Before we left for vacation, I stopped by the library to stock up on some good car ride reads. I knew I’d want something for the long road trip as well as for the time we spent in the tv-less cabin. I chose a good classic novel, a book about web design, and the Outliers, which looked like a good business-motivational read.
In the Outliers, the author shows evidence that practice will definitely make you better at something. He cited a study done in the ’90s at the Academy of music in Berlin. Vilolin students were split up into three groups – those that were the stars who may become world class soloist, those that were thought to be ‘good’, and those that were unlikely to ever become professionals in the music world.
All of these had started playing around the same time – at age 5 – but at the age of eight differences in practice time became evident. Those that ended up being the best in the class practiced quite a bit more than those who did not.
K. Anders Ericsson, who along with two colleagues conducted this study, then looked at amateur pianists and professional pianists and saw the same pattern emerge.
Finding a ‘natural’ – one who could become top professionally without having to practice at all – was not accomplished. In addition, those that worked harder than the others always tended to do better than the others – meaning the researchers didn’t find anyone who worked extremely hard but didn’t do well.
I found this interesting from both the perspective of a parent and the perspective of a business woman.
As a mother, I hear these types of statements from other parents – and I’ve said a few myself. “My daughter/son would like to do (fill in the blank with a sport or activity) but I’m not sure how well he/she will do because of (fill in the blank with a personality trait that contradicts this sport or activity).”
Or, to be more specific, here is my example: “My oldest wants to do ballet, but she goes at 100 miles per hour all the time and because of this seems to do best at fast moving activities.”
In some ways, I do believe that personality lends itself to certain things that become our strong points. In general, those that are extremely shy don’t do well talking in front of crowds and would tend to back away from careers in public speaking.
Those afraid of heights are not as likely to jump out of planes, and those with a lot of energy tend to pick high energy activities, like soccer or running, over those that don’t require as much energy.
As a mother, I will sign my daughter up for whatever she wants to try because I believe that is the point of life – to go out there and experience life in order to find what you love.
This book, though, looked at the idea that people who practice a skill, even if they aren’t as good as a person next to them, may do better than that next person if that next person does not practice. Which, to me, totally makes sense – and makes me realize that my daughter may, through practice, learn to slow down, become more graceful, and eventually excel in ballet – or another more slow-moving activity.
I also believe that this idea can be applied to business. Think of the times you have been doing a job and you haven’t practiced the skill you need to do that job for a while. This may be a piece of hardware or software for the business, or an actual physical activity. If you haven’t practiced, chances are you are going to be a bit rusty on the uptake.
Those that have been doing this type of work repeatedly, daily, are probably going to do it more quickly and possibly more accurately.
In terms of making money for your business, time is money. If you charge $X per job and it takes you 10 hours to complete that job, you’re going to make a lot more money hourly than you would have had it taken you 20 hours. The more you know what it is you are doing, the better chances you have of making money and obtaining new clients over someone who isn’t as fast and/or as accurate.
I find that as I work more and more since the children are growing older and more independnt, and as I practice certain skills that have not been practiced for a while, I do become more adept at handling certain jobs. I also enjoy the task more because I am not fumbling my way through it. If I’ve mastered it, I can do it more efficiently, which results in less frustration.
While I may never acquire the 10,000 hours of practice that some experts say is the magic number for obtaining world class mastery of a skill, I feel that over time I will grow more accustomed to certain skills needed for my company if I spend the time practicing.
And this, of course, gives me a leg up: If I can do the task better, and more quickly, than company B, I have a better shot of getting that job.
This week, consider one specific task that you’ve grown rusty at over the years. It might be a computer program that could help organize business information, or perhaps it is a specific technique used in your occupation.
Then consider ways you can improve that skill over the course of the next few months. Some questions to ask yourself include:
- If I did improve this skill could it help me acquire new clients or move ahead in the company?
- How much time per day/week would I need to spend to make a significant improvement?
- Upon completion of this task would I see an increase in pay to compensate for the time I spend practicing?
- Would I be able to do this on work time, or would I have to do this on free time?
- If on free time, do I have the actual time needed to improve my skills?
- Would I be able to do this online, at home, or through a school?
- Would it cost money to improve my skill, and if so would that money be recouped upon completion of this practice?
- On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the least important, how important is it that I know this for my business?
And if you are the parent of a child who is interested in trying something new, remember the outcome of these studies. Even if your kid isn’t making contact with the baseball when the ball is right in front of his or her nose, chances are with a little bit of practice that ball will be sailing to the outfield.