Deliberate Practice in the Pursuit of Excellence
Posted by Louise Barnfield on July 24, 2009
Many years ago a neighbor’s son, whom I shall call he-who-shall-remain-nameless, was frequently the butt of jokes within my family for being phenomenally ‘bright’ (academically-speaking) and stupendously useless, at one and the same time. His parents delighted in boasting that his IQ was off the charts, yet he was socially and practically inept. Although he sailed through exams in his early years, he did not live up to his potential, and turned out to be [pause to select a suitably charitable phrase] somewhat of a disappointment.
There have been plenty of studies regarding the correlation between IQ and job performance. However, while IQ is evidently a helpful predictor of future achievements, it does not negate the need for commitment, motivation, and application.
I feel rather sorry for he-who-shall-remain-nameless; I believe he was done a great disservice by his parents, as he felt he was so intelligent he didn’t need to apply himself to anything. However, as individuals we ultimately own responsibility for whether we make use of the abilities we are given, and seize the opportunity to practice them.
So, I was interested to read an article in this month’s issue of Talent Management magazine highlighting the achievements of certain high school students, and the schedule of study and practice that prepares them to compete in California’s Academic Decathlon. The article Human Performance discusses the ‘value of deliberate practice’ and also the implications for the workplace.
This may not be radical new thinking, but it provides talent management personnel with some persuasive arguments when seeking executive support for, say, providing a stimulating environment, creating increasingly challenging opportunities, reinforcing deliberate practice, and “rewarding successes until the successes become their own rewards”. Organizations that provide environments and opportunities that both challenge and interest their workers, and encourage deliberate practice, will be rewarded by increased commitment and motivation, as well as a higher level of expertise.
Sadly, this comes too late for he-who-shall-remain-nameless, who continues to meander aimlessly through life having wasted a superior level of natural ability that I freely acknowledge I never had, and very much envied.