Decades of research into the habits of world-class performers across virtually every field reveals one belief they all espouse with borderline fanaticism: the importance of practice.
Simply put: high performers practice their skills every single day. Prior to her landmark Coachella performance, Beyoncé put in grueling 11-hour rehearsal days to ensure the performance went off without a hitch. World-renowned Celtic fiddler Natalie MacMaster has said she practices her scales daily. Initially a low NFL draft pick, superstar Tom Brady spent more than a decade practicing the component skills of what would ultimately make him one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
But despite the overwhelming qualitative and anecdotal evidence in favor of practice, many leaders downplay its importance. The reluctance to practice is understandable: most of us have more on our to-do lists than could possibly be completed in a day. But the fact remains that if you want to achieve world-class results, you’ll need to pony up the discipline required to practice your craft. Here’s a step-by-step process to follow.
1. Identify the high performance inputs and align your schedule accordingly.
World-class performance in any discipline requires specific inputs. For instance, the best bobsledder in the world can’t do much with junky equipment. Similarly, top business performers require specific inputs that will make them successful. One of the skills that made Warren Buffet the greatest investor of our time has been his ability to consume and analyze information. So how does Buffet spend the majority of his time? Reading and thinking – key input skills that contribute to his performance as an investor.
2. Break complex skills into simpler component skills.
Beyoncé’s Coachella performance was a 105-minute extravaganza of musicians, dancers, back up singers and, of course, Beyoncé herself. But while she is celebrated as a world-class “performer”, her performances are in fact made up of component skills: choreography, singing, dancing, wardrobe, etc. Team Beyoncé hones and practices each of these skills individually before uniting them into a seamless performance.
Similarly, leadership in business is comprised of numerous component skills that can be isolated, studied, practiced and ultimately mastered. Coaching team members, communicating your vision, setting KPIs are all examples of component skills that you can deliberately practice.
3.Set quick-hit process goals.
Once you’ve identified the component skills that will be most helpful to you, it’s time to set some quick-hit process goals to maximize the value of your practice. A quick-hit process goal is a short-term target that focuses on the action rather than the outcome. So if you know you want to improve at communicating your vision, your quick-hit process goal might look something like this: I will share my 12-month plan with 3 people this week and check that they understand my vision. Take a methodical approach to practicing your skills by focusing on a specific skill each month or quarter.
4.Over-estimate the time required.
When AgriDigital co-founder and CEO Emma Weston closed a $5.5 million Series A capital raise in early 2018, it was not only the result of an excellent business plan and growth model; it was the result of practice. Prior to pitching investors, Weston spent between 30-40 hours practicing her pitch in front of various groups of people to ensure her message was clear, concise and compelling. “If it’s important to your business, you need to put in the time,” she says.
5.Practice with a devoted coach.
In his landmark study of what makes a high performer, University of Chicago professor Benjamin Bloom found that having a devoted coach or teacher is critically important. Coaches and advisors not only provide support, they also ensure that you are practicing the right things, which in turn improves the quality of your practice…and ultimately, the return on your investment of practice time.
In the age of “done is better than perfect” and “just ship it”, it can be tempting to view the art of deliberate practice as a tool for procrastinating. But as world-class performers from business, sports and entertainment show, practice not only makes perfect, it drives results and ROI.