In his book, “Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else”, published in 2008, Geoff Colvin presented an extraordinarily well researched argument that demonstrated that the key characteristic that distinguished people who were widely recognised as world class was the manner with which they approached their subject over time:
Greatness doesn’t come from DNA but from practice and perseverance honed over decades.And not just plain old hard work, but a very specific kind of work. The key is how you practice, how you analyze the results of your progress and learn from your mistakes, that enables you to achieve greatness.
His research indicated that these ‘world class’ performers spent upwards of ten thousand hours perfecting their skills. But they didn’t just mindlessly repeat the same things over and over again. Instead they consciously practiced, learning to discriminate between performances (whether good and bad or merely shades of excellent!), analysing what went well and what didn’t, and fine-tuning every aspect.
The name given to this approach to personal and professional development is ‘reflective practice’. I’ve mentioned it in previous articles:
- Whatever happened to quiet time? “Because I love the new you.”
- Ten ways for senior executives to get ahead by managing themselves
- Acquiring gravitas (sometimes called charisma)
- Call it gravitas or charisma – it’s the quality that distinguishes statesmen from politicians
- Dalai Lama offers social media users advice on avoiding conflict
- Making heroes out of leaders
Although the concepts underlying it are much older, reflective practice was introduced by Donald Schön in his book, “The Reflective Practitioner”, in 1983. The idea is very simple – that by analysing our own behaviour and experiences critically, we can discover ways of being and doing things better. Of course, once these insights have been gleaned, we have to integrate them into our future activities.
While the idea is very simple, it is in the application of it that many of us fall down. We often have a rather rosy perspective on how well we have done something and therefore how much there is to learn from it. We are often not as open-minded to imperfections as we could be. We are good at putting mistakes behind us! We are also good at forgetting the ‘learnings’ from the past. This is why many experts reckon that the process either requires exceptional self-awareness or else an independent partner, such as a coach or mentor.
Reflective practice involves some kind of conscious thought which has prompted some academics to proffer ‘models’ to steer the process. Sadly, most of these are quite frankly trite. Some people talk of the difference between reflecting during an event, and compare this with reflecting afterwards. Others make a point of the importance of iteration, experiment, continuous learning, and that learning isn’t effective until someone tries something another time.
There are tools that can help – by far the commonest being the keeping of a fairly rigorous personal journal.
At the end of the day, the key dimension is around the individual’s mental attitude – they have to be open to learning, and they need to be prepared to try new ways of doing things.
PS Don’t forget, you can download my e-book, “The Senior Executive’s Emergency Job Hunt” from my website – http://www.executive-post.info