Have you ever watched an artist or athlete who made what they do look easy?
Their performance comes so naturally that, as you watch you think, “I could do that.” Whitney Houston opens her lips, amazing music comes out. Michael Jordan goes in for a layup, jumps from the 3-point line and soars through the air to the basket. Those who are genuinely world class have this way of making what they do seem effortless.
Behind every world class artist, athlete, business leader, craftsman or scholar is hours of practice. After thousands of missed shots and hundreds of lost games, Michael Jordan makes history. Before the Beatles break out they spend every night for a year playing the night club scene in Amsterdam.
Malcolm Gladwell says the difference between average and world class is 10,000 hours of practice. In his book, “Outliers” he quotes a long time study of musicians. In the study they track the progress of a group of violinists. Some were more talented than others. Some had better opportunities. But the real difference between those who ended their ‘career’ as a hobbyist or a world class musician – practice. 10,000 hours of practice.
Opportunity may provide a door. Talent may get you in, but practice will keep you there and take you places you never imagined possible.
The Practice Principle applies to everything we do. Apart from breathing, there are very few things we get right the first time, every time, without thought or rehearsal. Having a good marriage takes practice. You can practice your faith. You can practice being a good leader. You can practice creativity. You can practice being a good dad. Doctor’s practice medicine, which is unfortunate because I don’t want my surgeon to ‘practice’ on me. I want him to get it right.
Practice is what separates artists from amateurs. How you practice and what you practice determines your level of success. We need to get practice right. With that in mind, here are 7 Best Practice Best Practices.
7 Best Practice Best Practices
- Steal – There’s nothing new under the sun. Steal the very best. There are more politically correct ways to say this; don’t reinvent the wheel, learn from the best, read a lot – but none of them truly captures the essence of this practice best practice quite like this. If the experts have already figured out the best way to get the job done it’s wise to listen.
- Fail – Practice is the monotonous story of systematically overcoming a series of small failures. Wrong, bad, wicked, evil, unproductive – these are easy to identify. Figuring out the subtle differences between good, better, and best is the playground for the world class. Failure isn’t always about massive, insurmountable problems, but the qualitative difference between average and exceptional. Almost 20 years ago I had back surgery. I have a 6 inch scar to show for it. Today, the same surgery is performed with 3, half inch incisions. Same surgery, better practice.
- Coach – Never underestimate the value of a skilled mentor. Accountability matters. We’re not good at self-evaluation. We’ll either be too hard or too easy on ourselves. We need the outside opinion. We benefit from the expert eye. We grow when we’re challenged. We press on when we’re encouraged. Luke had Obi Wan. Michael Jordan had Phil Jackson. Who’s your coach and are you paying attention?
- Every Day – Practice is a daily discipline. 10,000 hours is a long time. You’ll never get there with just a few late night cram sessions. Do something. Do anything every day and discover what a difference a day makes. What’s that they say about Rome? It wasn’t built…you know.
- Apologize – Sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.The status quo needs challenged. You’ve gotten this far doing what you do. Sometimes you can’t go, you won’t go, any further until you try something unexpected. This is more interesting than failure. It’s the pleasant rebellion of someone who thoughtfully and graciously believes, “We can do better” and has the guts to try.
- Systematic – Practice is not a shot in the dark, but a step-by-step process of improvement. My piano teacher used to say, “Practice makes perfect.” My jazz band director added, “Perfect practice makes perfect.” It’s not enough to haphazardly try something new. Learn from your failures. Slow things down enough to get it right. Break complex tasks into simple, understandable and memorable parts. Refine. Refresh. Replace.
- Repeat – Repetition is a powerful tool. Repetition is a powerful tool. Once you get it right, once you understand, once your muscles master exactly the right strength & timing, do it again. Once is never enough. Once could be luck. Once could be coincidence. Once doesn’t make a billion big macs. Get it right, then get it right again. Genuine success isn’t a one time event. Success is a long obedience in the same direction. Repetition is a powerful tool.
Practice is more than activity for activities sake. It is the difference between bad and good, good and great, average and world class. Practice well and find success.