Not all practice is the same....

Today the focus is on ‘purposeful practice’.

You might think that it’s quite brave to write a blog about practice, when the chances of mixing up the ‘s’ and the ‘c’ are so high!  Being an ex-lawyer, and therefore trained to worry about these things, I would be mortified to get it wrong. However, fortunately I have put in a lot of purposeful practice to ensure that I should not make a mistake.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” So said Aristotle.

But improvement, and excellence, is not just about practice, is it? It’s about making sure that any practice that you do, and time you spend, is focused, appropriate and well-aimed. Or, to use the term popular in sport, that it is ‘purposeful’.

We have been thinking about this at work. As a new business, one of our priorities is to focus our time and energies appropriately.  To establish the reputation that we want to, and deliver the quality of service that we aim to, we need to make sure that we perform as well as we can in all that we do. So, whether it be an initial meeting, workshop delivery or follow up training, we need to practise in a purposeful and directed way to continually deliver and improve. We have also started to cover the concept in our high performance and leadership workshops, especially when looking at lessons from sport across the business, as it is one which we find always excites interest.

I first came across the concept of purposeful practice a few years ago in Matthew Syed’s brilliant book, Bounce (and yes, I have just ordered his follow up, Black Box Thinking and can’t wait to read it). The concept was then firmly established in my mind, and mindset, after reading Daniel Coyle’s book the Talent Code.  Daniel starts his book with a great description of a recording of a thirteen year-old girl, ‘Clarissa’, doing some piano practice.  Up to this point Clarissa has been classified as merely an average piano player. However, after watching the practice session, she is swiftly re-classified!  As the psychologist involved in the study, Gary McPherson, put it: “if somebody could bottle this, it’d be worth millions.” Or as Daniel Coyle summarised it, “The Girl Who Did a Month’s Worth of Practice in Six Minutes.” So what was is about her practice session that was so special? Well I won’t be able to do it justice so you had best read the book, but in summary, it is a highly-targeted, error-focused practice, involving a cycle of trying (in discrete phases), hearing errors, fixing them, and moving on.

Another great representation of this concept is the popular Youtube video of Marion Bartoli, the recently retired French tennis player, doing a practice session at the 2012 US Open. Here is the link if you haven’t seen it – 5 minutes of fascinating watching.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4_EuSK4F18

For a really good ‘executive summary’ of the concept, together with case studies ranging from Mozart, to Picasso, to Kobe Bryant, I would recommend James Clear’s blog which you can find here. http://jamesclear.com/deliberate-practice  

As a final note, one of our team attended an event in London today where a well-known female broadcaster was presenting. Apparently she was brilliant.  In addition to natural ability and talent, we would put that down to an awful lot of purposeful practice……