Why do some skilled, gifted entrepreneurs struggle while other seemingly less talented, individuals succeed beyond your wildest dreams? It’s a real head scratcher — especially when hard work, time, and effort are feverishly invested.
Interestingly, academic research identified how entrepreneurs can consistently improve performance, exceed, and succeed, much like their sports and music counterparts.
Turns out, wild success is less an issue of luck, talent, or hard work and more a matter of focused learning and deliberate practice.
Good Enough, Smart Enough, and Talented Enough
Malcolm Gladwell, well-known author of Outliers, was the first to mention the “10,000 Hours Rule” which suggests greatness is achieved once 10,000 hours of practice is attained. The Beatles and Bill Gates were two examples of success used to make his point.
According to Gladwell, the amount of time the Beatles played music and Bill Gates “played” with computers shaped their success.
Although Mr. Gladwell does reference “deliberate” practice in Outliers, the original author of the study on “deliberate practice,” K. Andrews Ericsson, says Malcolm got it wrong. Spending 10 years, or 10,000 hours, working in your domain does not translate to high levels of performance and success.
Tristin Hopper, an award-winning reporter for the National Post articulates it well in his article, Malcolm Gladwell got it wrong: “Deliberate practice” — not 10,000 hours — key to achievement, psychologist says
What’s critical is “deliberate practice” — a scientific attention to specific improvement goals, a constant drive to move outside one’s comfort zone that is “generally not enjoyable,” and a good coach “to minimize the risk” of wasted, frustrated time.
Deliberate practice directly influences the capacity for entrepreneurs to excel and acquire the following:
- Attainment of consistent high levels of performance
- Greater capacity for processing and integrating new information
- Multiplication of skills and capabilities
- Adaptability to rapid and unpredictably change
- Expansion of cognitive resources needed to accurately evaluate opportunities
It’s deliberate practice, not hard work, long hours, talents, giftedness, or intelligence that is the greatest magnifier of performance — and success.
Turns out, you really are smart enough, good enough, and talented enough to succeed. What you need is practice — deliberate, intentional, and strategic practice.
The Bare Necessities of Deliberate Practice
Not all forms of practice deliver the level of success most entrepreneurs crave. Practice, as academia demonstrates, must be deliberate.
Two well-respected entrepreneurship researchers, Robert A. Baron and Rebecca A. Henry, outline key elements of deliberate practice — beyond 10,000 hours — to include:
- Focus and concentration. Expanding the capacity to exceed is mentally demanding. Therefore, one must be fully absorbed in the task at hand. No multitasking and interruptions, please!
- Strengthen weaknesses. Thought-leaders tout the benefits of bolstering one’s strengths. Research experts disagree. Continuing to develop strengths does very little to influence performance. Much like a bodybuilding ends up with bigger biceps when focused only on biceps (vs. reshaping their entire body), an entrepreneur fixated on strengths does little to improve performance. Embrace your weaknesses!
- Duration. Gladwell “sorta” got this right. Research concludes the accumulated benefits of deliberate practice are attained in 10+ years — not 10,000 hours. Let’s not give up too soon!
- Repetition. Sustained levels of performance are acquired through recurrence and replication.
“Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” —Ovid, Roman poet
- Continuous feedback loop. Analysis and insight gained from tasks, metrics, and/or others provide objectivity for making the right kinds of improvement.
- Pre-performance preparation. The capacity to excel includes establishing appropriate goals and the process required to reach the predetermined goals. In other words, strategic thinking and planning is a must!
- Self-reflection and observation. Rather than rushing from one achievement to another, deliberate practice followed by objectively noting behaviors, outcomes, emotions, and reactions, amplifies future performance.
- Post-performance reflection. A “post-mortem” after sustained periods of deliberate practice provides insight into the correlation between levels of performance and goal realization. This analysis produces strategies for future improvement of performance.
Like an engine firing on all cylinders, the elements of deliberate practice shift you from merely doing to succeeding. Or, as someone once asked me, “Do you have one year of experience success repeated 10X or do you have 10 years of experience success?”
Breaking Free: You Have Options
What’s an entrepreneur to do? There’s good news! You have choices available to enhance your success beyond adding more hours to your already jam packed work week.
- Go it alone. This is a strategy many talented, intelligent, gifted entrepreneurs have tried with little success. Although it’s not a strategy we recommend, it is an option.
- Engage in periods of focused deliberate practice. Whether you go it alone or involve a colleague, employ the elements of deliberate practice listed above.
- Contract with a coach. Since its infancy, coaching has incorporated many of the basics of deliberate practices into its core competencies.
- Transfer resources developed in other domains to entrepreneurship. Deliberate practice in sports, music, and creative writing, for instance, can be transmitted to business success. (Looks like that marathon training may pay off after all.)
- Join a mastermind group. Collaboration is rapidly becoming the new way to achieving success more quickly — for a variety of reasons. From accountability to accelerating entrepreneurial learning to focused practice, mastermind groups, particularly when facilitated by an experienced coach, is the most effective method for creating opportunities for deliberate practice.
Are you ready to increase your chances for success? It won’t be easy following the principles of deliberate practice. It’s tough work! But let’s face it, what has been done thus far hasn’t been exactly living the dream.