A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business. One sends back a telegram saying,
SITUATION HOPELESS. STOP. NO ONE WEARS SHOES.
The other writes back triumphantly,
GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY. STOP. THEY HAVE NO SHOES.
Pablo Casals was a great Spanish cellist and conductor who is considered one of the greatest cellists of all time. He believed that music has the power to save the world.
When he was 93, he was asked why he continued to practice the cello three hours everyday. Pablo’s response to this question, in my view, is the hallmark of excellence. He said, “Because I think I am making progress and improving.”
The French novelist Marcel Proust one said, “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” Learning gives us that new set of eyes.
Malcolm Gladwell has famously said, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
Although some may see recognition of excellence as an ultimate goal, the quest never really ends with the receipt of an award. The process of improvement continues.
The pursuit for excellence never ends.
Probably we have heard the saying thousands times that “practice makes perfect,” but does it really?
Great athletes, musicians and authors preach this mantra to others to show them how they got to where they are in their life right now.
But read this quote of what NBA Legend Michael Jordan said:
“You can shoot eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, all you become is good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.”
This quote in itself is a life lesson.
You can do a quick Google search and find a plethora of people who succeed at what they do. We see the rewards they reap and the praise they receive. But what we don’t see is the hard focused work they put day in and day out while everyone slept to reach the point at which they are right now.
Many people never even consider the countless hours of practice and refinement that goes into what the public ultimately sees.
But the bottom line is:
Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.
— Vince Lombardi
I think the purpose of practice is to habituate the performance, so that it comes naturally. It’s just like driving the car. Initially we try to focus our attention on steering wheel, brakes, accelerator, front and rear mirrors, but slowly with more and more driving (practice) it becomes part of our driving habit, now we no longer need to pay attention to all of these things, just sit down and enjoy the ride with your favorite music.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.
Deliberate practice for deliberate learning
“. . .we can say that Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult.”
— This quote from the science fiction novel Dune by Frank Herbert underlines the difficulties anyone involved with training or developing people face.
Very few people enjoy the idea of learning and for most of the people learning stops as soon as they leave college. For those who know how to learn, learning becomes a fulfillment to curiosity, a way to overcome fear and a process that helps them face the many decisions and dilemmas of life.
I watched a thought provoking video from Dan North about why we should be focused on deliberate learning over deliberate practice. Here is the video (22 mins long). Please watch it:
In this talk Dan argues the case for deliberate learning with some techniques for improving your programming.
Deliberate learning is about developing discovery and problem-solving skills in unfamiliar contexts.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about moving away from deliberate practice to deliberate learning, I see deliberate practice as the building blocks that help enable quality deliberate learning. I think the following quote from the book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin properly defines the term deliberate practice:
deliberate practice requires that one identify certain sharply defined elements of performance that need to be improved, and then work intently on them.
Few years before Colvin wrote one article called What It Takes to Be Great, where he offered new evidence that top performers in any field — from Tiger Woods and Winston Churchill to Warren Buffett and Jack Welch–are not determined by their inborn talents. Greatness doesn’t come from DNA but from practice and perseverance honed over decades. In this book he has expanded his article with much more scientific background and real-world examples.
It’s all about the age old saying “practice makes a man perfect”. The key is how you practice, how you analyze the results of your progress and learn from your mistakes, that enables you to achieve greatness.
The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but about the process of reaching the outcome.
― Geoff Colvin, from Talent is Overrated