts and experience.  Think about it.  We see this all the time.  The trap is complacency and accepting a level of performance.

“… what matters is not experience per se but “effortful study,” which entails continually tacking challenges that lie just beyond one’s competence.  That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time.  It is interesting to note that time spent playing chess, even in tournaments, appears to contribute less than such study to a player’s progress; the main training value of such games is to point up weaknesses for future study.

“Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car.  But having reached an acceptable performance–for instance, keeping up with one’s golf buddies or passing a driver’s exam–most people relax.  Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement.  In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind’s box open all the time, so they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields.

Reference: “The Expert Mind”, Philip E. Ross, Scientific American, August 2006, p64-71

The business lesson for all of us is to find ways to continually examine and challenge our current business thinking and assumptions.  I know I am guilty of bad habits.  I find it helpful to read provocative articles to get a new perspective about some comfortable topics, and I use a business coach to help me go after stretch goals.  We hold each other accountable to meeting our plans — it works pretty well.

See also my earlier posting about Seth Godin’s book, Survival is Not Enough, and also see Geoffrey Moore’s new book, Dealing with Darwin – How Great Companies Innovate at Every Phase of Their Evolution.