Friday, August 19, 2011

The Power of 10,000 hours - Part 3

In our last post, we discussed the Power of 10,000 hours and what a lot of work it is.
Given that expertise lies at the end of the rainbow, it still might be worth it to pursue Deliberate Practice.
However, as organizational leaders, there are several factors we need to think about which make this even more difficult.
Mightily more difficult.  
Since Deliberate Practice focuses on things we cannot yet do, it will involve failures. The gymnast does not just hop up on the balance beam and perform a triple walkover. The gymnast likely falls off, only does a double, or lands with a thud on the beam hundreds of times prior to success.
How many of us work in an organization that can tolerate that much failure? When we go to work, aren’t we there to perform, to get things done right, to achieve our objectives?
If one of our prospective employees told us in an interview “I can do that job after 100 attempts”, how many of us would say “that is the one for me, hire ‘em”? Don’t we generally look for the one who can “hit the ground running” and add “immediate value”?
Since this is the common and prevailing perspective, we will need to spend a lot of time and effort sheltering and protecting our teams as they go through the failure process.
Depending on our organization, its culture, and its politics, even this might not be enough.
Can Our Organization Tolerate Failure?
In any political environment track records count, strengths and weaknesses of opponents matter, and in some cases are pounced upon. “I successfully completed xyz, my counterpart could not achieve abc even after three tries”. Who is more likely to win a promotion, or additional resources, or greater scope of control with an argument like that? Not the eventual expert, the one operating under Deliberate Practice!
Furthermore, research has shown that those who are successful are more likely to be ascribed positive attributes than their failing counterparts (a la The Halo Effect). Again, with a groundswell of positive attributions from the organization at large, who will hire the currently failing, future Expert?
It Takes Time
Simple fact – if it takes 10,000 hours of Deliberate Practice to become an expert, our group needs to have this much time available for this practice. In a reorganizing, synergy-seeking, cost-cutting, make-do type of environment, how likely is it that we have a stray 5 FTE’s available to do nothing but practice?
When the CEO comes around when it is time to “stretch” the budget, how many of us will be able to protect those FTE’s from contributing to the company’s “urgent” need to hit its current forecasts?
It Takes Others
If we are building an expertise we do not yet have, we will need to involve others in coaching and guidance roles. Do we have the right network and story to convince an appropriate coach to work with us? Do we have the financial resources to attract the right kinds of folks to guide us?
Since we are talking about time and money, there will be a great temptation to cut corners and make-do with good enough people and activities. This will not create expertise!
Why Is This Good News?
Why is this news good? How can it be so? We need the right organization with the right kind of politics, with extra time created for the purpose and appropriate coaching and guidance provided. This is a tall order.
So tall, in fact, it is 1) unlikely anyone will try, and 2) unlikely that anyone could replicate what we do even if they did.
If we can truly pull off 10,000 hours of Deliberate Practice with our teams, we will achieve what 99.99% cannot, because the odds are stacked so hard against it!
And we can regard the hard work that we perform to overcome the obstacles noted above as our contribution to the Deliberate Practice that establishes our organizations expertise.
Look forward to seeing you in the winner’s circle!
I would love to hear your thoughts about developing expertise or your stories on this topic if you have them.
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