Justus D. Eapen
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” Stephen King
Some thirty years back, a certain youth came first in a nationally conducted examination. While lauding him for his success, most said behind his back, “That was expected. His father was equally talented in his time. The boy was born with an encyclopedia in his brain.” Though it was not a disparaging comment by any means, it did the lad great injustice. What the world did not know was that there was method in his success. At the tender age of five, this boy would come first or a close second to another boy who was one full year older. This lad used to struggle with his books, till his parents decided, against faculty advice, to make him repeat one year. From then on, he never looked back. Yet, he followed a strict regimen. Up at six, bathed and fed by half past six, he would study for an hour till the school bus arrived at half past seven, with School Assembly at eight.
He would return at half past four and go out to play till seven. On return he would wash, then do his homework by eight, when the family sat down to dinner. He would be on his own till nine, after which he would return to his books till a quarter to ten, when lights out was announced. Whenever examination season approached, he would sacrifice some activity to study that hour more. He would invariably stand first, through school and college, post-graduation and degree courses. But the refrain never changed, “That boy was born brilliant!” Nothing was farther from the truth in that assertion. He had worked for his success. And pretty damn hard! I should know.
Mark Busine, MD, South East Asia for Development Dimensions International (DDI) Asia/ Pacific says, “Talent was voted by 75% of 13 000 respondents in a ‘Key Business Priority’ survey in 2008 as their foremost business concern/priority.” When informed that a 2009 survey after the economic downturn had shown different results ─‘Business Execution’ (51% votes) was the top concern, while ‘Talent’ was relegated to third spot (29%) after ‘Operating Costs’ (42%) ─he remarked, “So the Market indicators show that the HR flavor of 2008 aka “War for Talent” is experiencing a period of truce amongst competing companies, is it? I believe that it is purely a matter of perspective. The war for talent will return to top slot in the battlefield.” 2010 is again showing signs of talent regaining top slot, but this vision is clouded over by the fact that most companies-successful ones at that-are laying off high-ranking employees.
The assumption that someone is born with an encyclopedia in his brain is a global fallacy. All that the gracious Lord allows babies to enter this difficult world with is silver spoons. There is no doubt that heredity plays a part, but indirectly. In the silver spoon case, the pantry is loaded with silver. In other cases, one or both parents play a role model. If the father belongs to the intelligentsia, he will guide his progeny in the best way possible. If the mother is a glamorous lady, she will impart tips starting well before puberty and explain why no two people have the same kind of skin, and so on. This is one reason why working parents, who do not have that extra bit of time for their wards, tend to have average children, at least in their early days, though it is certainly possible to have an external mentor, like a grandparent, teacher, uncle, etc., to step in as a surrogate parent, though with less overall success.
Agatha Gilmore, an associate editor for Talent Management magazine, talks about the four Principles to Execute Today's Talent Management. She says that “With an aging workforce, a growing talent shortage and an uncertain economy, a lot of emphasis has been put on developing new and exciting tools to help organizations navigate their talent needs. But while technologies might be revolutionary, the best practices behind them aren't groundbreaking.”
According to Peter Cappelli, Professor of Management at the Wharton School and author of ‘Talent on Demand: Managing Talent in an Age of Uncertainty’, the talent management models being championed today were developed in the 1940s and 1950s. "Everything that anybody is talking about doing now was done arguably better in the early 1950s," Cappelli said, adding that “Techniques such as 360 feedback, ranking systems, assessment centers, executive coaching and sophisticated workforce planning all were popular during this time. Ninety-six percent of big companies in the U.S. even had dedicated manpower-planning departments.”
"But that whole approach was based on the assumption companies knew with very great certainty what they were going to be doing years in advance," he explained. "If they had a 10-year business plan, [they] more or less stuck to that 10-year business plan. And if you know what the company is going to need in 10 years, it makes workforce planning much simpler."
Additionally, talent managers in the 1950s knew exactly where their talent was going to come from. There were practically no lateral inductions in those days, as most companies hired entry-level workers and promotions were from internal resources. “These same models are applied today, but change is more rapid - thanks in large part to technology - and the economy is volatile. That means organizations must continually modify their business plans to reflect demand and remain competitive. Additionally, as talent moves in and out of organizations faster and more frequently than ever, organizations have a harder time accurately predicting talent needs and end up lurching between too much and too little,” he adds.
"The problem we've got in talent management is managing risk and uncertainty," according to Cappelli. "How do we do talent management when we can't accurately forecast in the long term what businesses are going to be doing - when we can't accurately forecast in the long term or know with certainty who is going to be inside the company [or] what our internal talent supply is going to be like?" To answer this question, Cappelli used his extensive knowledge of business, specifically of supply-chain models, to devise a set of four principles for successful talent management and named them ‘The Four Principles for Successful Talent Management’.
· Principle 1: Make and Buy to Manage Risk
With all this talk of a talent war, companies might be overshooting their needs when it comes to hiring. This is more expensive than underestimating because retention costs - especially when it comes to idle, likely-to-leave employees - far outweigh the higher cost per hire. Companies should undershoot their estimates and plan to hire from outside to compensate for any deficits.
· Principle 2: Adapt to Talent-Demand Uncertainty
A variety of factors including technological advancements and societal changes have made people more mobile. Organizations must accept that talent comes and goes and adapt their programs accordingly. For example, rather than put high potentials through a three-year functional program, talent managers could bring them together in an 18-month course that teaches general management skills and send them back to their functions to specialize.
· Principle 3: Improve the ROI of Employee Development
Investing in employee training and development is crucial for any organization, but talent managers are aware that workers easily can take their new skills elsewhere. Thus, organizations should get employees to help cover the investment. While it's illegal to charge employees for training required for their jobs, companies can take advantage of their newly honed skills by offering them experience-rich stretch assignments on a volunteer basis.
· Principle 4: Balance Employee-Employer Interests
Talent managers can preserve their development investment by getting employees involved in the process, as well. Factor in employee goals with business needs, then have a third party mediate.
Pervin Shaikh, writing in Fortune Magazine of October 19, 2006 asks, “What do Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Michael Phelps and Thomas Edison have in common−apart from the first three being alive and international sports personalities?” The connection with Thomas Edison doesn’t leap out immediately but actually, all four have a lot more in common than actually meets the eye because they have engaged in something called ‘deliberate practice’. As we go further along, I shall try and expand on what deliberate practice stands for and how it enhances performance. For the nonce, let’s just leave it at: “The more you do it, the better you become.”
Hard Work is the Key to Success: If you recall Thomas Alva Edison’s best known aphorism, “one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration”, I would like to reproduce the full statement, “None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.” Please take note of the phrase, ‘I make trial after trial until it comes’. I believe that the full definition is not of genius, as has often been quoted, but of success. By extension, given his due for acquired intellect and perseverance, it could also be the definition of genius, a transferred epithet of sorts.
Achieving success is almost like finding God; the destination is the same, but the roads are as varied as the seekers. All you need to do is choose your path. Anon
The common factor in the two preceding paragraphs is persistence. The higher levels of achievement referred to are not obtained by sitting back on your ‘inherited intelligence’, but by following the example of Robert The Bruce (1306 CE), "If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again." Even before Edison, the rigors of success were described by painter Michelangelo thus: "If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn't seem wonderful at all." Sherlock Holmes was an indefatigable worker who often said, “If I explain my methods of analysis, everyone will say, ‘Oh, that was so simple’. Nothing great about your results.”
‘There are countless ways of attaining greatness, but any road to reaching one's maximum potential must be built on a bedrock of respect for the individual, a commitment to excellence, and a rejection of mediocrity.’ Can the aspirant meet the qualities stipulated above?
“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth's beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction”………………………….Bessie Stanley
Basically, therefore, I am debunking the theory that a genius was born with a very high IQ. Instead, I am saying that the child in question was born into an atmosphere that nibbled at his curiosity, promoted his urge to reach a goal, however small, by working towards it. With time and age, quanta increased considerably, as did wisdom, recognition and talent. If that is so, what are the fallacies existing today regarding exceptional performance?
1. That he was born brilliant and had an ingrained natural talent.
2. He had a vast innate storehouse of knowledge and sense, combined with experience.
3. He was always intelligent, a gift from God Almighty.
4. He never forgot anything, i.e. he had the memory of an elephant.
If we debunk these long-standing theories, how do we explain the phenomenal successes of certain legends of today? Hard work and persistence will win every time, but don’t you run the risk that ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’? Definitely so. Life is so short, there isn’t enough time in one generation to experience everything. In today’s fast paced world, study books and academics take up far too much time. Why?
Does one actually have to attend school for twelve years, if not more? Back comes the trite answer, ‘Yes, because education is what places one in society’. Society tells us that education shows the people around how one should be treated by their actions, which can be created by the amount of education that person has. As succinctly put in www.bookrags.com: Academic learning is increasingly replacing play and experiential hands-on education. Education is now seen as a race, and the earlier you start, the sooner and the better you finish; yet there is no evidence that this push for early academics produces any lasting advantage for children.
The primary purpose education is stressed is for students to get into a good college or university, which determines one's career, which determines one's life. But, colleges are now steadily emphasizing the magnitude of a "well-rounded individual." Notice it doesn't say "student", which is defined as somebody who is partaking in education; it says individual because colleges and universities no longer look only for the brains of the school, but the person with both brains and activities under their belt. Instead of sticking your nose in a book, put your strength into pursuing activities that display drive and initiative, advises Katherine Cohen, CEO, Founder and College Admissions Counselor of IvyWise. "Colleges are mainly looking for what we call 'angular' kids," she says. "They're not looking for well-rounded students; they're looking for well-rounded student bodies. So, in order, to position yourself as an angular kid, you have to highlight those one or two passions, interests, strengths and run with them." Others say, as given in www.bookrags.com, that “contrary to popular belief, colleges aren't looking for balanced students after all. Instead, it is said that they are trying to create a well-rounded campus and that means admitting students with unique talents, interests and abilities. What this society needs is a balance of education and fun. People have forgotten that play is just as important as education.”
Let us examine the theories we debunked in detail:
1. That he was born brilliant and had an ingrained natural talent.
I have two children. The elder was a colicky boy. Night after night my wife would carry him around the room while I tried to get a little sleep. One night, for her own amusement, my wife chose a particular cassette to play. Magic! As the melodious notes of ABBA rang through the room, the baby stopped crying. And stayed stopped. As long as the music played. Experimentation revealed that our son particularly liked music. And then we had a daughter. She didn't show any bias for music. Period. No, it was my son who responded to music. The years went on. Nothing we saw contradicted our first impression - my son was "musical", my daughter was not. My daughter took after me, and my son after my wife.
My wife is a guitarist. She has stacks of books on music and another of CDs, DVDs, etc. Me? I don’t sing, but I like music. So how were our genes distributed? My son took after my wife, my daughter after me. We never particularly encouraged our daughter to do likewise, simply told her she could if she wanted to. Her brother persuaded her to join him. Fine, we said.
But it's the daughter who has made much faster progress in the past year, because she practices more, because she's keen to learn. And it's been amazing to watch her ear for music develop. Suzuki was derided when he claimed that very young children with no demonstrable genius could be taught to play the violin. I can only imagine the amazement with which the first Suzuki concerts were greeted. They still amaze today. Suzuki himself believed that some would be "naturally" gifted, and that outstanding performance would require a gift, as well as training. However, as his experience with children and his method increased, he changed his view.
Howard Gardner (inventor of the Multiple Intelligences theory) reviewed the exceptional music performance attained by children trained in the Suzuki method, and noted many of these children, who showed no previous signs of musical talent, attained levels comparable to music prodigies of earlier times. Therefore, he concluded, “the important aspect of talent must be the potential for achievement and the capacity to rapidly learn material relevant to one of the intelligences. That is, since we didn't see the talent before we started training, and since the fact that they do perform so well demonstrates that they must have talent, then the talent must have existed in potential.”
This is, of course, a classic case of circumlocution. Why do they do well? Because they have a gift. How do you know they have a gift? Because they do well. Yossarian of Catch 22 fame lives!!! So how do you justify your belief that excellence requires a "natural" talent?
Is there some quality known as inborn talent? NO, THERE IS NO SUCH THING!
The stories of successes that are most often repeated are those of Sir Donald Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar, the two best players of cricket the world has seen. The former had a Test record of 99.96, which, in Baseball terms meant a home run every time the batter went in to bat. What few know is that Bradman would practice against a wall for 4-6 hours a day, using a golf ball which bounced back at him. Tendulkar desisted from playing with a bat; he used a narrow tube-shaped stump instead. It is not, then, simply practice that is important. It is the right practice. Ericsson & Charness distinguish between deliberate practice – which involves specifically tailored instruction and training, with feedback and supervision − and playful repetition of an activity people enjoy doing and do it often. Generally, people attain a certain level of expertise, and satisfied, sit back on their haunches. The "talented" ... keep on. Golf has its own exemplar, Vijay Singh from Fiji, who practices over eight hours every day.
Consider Mozart, reportedly born with fingers spread apart, all set to play the piano and then, having mastered the instrument, all set to compose the world’s greatest Concertos. The fact is that Wolfgang Mozart was taught to play the moment he could reach the keyboard. And taught by whom? His own father, Leopold Mozart, a great composer and performer in his own right. Even more so, considering he made a living teaching the younger generation in affluent families how to play the piano. Well off, Leopold resigned from his duties so that he could exclusively focus on training his son to be a composer, of world standard, as he had not risen to that level himself. Those who have seen the film ‘Amadeus’ may remember that Wolfgang Mozart was favored by the Court to compose and play music specifically to entertain royalty over Antonio Salieri, who extracted revenge by poisoning Mozart and gloated over Mozart’s last few days as a psychotic paranormal.
By the time Mozart published his Piano Concerto No. 9 at age twenty one, he already have eighteen years of musical training under the guidance first of his father till the latter's death and then of a retained expert teacher behind him. Wolfgang Mozart was guilty of plagiarizing, his early pieces being modified imitations of the works of contemporary composers of the era, including Bach.
2. He had a vast innate storehouse of knowledge and sense, combined with experience.
Once a person has been in a career for twenty or thirty years, the natural assumption is they become better at what they’re doing as a result of all that experience. This has been disproved in the field of military aviation. There is graphical representation to this fact. In personal flying skills, there is a maximum level achievable and that’s that. There are three types of learners, the fast, the average and the slow. In military aviation, the slow are either sent home or asked to continue as navigators or systems officers, or, at times, shift into the helicopter or light transport aircraft scheme. Civilian pilots have no such criteria, which is one reason I’m scared of commercial flights when the pilots are young. What has been noticed is that the fast learners show a sudden slump when it comes to applied flight, e.g. practice air combat. The average tend to reach similar levels a bit later. But those who reach the highest mark come from the average learners, who have three qualities: intellect, presence of mind and the desire to excel. These pilots work a lot on the ground on theory and simulators. They keep practicing.
In other fields, one can’t rely on the good old family doctor anymore. You can figure out for yourself, using the net, what is ailing you and go to a specialist. In fact, the younger generation of doers is better than their parents because of the highly advanced methods of training and hands-on experience. Apart from technology, theory taught is also eons ahead of what the previous generation learned. Surgery can be done using keyhole technology, with assistance from specialists in other locations who can follow everything on camera; instructions can be imparted likewise.
Does Practice and Experience Inevitably Lead to Maximal Performance?
The view that merely engaging in a sufficient amount of practice, regardless of the structure of that practice, leads to maximal performance has a long and contested history. In their classic studies of Morse Code operators eons ago, Bryan and Harter (1897, 1899) identified plateaus in skill acquisition, when for long periods subjects seemed unable to attain further improvements. However, with extended efforts, subjects could restructure their skill to overcome plateaus. Keller (1958) later showed that these plateaus in Morse Code reception were not an inevitable characteristic of skill acquisition, but could be avoided by different and better training methods. Nonetheless, Bryan and Harter had clearly shown that with mere repetition, improvement of performance was often arrested at less than maximal levels, and further improvement required effortful reorganization of the skill. Even very experienced Morse Code operators could be encouraged to dramatically increase their performance through deliberate efforts when further improvements were required for promotions and external rewards.
Thorndike (1921) observed that adults perform at a level far from their maximal level even for tasks they frequently carry out. For instance, adults tend to write more slowly and illegibly than they are capable of doing. Likewise, adults (including those with many years of frequent daily experience) add numbers far more slowly than they can when they are doing their best. Thorndike accounts for these curious observations with the following comment: "It is that we have too many other improvements to make, or do not know how to direct our practice, or do not really care enough about improving, or some mixture of these three conditions." In support of this claim, he reported several laboratory studies and a study of experienced typesetters by Aschaffenburg (1896), which showed improvements of up to 25% as a result of continued testing. During a 20-week period, typesetters with around 10 years of experience gradually improved their job performance between 58% and 97% in response to a bonus system rewarding higher performance. Other scientists reported substantial improvements in experienced typists as a result of deliberate efforts.
The fastest rate of typing in the World Championship in typing increased from 82 words per minute in 1904 to 147 words per minute in 1923—an improvement of 80%. As of 2005, writer Barbara Blackburn was the fastest English language typist in the world, according to The Guinness Book of World Records. She has been clocked at a peak speed of 212 wpm, a 155% jump over 1904 and a 44% jump over 1923. Even in music there is evidence for improved skill. When Tchaikovsky asked two of the greatest violinists of his day to play his violin concerto, they refused, deeming the score unplayable (Platt, 1966). Today, elite violinists consider this concerto part of the standard repertory. The improvement in music training is so great that according to Roth (1982) the violin virtuoso Paganini "would indeed cut a sorry figure if placed upon the modern concert stage".
Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Romer (1993) say that the criteria for eminent as well as expert performance undergo continuous upward change. “To reach the status of an expert in a domain it is sufficient to master the existing knowledge and techniques. To make an eminent achievement one must first achieve the level of an expert and then in addition surpass the achievements of already recognized eminent people and make innovative contributions to the domain. In sum, the belief that a sufficient amount of experience or practice leads to maximal performance appears incorrect.”
1. He was always intelligent, a gift from God Almighty.
Law, et al, say, Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a significant predictor of job performance beyond the effect of the General Mental Ability (GMA) battery on performance. This predictor effect is supported by results on a study of R&D scientists. Results also show that a self-reported EI scale is a better predictor of job performance than the scale developed in the U.S. An intelligence quotient, or IQ, is a score derived from one of several different standardized tests designed to assess intelligence. Although the term ‘IQ’ is still in common use, the scoring of modern IQ tests has changed slightly. IQ scores seem to be associated with such factors as morbidity and mortality, parental social status, and to a substantial degree, parental IQ. Though investigated for nearly a century, controversy remains as to how much is inheritable, in terms of both quantity and quality. As Geoff Colvin, author of 'Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else' says, "There is at best a weak correlation and in many cases no correlation at all between what people achieve and their IQ levels. In field after field, people with modest IQs but who are passionate enough to learn intensively outperform others who have outstanding and impressive IQ levels."
2. He never forgot anything, i.e. he had the memory of an elephant.
There is no doubt that the achiever of yesterday tended to have a better memory than the average man on the street. It was his memory skills that took him off the street. Looking back at his antecedents, one would invariably find that this person realized for himself at some point in time that he was able to memorize things that gave him an edge over others. Somewhere, somehow, this person was exposed to the advantages of memory, how one went about it and how one capitalized on it. I remember Shakuntala Devi, the world’s foremost mathematician, coming to my school one day. She simply stunned all present with her ability to solve huge mathematical calculations in seconds. Sadly for her, somebody devised the calculator and then the computer, which put her out of business. I was enticed into buying Professor Jakow Trachtenberg's famous book on High Speed Mathematics. That helped me immensely, but then I had worked for it. I improved my memory logarithmically! Soon I learnt how to shift focus and memorize anything. All you need are the mind tools. The more practice you give yourself with these tools, the more effectively you will use them. Consider Mnemonics. Mnemonic is another word for memory tool (www.mindtools.com). “Mnemonics are techniques for remembering information that is otherwise quite difficult to recall: A simple example is the '30 days hath September' rhyme for remembering the number of days in each calendar month.”
The same writer tells us that the idea behind using mnemonics is “to encode difficult-to-remember information in a way that is much easier to remember. Our brains evolved to code and interpret complex stimuli such as images, colors, structures, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, positions, emotions and language. We use these to make sophisticated models of the world we live in. Our memories store all of these very effectively. Unfortunately, a lot of the information we have to remember in modern life is presented differently - as words printed on a page. While writing is a rich and sophisticated medium for conveying complex arguments, our brains do not easily encode written information, making it difficult to remember. So, use your whole mind to remember. “
“Make your mnemonics more memorable. Use positive, pleasant images. Your brain often blocks out unpleasant ones. Use vivid, colorful, sense-laden images - these are easier to remember than drab ones. Use all your senses to code information or dress up an image. Remember that your mnemonic can contain sounds, smells, tastes, touch, movements and feelings as well as pictures” (ibid). There’s more to it, but we are not conducting a class on memory, just proving that if you want it, an elephant is waiting to give you a brain transplant.
Studies have shown repeatedly memory ability in every field is developed rather than innate. If you want to step onto the world stage, develop the level of memory power you need to do well, rather than relying solely on your perceived natural capacities in that area.
Preparation Time Required for Attainment of Exceptional Performance
In their classic study of expertise in chess, Simon and Chase (1973) observed that nobody had attained the level of an international chess master (grandmaster) "with less than about
a decade's intense preparation with the game". Similarly, Krogius (1976) showed that the time between chess players' first learning the rules of chess and attaining international chess master status was 11.7 years for those who learned chess rules late (after age 11) and even longer for those who started early, that is, 16.5 years. If only well-established domains with a large number of active individuals are considered we know of only a small number of exceptions to the general rule that individuals require 10 or more years of preparation to attain international-level performance. The exceptions in this century, such as the famous chess players, Bobby Fischer and Salo Flohr, were only a year short of the prerequisite 10 years of preparation.
Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Romer in their treatise of 1993, ‘The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance’ say: “Review has also shown that the maximal level of performance for individuals in a given domain is not attained automatically as a function of extended experience, but the level of performance can be increased even by highly experienced individuals as a result of deliberate efforts to improve. Hence, stable levels of performance after extended experience are not rigidly limited by unmodifiable, possibly innate, factors, but can be further increased by deliberate efforts. Expert performance is acquired slowly over a very long time as a result of practice and that the highest levels of performance and achievement appear to require at least around 10 years of intense prior preparation. The relation between acquired performance and the amount of practice and experience was found to be weak to moderate in the earlier review. The reason for this comparatively weak relation is that the current definition of practice is vague. If we are to improve our understanding of the environmental influences mediated through participation in different activities, we must analyze the types of activities commonly called practice.”
“As skill increases beyond the simple structure of most laboratory tasks, the logically possible methods to correctly and incorrectly perform the task by subjects increase as well. To assure effective learning, subjects ideally should be given explicit instructions about the best method and be supervised by a teacher to allow individualized diagnosis of errors, informative feedback, and remedial part training. The instructor has to organize the sequence of appropriate training tasks and monitor improvement to decide when transitions to more complex and challenging tasks are appropriate. More generally, improved instruction appears to benefit subjects with lower cognitive ability more than high-ability subjects thus lowering the earlier discussed correlation between cognitive ability and early performance seen under standard training conditions (ibid).”
As the levels of performance in the domain increased in skill and complexity, advanced methods to instruct and train individuals were developed. “In all major domains there has been a steady accumulation of knowledge about how best to attain a high level of performance and the associated practice activities leading to this performance. Full-time teachers and coaches are available for hire and supervise the personalized training of individuals at different levels of performance starting with beginners. Throughout development toward expert performance, the teachers and coaches instruct the individuals to engage in practice activities that maximize improvement. Given the cost of individualized instruction, the teacher designs practice activities that the individual can engage in between meetings with the teacher. We call these practice activities deliberate practice and distinguish them from other activities, such as playful interaction, paid work, and observation of others, that individuals can pursue in the domain.”
What is Deliberate Practice? Pervin Shaikh expands on this theme. “On the lines of our argument so far, academics have continuously been arguing about talent and whether it is an inborn gift or not.” We have seen it is not.
“The main essence of deliberate practice is to continuously stretch oneself just beyond his or her abilities. Interestingly, recent research suggests that everyone can benefit from learning from sports stars and geniuses because each individual can cultivate his/her abilities and talent to a higher and attainable level if they knew how. Deliberate practice is not just about working harder or the imprecise and wishy-washy gig ‘practice makes perfect’ but it is a combination of these factors. According to Geoff Colvin, deliberate practice is ‘designed specifically to improve performance’. The operative word is ‘designed’.”
I like the definition of ‘Expert Performance’ given by Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Romer:
“Expert performance is the end result of individuals' prolonged efforts to improve performance while negotiating motivational and external constraints. In most domains of expertise, individuals begin in their childhood a regimen of effortful activities (deliberate practice) designed to optimize improvement. Individual differences, even among elite performers, are closely related to the amount of deliberate practice. Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years. Analysis of expert performance provides unique evidence on the potential and limits of extreme environmental adaptation and learning.”
Comparison of Deliberate Practice to Other Types of Domain-Related Activities
Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Romer continue: "Consider three types of activities, namely, work, play, and deliberate practice. Work includes public performance, competitions, services rendered for pay, and other activities directly motivated by external rewards. Play, in the context intended, includes activities that have no explicit goal and that are inherently enjoyable. Deliberate practice includes activities that have been specially designed to improve the current level of performance. The goals, costs, and rewards of these three types of activities differ, as does the frequency with which individuals pursue them. Public performance and competitions are constrained in time; these activities as well as rendering a service for pay require that individuals give their best performance at a given time.
Although work activities offer some opportunities for learning, they are far from optimal. In contrast, deliberate practice would allow for repeated experiences in which the individual can attend to the critical aspects of the situation and incrementally improve her or his performance in response to knowledge of results, feedback, or both from a teacher.”
“Let us briefly illustrate the differences between work and deliberate practice. During a 3-hr baseball game, a batter may get only 5-15 pitches (The batter is working, even while playing a match), whereas during optimal practice of the same duration, a batter working with a dedicated pitcher has several hundred batting opportunities, repetitions where his weaknesses, if any, can be systematically rectified (ibid).”
“The external rewards of work activities include social recognition and money in the form of pay, which enables workers to sustain a living. In play and deliberate practice, external rewards are almost completely lacking. The goal of play is the activity itself, and the inherent enjoyment of it. In contrast to play, deliberate practice is a highly structured activity, the explicit goal of which is to improve performance. Specific tasks are invented to overcome weaknesses, and performance is carefully monitored to provide cues for ways to improve it further. We claim that deliberate practice requires effort and is not inherently enjoyable. Individuals are motivated to practice because practice improves performance. In addition, engaging in deliberate practice generates no immediate monetary rewards and generates costs associated with access to teachers and training environments. Thus, an understanding of the long-term consequences of deliberate practice is important (ibid).”
Factors that Characterize Deliberate Practice
If you look back at the last few paragraphs and collate the italicized factors, you get:
· Specially designed
· Instructional with feedback
· Highly structured
· Not inherently enjoyable
Ergo, these five parameters encapsulate Deliberate Practice.
There are a few qualifications to be made. These are:
· There is a requirement of an instructor, who is an expert on the subject.
· At every stage, there is a need to assess whether you are straying off the beaten track.
· Fatigue is banished from one’s vocabulary.
· Practice is never cut short. Vijay Singh, the golfer from Fiji, hit 1,000 balls a day and walks eight km in golf shoes, to reach World No 2 status behind a Mr. Woods.
· Feedback is unbiased and dispassionate.
· Focus hard. Break your practice session into two to preclude monotony.
· It is not fun. Accept that reality.
· In a test situation, bad luck may hurt performance. Just give your own best.
· Genes may play a part. Michael Douglas cashed in on his resemblance to his father.
· Never let up. Your reward is at the Maslovian level.
That’s all very well, you have bled to carry out deliberate practice. There seems to be no material gain, a primary motivator. What do you get out of it? Success? Granted. So what?
The Image of a Winner
The trouble is, the higher you reach, and the more difficult it is to stay where you are. We have seen how much time and effort is required to reach success. To stay there is one big task. Yet, management gurus profess that it is actually a bagatelle - always assuming you know what to do. Let’s see what these gurus have to say.
"Winners don't do different things, they do things differently," proclaims the known Indian management trainer and author Shiv Khera. He then says what we have been saying all along. "Successful people compete against themselves," writes Khera in his book, ‘You Can Win’. "They better their own record and keep improving constantly. The idea is not to be second best, even to yourself.” Remember, success, like lady luck, is capricious.
Another Guru, Promod Batra, former chief general manager of the Indian multinational Escort group tosses in his dime. “Success is basically about how you can turn adverse situations in your favor." Thomas Edison failed approximately 10,000 times before he finally invented the light bulb. Henry Ford was penniless at 40. Beethoven, as a youngster, was berated by his parents who said he had no ear for music. For that matter, consider Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the loin-clothed leader of India's struggle for independence. "Few people face as much failure and humiliation in one life as Gandhi did," says Batra. "But he did not give up. He was there, at the right time, still struggling, when his fate changed." India did gain independence. The same held true for Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King.
"You don't have to want to successful," writes psychologist and motivation teacher Edward de Bono in his book Tactics: The Art and Science of Success. "You don't have to value success, but if you do want to be successful, then there are two attitudes. The first is the passive attitude, which tells you that there is nothing you can do except wait. The second is the positive attitude, which tells you that there are things you can do that will make a difference." Success is 70 percent effort and 30 percent luck. You may keep your candle of hope burning, but if luck is not in your fate, it will be in vain. Catch 22 pops up again. If you don't keep trying, you can't get lucky. We have seen that an element of luck is necessary. But we have not been able to quantify it. Frankly, the abstract cannot be quantified. However, the point is valid. Most success gurus agree on one point: talent, in itself, is not enough. You have to stand out, be different, be unique perhaps, and possess in good measure that elusive enigma that people term excellence.
But then, what is excellence? "Excellence," as given in www.lifepositive.com "means doing your very best in everything. In every way. In every way-right from going that extra mile to achieving perfection in every little thing.” As Indian industry leader and creator of Air-India, J.R.D. Tata was wont to say, "I know that aiming at perfection has its drawbacks. It makes you go into details you can avoid. But that is the only way you can achieve excellence. Excellence stares us in the face every minute of our waking life. The point is to achieve it.” According to Abraham Maslow, father of humanistic psychology, “most people evade their growth and are actually fearful of their own potential. This is why peak experiences of ecstasy, self-worth, unlimited capacity and an indefatigable faith in the self never last long.” Maslow felt that “the concept of sinful pride, hubris and the like have been invented to guard man against this fear of the unknown and limitless power within. For some people, this evasion of one's own growth, setting low levels of aspiration, the fear of doing what one is capable of doing, voluntary self-crippling, pseudo-stupidity, mock-humility are in fact defenses against grandiosity", he wrote in his book The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. Quite a departure from what we generally associate Abraham Maslow with.
For many successful people, the journey began as a search for the self-image or self-creation.
Self-image, according to de Bono, is a prime motivator. He describes this motivating force thus: "This is a view of oneself as being significant, of being different from others, as being someone who can stand out and make things happen." And often, this self-image gets a boost “through facing, and overcoming, challenges-through industriousness, tenacity and an efficient awareness of reigning circumstances (ibid). “
The Stern Visage: Jack Welch is a name that nobody, apart from those in the corporate sector, would recognize. “But the firm that he once headed is known to the world— General Electric (GE). When Welch took over as CEO of GE, the company was a behemoth of 420,000 people that had become so used to its world-leaders that it couldn't care less about improving. Welch single-handedly brought about a complete transformation in the company's vision and productivity. In the process, roughly 300,000 people left GE, many of them sacked” (ibid). And Welch was unrepentant. "Where single-mindedness and efficiency meet, ruthlessness is the charge," says de Bono, adding, “ruthlessness is hardly ever looked on favorably in the pursuit of success. Is it all that essential for attaining your goals?”
Kautilya's Arthashastra is an excellent treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy and some of his theories form the cornerstone of certain management practices of today. Kautilya, also known as Chanakya or Vishnugupta, was the prime minister of India's first great emperor, Chandragupta Maurya. In the Arthashastra, Kautilya reveals the harsh pragmatism for which he is famed. He says, "He who is possessed of a strong army, who has succeeded in his intrigues, and who has applied remedies against dangers may undertake an open fight, if he has secured a position favorable to himself; otherwise, fight a treacherous fight. He should strike the enemy when the latter's army is under troubles or is furiously attacked; or he who has secured a favorable position may strike the enemy entangled in an unfavorable position. Or he who possesses control over the elements of his own state may, through the aid of the enemy's traitors, enemies and inimical wild tribes, make a false impression of his own defeat on the mind of the enemy who is entrenched in a favorable position, and having thus dragged the enemy into an unfavorable position, he may strike the latter. When the enemy's army has come down from its favorable position, following the false impression of the invader's defeat, the invader may turn back and strike the enemy's army, broken or unbroken. Having struck the front of the enemy's army, he may strike it again by means of his elephants and horses when it has shown its back and is running away. When frontal attack is unfavorable, he should strike it from behind; when attack on the rear is unfavorable, he should strike it in front; when attack on one side is unfavorable, he should strike it on the other.” This is the predator. The man who creates his success by watching the moves of other and strikes when the iron is hot. Though few entrepreneurs and business magnates would acknowledge this strategy, success, in many cases, is an outcome of others' weaknesses. “The best example of this strategy could be the stock market, or better still, rogue trader Nick Leeson, whose predatory trading led to the collapse of United Kingdom's much-respected Barings Bank. This, in the words of Stephen R. Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is the win/lose paradigm-where one has to lose for the other to win. But there is another paradigm: win/win. According to author and philosopher Ayn Rand, in a perfect economy, each person who succeeds honestly and ethically automatically benefits others since the society is based on a value-based exchange”(ibid).
Jon Swanson writes that Deliberate Practice has been around for decades. He says, "Late last year, I heard about the idea of deliberate practice. Many people have been writing about it and talking about it recently. To give a bit more context, the research into deliberate practice grows out of research into what separates world-class performers from normal people. The historic explanation was talent or giftedness. The new explanation, supported by research, seems to be that world-class performers spend a bunch of time on the kind of work described above. And by a bunch of time, I mean 10,000 hours. I mean about 10 years. This reflects the same concepts discussed earlier. Ten years of working piece by piece with good coaching and consistent feedback on the complex skills that make up golf or music performance or chess or maybe, other things as well."
Seth Godin, a bestselling author, entrepreneur and agent of change, argues with this idea of
10,000 hours. He suggests that in new areas, new disciplines, new media settings, it may take less time to be better than everyone else simply because you are ahead of everyone else. Having said that, it would be a safe assertion that being able to identify and take advantage of new niches still takes a bunch of time. He wonders about how new some new niches are and whether even people in new niches are able to succeed because they have spent 10,000 hours on a skillset that underlies the new area.
But what is the point of this deliberate practice? Slog, slog, slog, but to what avail? Hang on, there is a brighter side to the pain you have endured for years. The first is that you will remember more. Recall the Trachtenberg System? The mnemonics? All that hard work? As I’d said, a great memory is a boon and also something others respect you for. I’d like to let you in on a secret. One exponent of Deliberate Practice is Viswanathan Anand, the Indian ex-world champion of Chess. Describing how he plays simultaneous chess with 30 opponents, he says, “When you first see a set of pieces placed on the board in a certain manner, you immediately know the half-dozen or even ten moves that must have been played to arrive at that position. You react instinctively, relying on your memory. That’s how we can play versus thirty opponents at one time. And win!” There are over one million moves possible in the first five sets of moves in Chess and Grandmasters remember them by sheer repetition, so that it becomes ingrained into their system. The mind is so conditioned that responses become almost Pavlovian.
The second is that you will see more. In Sherlock Holmes’ words, you will perceive more. How is it that swimmers, whose vision is restricted by goggles, splashing water and the requirement to keep a straight course, can make out who is where in which lane? They are conditioned at the very top level to absorb all visual cues and develop a picture and they are hardly ever wrong. How do Tennis players react after playing a shot towards the opponent? They look at foot positions, shoulder turn, momentum, racket grip, etc. to predict their next move, before the opponent has even hit the ball back! You will see and while you see, you will observe. This will become automatic, as your brain is conditioned to pick up minuscule cues. A necessary precondition for practice is that the individual be fully attentive to his playing so that he or she will notice areas of potential improvement & avoid errors. Practice without such concentration is even detrimental to improvement of performance. On the basis of an extended study of Olympic swimmers, it was argued that the secret of attaining excellence is to always maintain close attention to every detail of performance "each one done correctly, time and again, until excellence in every detail becomes a firmly ingrained habit."
You will become a storehouse of knowledge, initially on your focal theme and, as you keep practicing, on related issues as well. P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves is a good example. A valet extraordinaire, he knew a lot. The physical side is the same. That is how Sergei Bubka and Yelena Isinbayeva, both Russians, stayed at the top for eight and six years respectively in the pole vault. They kept learning about their disciplines and gained steadily in prowess, one cm at a time. They are now on a lecturing circuit on athletics and the special attributes required to become a world-class performer. Their key theme is…..you guessed it……practice!
Deliberate Practice and Concentric Learning:
Leaders develop through a process of concentric learning. The innermost core is the person’s fundamental, or core, capabilities in his 1st managerial job. If the next job involves greater scope and complexity and the leader has the talent, he will figure out how to apply the core capabilities to the new situation. His capabilities will expand and he will then be ready for even greater scope and complexity. This is called the phenomenon of Concentric Learning.
Leaders expand their capabilities through deliberate practice of a core skill in increasing complex situations, says Ram Charan in his book ‘Leaders at all levels’. Each new use strengthens the existing core and allows the leader to use it innovatively. Here’s how a leader might develop his social acumen:
A. In an early job, the leader selects good people and gets them working well as a team.
B. In the next job, the leader influences and directs people who don’t report to him, such
as a cross-functional team or a group of suppliers.
C. Now the leader is running a global business and building teams of people from diverse cultures, with which he has no previous experience. He refines his instincts about people and deepens his understanding of group dynamics. He is now a good judge of diverse people and a keen diagnostician of complex group dynamics.
Deliberate practice goes hand in hand with concentric learning. We are all familiar with the term practice and usual associate it with athletics and the arts. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. But you don’t become the first violin by mere repetition. High performance in leadership, as in athletics, the arts, and many other human endeavors, is the result of deliberate practice over an extended period- that is, practice that is repetitive and effortful, combined with real-time constructive and specific feedback and a willingness to take corrective actions. Deliberate practice- in short, practice combined with feedback and self-correction- is how business leaders refine their abilities and judgment. It is propelled by a person’s drive and tenacity to grow and improve, even if the person is not conscious of it.
There are constraints inherent in the attainment of exceptional performance.
Resource Constraint: International-level performers often receive their first exposure to their domain between the ages of 3 and 8. Obviously, their parents are responsible for providing this early access. Parents and guardians, in encouraging the children’s activity and monitoring performance, make possible the discovery of early signs of "talent" and promise. The parents' interest is also critical in aiding children's transition to deliberate practice and providing facilities for practice, such as musical instruments for musicians, tennis courts for tennis players, and ice arenas for skaters. It has been shown that transportation for young individuals to and from practice, meetings with the teachers, and competitions can almost completely occupy parents' free time, and the direct economic costs of sustaining these activities are substantial. The parents' costs for a national level swimmer is estimated by Chambliss (1988) to exceed 15 thousand dollars per year. In many cases, the family is even willing to move to a location close to the best training facilities offering year-round opportunities for practice. These extraordinary commitments by parents are probably based on the belief that their children are somehow special and particularly likely to succeed. Bloom (1985b) found that there seems to be at least one central person in a promising child's near environment who firmly believes, as the child develops, that the child is special, that is, talented in the domain. This person's belief prevails even though no evidence was found that, during the early phases, the individual exhibited any clear evidence of prowess. However, what was found that only one child per family was considered special. This is perhaps the best empirical evidence that each family's available resources are limited. Yet this assertion can be challenged by sibling performers, like the tennis-playing Williams sisters, Cara and her brothers Wayne and Byron Black, both professional male tennis players.
Effort Constraint: The level of performance an individual attains is directly related to the amount of deliberate practice. Hence, individuals seeking to maximize their performance within some time period should maximize the amount of deliberate practice they engage in during that period. When this time period extends over months and years, it is clear that maximization of an effortful activity is not simple and that the traditional research on learning, which is limited to a few sessions, provides little guidance. Moreover, the duration of effective daily practice that can be sustained for long periods is limited, and that according to teachers and training instructions, it is necessary to maintain full attention during the entire period of deliberate practice.
The limited duration of practice is the best evidence of the effort it requires. When individuals, especially children, start practicing in a given domain, the amount of practice is an hour or less per day. Similarly, laboratory studies of extended practice limit practice to about 1 hr for 3-5 days a week. A number of training studies in real life have compared the efficiency of practice durations ranging from 1 -8 hours per day. These studies show essentially no benefit from durations exceeding 4 hrs. per day and reduced benefits from practice exceeding 2 hrs.
Many studies of the acquisition of typing skill and other perceptual motor skills indicate that the effective duration of deliberate practice may be closer to 1 hr per day. Pirolli and J. R. Anderson (1985) found no increased learning from doubling the number of training trials per session in their extended training study. The findings of these studies can be generalized to situations in which training is extended over long periods of time such as weeks, months, and years. The goal of deliberate practice is improved performance, and detailed analyses of the musicians' activities during practice sessions in music reveal careful monitoring and problem solving by the musicians to attain the desired improvements. C. E. Seashore, the pioneering researcher in music psychology, claimed, "Many a student becomes disgusted with music because he cannot learn by dull drudgery. The command to rest is fully as important as to work in effective learning"
Under the assumption that practice draws on limited physical and mental resources, one would expect that the level of practice an individual can sustain for long periods of time is limited by the individual's ability to recover and thereby maintain a steady state from day to day. After the individual has slowly adapted to a constant level of practice, increases ought to
be possible. In contrast, if an individual cannot recover each day from a given level of practice, sustaining that level will lead to exhaustion and mental fatigue. The risk of physical injury and chronic mal-adaptation will increase "runner's knee," shin splints, and Achilles tendonitis for athletes and sores, tendonitis, and muscle spasms for musicians. Inability to recover from the stress of training, which is viewed as necessary for improvement in sports, can lead to "staleness," "overtraining," and eventually "burnout." These states are characterized not only by physical fatigue and soreness but also by motivational problems such as lack of enthusiasm and even unwillingness to continue with a sport. The only known effective treatment for these conditions "consists of rest, and in some cases, complete abstention from training and sporting activities may be necessary."
In summary, disregard of the effort constraint on deliberate practice leads to injury and even failure. In the short term, optimal deliberate practice maintains equilibrium between effort and recovery. In the long term, it negotiates the effort constraint by slow, regular increases in amounts of practice that allow for adaptation to increased demands.
Motivational Constraint: A premise of this theoretical framework is that deliberate practice is not inherently enjoyable and that individuals are motivated to engage in it by its instrumental value in improving performance. Hence, interested individuals need to be engaging in the activity and motivated to improve performance before they begin deliberate practice.
Evidence has been found supporting this implication. Interviews with international-level performers showed that parents typically initiated deliberate practice after allowing their children several months of playful engagement in the domain and after noticing that their children expressed interest and showed signs of promise.
The social reactions of parents and other individuals in the immediate environment must be very important in establishing this original motivation. At the start of deliberate practice, parents help their child keep a regular daily practice schedule and point out the instrumental value of practice for improved performance. With increased experience and the aid of teachers and coaches, the developing individual can internalize methods for assessing improvement and can thus concurrently monitor the effects of practice. As individuals get more involved in the activities of a domain, competitions and public performances provide short-term goals for specific improvements. At this point the motivation to practice becomes so closely connected
to the goal of becoming an expert performer and so integrated with the individual's daily life that motivation to practice, per se, cannot be easily assessed.
Certain naturally occurring events and changes illuminate the relation between practice and performance. Activities in many domains, especially sports, are seasonal because most scheduled competitions occur during a single season of the year. If individuals enjoyed deliberate practice, they ought to practice at a uniformly high level all year. Instead, athletes train much harder during the preseason period and during the season itself; during the offseason they often reduce the level of training dramatically.
Some individuals have had to terminate their professional careers for reasons unrelated to their ability to perform. In a longitudinal study of visual artists, it was found that most artists were drawn to painting because it allowed social isolation. However, aspiring painters have to promote social relations with art dealers, art critics, and buyers to gain fame, increase the demand for their art, and generate sufficient sales for full-time artistic activity. Failure to do so forced many of the best artists to take up another job unrelated to painting. Once these artists could no longer commit sufficient time and energy to maintain and improve their performance they stopped painting completely because they could not accept performing at a lower level. This finding shows that the activity of painting as such is not inherently motivating but rather the act of producing art that satisfies the artists' subjective criteria for quality.
Having studies all possibilities and types of deliberate practice, we see a well-rounded, well educated, highly knowledgeable and vibrant new avatar that was once the run-of-the-mill you. You carry yourself with poise, elan and dignity and set an example worthy of emulation. In which way have you improved? By leaps and bounds, take my word for it. Deliberate practice is an excellent foundation for creative thinking. Creative thinking is an attribute few people have. You are now both perspicacious and erudite. These capabilities make you unique and high-brow. You become impassioned about your job. Most of it is bubbling within you, just waiting to be called for. This is an intrinsic entity. You can see the other end of the tunnel and what lies there, waiting for you to claim as rightfully yours. This is the extrinsic manifestation. You know how to solve problems; in fact, you become close to prescient in that you can anticipate problems. You learn and teach how to aim for the optimum, you become innovative.
The more you know, the more you can reason. The more you can reason, the more you can foresee. The more you foresee, the more you innovate. The more you innovate, the more you disseminate. The more you disseminate, the more the collective wisdom. The more the collective wisdom, the more the creativity and originality. And your organization finds itself seated in a Zeppelin. The sky is the limit.
The same chain holds good for a team. Using the same logic and steps, you can create a world-beating team. Take the example of the world’s best restaurant, El Bulli, Spain. This restaurant has been voted World No 1, five times, the last four consecutively from 2006-2009. What is amazing is that this restaurant is open only SIX MONTHS in a year! In the other six months, the staff goes round the world to find new and more exotic dishes. At one time, when the staff was into deliberate practice, they served only dinner. ONLY dinner. But they are top of the heap today!
I have left certain parameters still unsaid, as they will be most understandable now. These are valid for both the organization and the team. In brief they are:
· Define the collective aim and each individual’s goal.
· Set the pace for deliberate practice. Demonstrate it.
· Review progress weekly. Feedback is critical; don’t forget it.
· Supervise discreetly. Use what you observe at feedback time.
· Analyze errors in depth.
· Encourage the staff members to bone up on the organization. Learn from their narrations and grasp each perspective. Interact with similar industries on a friendly basis and learn from them.
· Build an in-house library and encourage people to use it.
· Allow quid pro quo to the extent permitted by the owner.
· Top performers never stop refining, embellishing and enhancing their mental models. They keep expanding their horizons through shop-floor experience and deliberate practice.
As de Bono states: "Certainly there are people who seem to think that hard work is a substitute for strategy, but filling time is not the same as time management. Being busy is not the same as working. Dealing with the urgent is not the same as dealing with the important." So, focus your energies in a concentrated manner on your goal and then start perspiring for it. In Zen Buddhism, you don't try to do something-you just do it. Focused and responsible effort, deliberate practice and a consistently positive outlook. Together, they form the key to abundance and the stepping stone to transformation. Transformation, thus, is a largely internal phenomenon. However adverse may be the external scenario, however many obstacles lie in the road to success, achievement is possible, nay, certain. You can win if you want. Whenever you want. Whatever you want.