Practice Makes Perfect

October 22, 2010


With all the challenges of our time seeing success – that is successful people and successful businesses takes on a different meaning today than they use to. To be successful today appears to take a bit more, requires better navigation, anticipation, forecast more accurately, and better balance decisions for risk and reward. Consider for a moment that “Businesses don’t fail people do”. If you agree with this than the opposite might be true – “Businesses don’t succeed people do”.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”, Gladwell makes a strong case that success is a complex combination of interest, intelligence,practice, special situations, and timing. One way to think about it is successful people are the result of a number of factors which include, yet are not limited to, their innate capabilities. If you agree with this hypothesis (I do)one can wonder if there might be a way to improve the odds of success or better capitalize on the factors of success.

Have you ever met someone who you considered lucky in life or work? Their timing just seems to allow them to be at the right place at the right time or make the right decision more often than others. More often than not these people are considered lucky because their decisions apparently are made with no information that could positively influence the decision.  While I think there are plenty of examples of lucky decisions I believe that there aren’t many lucky people or specifically successful people who became successful through luck. If it can’t be explained it’s luck but if you look closely there just might be a lot less luck and a lot more knowledge involved in the many decisions that “lucky” people make.

So what are some of these factors?

-When someone is born – not just the year but also the month in the year. Do you know that most successful athletes in sports that utilize age cutoffs in categorizing children are born in the winter? Why? Because they are older in their age group, typically more physically developed, and, thus, do better. Add this to the fact that as they are doing better they play more, get more attention and self-confidence and as a result they become more interested.Since they are more interested they practice and play more and get better and better.

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Bill Joy, Eric Schmidt,Scott McNealy, Vinod Khosla, and Steve Ballmer were all born within 2 years of each other. They all had the opportunity to capitalize on one of the biggest business revolutions of the modern economy as they were all in their early twenties when things started to take off – when the need, technology, and business transformation aligned. Now one can argue that these men drove that change and were the catalyst of the change but if you look really close you’ll see other evolutionary trends that were occurring and converging. They capitalized. They were lucky!

-Intelligence– Success requires intelligence although not the way most of us tend to interpret it. Intelligence here is not necessarily a high IQ but rather a combination of intellect, vision, sense, and judgment. Put it together and there is a quotient far beyond a 150+ IQ.

-Practice –Bill Gates spent most of his high school career programming and developing applications. He was fortunate to have a data center available to him that only a handful of people during that time had. Point is he took advantage of it and practiced and practiced. By the time he entered college he had more programming hours (thousands of hours) under his belt than just about anyone else his age.There were a lot of older people with equal experience but most of them were established with larger companies, had families and a lifestyle that would not support doing a “Start up”.

Put it together and you have a higher likelihood of success.Success in people and success for businesses. If you understand the drivers of success you can influence the chances of success.

Now we can’t change when we were born, our intelligence, or some of the experiences we have had but we can practice more. There was a study done at a very respectable Music School. While the students entering the school had various backgrounds there was no single pattern that separated the good from the great accept practice. After 4 years of school the great players all practiced on average 40% more than the good players. Great athletes have coaches and practice all the time. Baseball has spring training and football preseason. Even my youngest son’s basketball team practices 2 to 3 times the length of the game they are preparing for. We need to apply the same regimen of practice to our business skills and to our people. Just imagine employee development plans that include specific aspects of practice for key functions of our jobs. Repetition at work tends to be the result of a work assignment and not a proactive part of a skill plan. Repetition is considered “stale” and assign of stagnation. We need to do a better job at acknowledging the need and acceptance to do a job for a period of time to not only benefit the company but the individual.

Successful businesses must have a bunch of successful people on their teams. Improving odds for success can happen if influence over timing and intelligence occur combined with an environment of practice or a slight modification to a “learning environment”, that is an environment that fosters learning AND repetition. We need more jobs and careers that balance advancement and new assignments with doing the job well and paying your dues.

The variable that we can affect the most is practice.Practice makes perfect and who knows with a little more practice maybe we’ll start to get a little luckier and improve our chances of success.

About Frank Picarello

Frank is a well-respected leader in providing technology services to small and medium-sized businesses. He is currently COO for TeamLogic IT, Chairperson for CompTIA's Small Business Owner's Group, and a member of CompTIA's Unified Communication Committee.

View all posts by Frank Picarello

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