The Power of Purposeful Practice

The first chapter of Anders Ericsson’s book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, is called, The Power of Purposeful Practice.

Ericsson notes that there are several key characteristics of purposeful practice:

Has well-defined, specific goals; Is focused; involves feedback; and requires getting out of one’s comfort zone.

This is not just doing something over and over again. What Ericsson found is that EVERY great performer that he studied, and he’s known as the world expert on expertise for a reason, had invested an enormous amount of time in purposeful practice before reaching a level of greatness in his or her activity.

The beauty of Ericsson’s work and why I admire it so greatly is that he has uncovered one of the critically important secrets to performance success. You need to invest your time and energy into purposeful practice.

When Bill Belichick was 8 years old he was breaking down film of football plays for adults. He was receiving feedback from his father and other adults on how he did. Robin Williams practiced in his attic using different voices while he played with toy soldiers. He then eventually got into open mic nights and improv groups where he received immediate feedback from audiences on what worked and what didn’t work. Fred Rogers experimented with puppets and music for over ten years as he worked to perfect his show on child development before he ever went national with Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

What skill do you want to master? Apply the principles of purposeful practice to it, and do so for a very long time.

A Leap in the Dark

In the preface of his book, A Leap in the Dark, John Ferling wrote,

“The title of this book was taken from a line in a newspaper essay written in 1776 by a Pennsylvanian who opposed American independence. To separate from the mother country, he cautioned, was to make ‘a leap in the dark,’ to jump into an uncertain future.

There were those who were ready to take the chance and those who resisted approaching the abyss that would be ushered in by breaking with the past. It was a leap into an unpredictable place to resist British policies, go to war, declare independence, embrace republicanism, ratify the Constitution, enfranchise additional citizens, permit those who had never been trusted with public office to be elected as public officials, and to cast aside the habits of the colonial past.

“Each step was uncertain and chancy. The success of the American Revolution was far from inevitable.”

It all looks so inevitable from where we sit now, but just imagine how risky this massive change must have seemed to people living in the American colonies back then.

What change are you considering right now that you really want to do in your organization or in your career? Does it seem overly risky? Is it a leap in the dark? Imagine going out fifty years into the future and seeing this move as an inevitable success. It’s happened before.

I’m just saying.

Kill The Company

Kill the Company is actually a provocative book title by Lisa Bodell.

Her exercise called, Kill the Company, is very thought-provoking. The idea is for you and your team to come up with ways for a competitor to kill your company. What would the competitor have to do to steal your customers and ruin your business?

This exercise forces you to think of ways to come up with something significantly better than what your organization is doing right now.

And then, of course, the idea is to implement these better ways of doing things. It’s much better for you to kill your old ways of doing things with better ways than for your competition to do that to your business.

Stay True to Yourself

In the past few months I’ve read biographies on Robin Williams, Bill Belichick, and Fred Rogers, of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood fame.

These three couldn’t be more different from each other, and yet each was remarkably successful in his own way. Why?

I believe the key is that each of them stayed true to himself. None of them tried to be anything other than himself.

Describe yourself. Your values, your standards, your areas of focus, your style, your way of doing things, your passions, your talents, and your character strengths. Write those down. And then as you go about doing whatever you do stay true to yourself. Just try to be a better you. Don’t waste trying to be a better somebody else.

Turn Off, Refresh, Turn On Again

Last year an Apple employee encouraged me to turn off my cell phone every day for at least ten minutes. She said, “Go brush your teeth, use the restroom, maybe take a shower, and then you can turn back on your phone. It will last much longer that way.”

That’s such good advice for how to do significant work.

You can’t work all the time. You need to shut yourself off every day. I recommend several times a day just shut your brain down. Go for a walk. Take a nap. Watch a mindless television show. Allow your brain time to completely ramp down.

Then when you come back do so with much better energy.

What will your story be?

My daughter, Sarah, is a double major in Theater Arts and TV Arts. I think of it as a Massive Major in Creativity. She’s learning how to help create meaningful stories. I’m excited about her journey.

She’s learning all of the details (scripts, plot, characters, acting, actors, directors, producers, scene design, etc. of making a story come to life.) Over the course of a period of time, the story is created piece by piece. When it’s all done, it’s shown to whoever wants to see it. And that story impacts other people.

Many of my biggest decisions were impacted by watching a story. To Sir, With Love; Dead Poet’s Society, Awakenings; Good Will Hunting, and Field of Dreams all had a profound effect on my career decisions.

A great story engages the viewer. You’re not watching a film or show. You are actually in the story. You feel pain or sadness or happiness or worry or joy because of what is happening by the actors and to the actors.

In your own life you are making a story right now. At the end of the year, the story will be called, Write in your name)’s 2019, or maybe something a little more intriguing than that. Take time now while the story is in its early stages to really think through what you want the final film to be about. What will be the main message of the film, what’s the aspiration of the main characters, what’s the primary conflict, what will be resolved, and how will it end?

Picture your film in your mind, and then make it a reality. The story is intentionally created one day at a time.

Live a Life Worthy of the Gift You Have Been Given

My good friend, Pastor Kelly Archer, recently gave a sermon where she had a line I’ll never forget. She said, “Live lives worthy of the gift you have been given.”

That struck me as tremendously powerful.

We all have a gift. Your gift is the intersection of your character strengths, passions, talents, values, and purpose. Each person has something remarkable at that intersection. My gift is to champion ideas and to champion people.

What is your gift?

Take some time to figure out the answer to that question.

And then live a life worthy of the gift you have been given.