“Landing on your butt twenty thousand times is where great performance comes from.”
Geoff Colvin, in his book, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World Class Performers from Everybody Else, tells the story of Shizuka Arakawa. She was the 2006 Figure Skating Gold Medal Winner in the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Her deliberate practice was the result of her passion which drove her to painful and massive practice designed to push her limits.
It is estimated that her years of practice included falling on her butt onto hard ice at least 20,000 times. Why did she do it? It was her passion that fueled her commitment to deliberate practice.
What made Mozart, Tiger Woods, Jerry Rice, Chris Rock and other world-class performers reach their levels of excellence? Most would say “natural talent” or “hard work”. But is that really true?
In this thoughtful and well-written book, Geoff Colvin, Editor at Fortune Magazine, challenges these and other basic assumptions we have about world-class performance in business and sports. And by doing so, he offers a journey into the physics of “performance excellence” – with the democratic promise that some part of that excellence might be available to us all.
Colvin employs some ground-breaking research and data to question the “natural talent” or “hard work” schools of thought about world-class performance. He suggests that something else, perhaps startling at first but actually quite intuitive, is at play in a critical way. And it’s not special intelligence or memory or experience or in-born genetics. Rather, it is something he calls “deliberate practice”.
“Deliberate practice” is a methodology carefully designed to constantly push a performer past his usual and tired limits – to stretch oneself – into what Colvin describes as the “learning zone” which is a place where the performer is continuously improving his skill sets.
Over many months or years or thousands of repetitions, a “deliberate practice” performer begins to rise to the highest levels of excellence. Colvin suggests that even such a performer’s cognitive perception, powers of creativity and intuitive knowledge and memory begin to grow. Unfortunately, “deliberate practice” is “hard”, says Colvin. “It hurts, but it works.” It is an intensely mental drill, and thus it is not “inherently enjoyable”.
What are the elements of “deliberate practice”?
*Exercises designed specifically for the individual to improve performance past his limits.
*It is repeated over and over.
*High level feedback on results is continuously available in a supportive environment.
*It’s highly demanding mentally.
*It’s not much fun, thus implies the need for passion.
Colvin goes on to show how this methodology can apply in business and sports, and to individuals and teams. Colvin lastly explores the “deepest question about great performance” – namely, where does the passion come from? He suggests that performers might have intrinsic as well as extrinsic motivations, and among them the pleasure of great accomplishment, the need for achievement, the need to do good, and the drive for power and purpose.
For Colvin, the ultimate questions about performance excellence for anyone are: What do you really want? And what do you really believe? Do you want to pay the price of sustained “deliberate practice” to reach your level of excellence? Do you really believe that you can achieve it or not?