Talent versus Process

In his book, Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin argues that talent, IQ or smarts aren't what make people successful; it's what he calls deliberate practice. InOutliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that it can take 10,000 hours of practice (Colvin says 10 years), to achieve mastery in your chosen field. And I'd like you to consider that companies are no different. 

If you go to a golf driving range, you'll see lots of people hitting golf balls, but very few are practicing deliberately in ways designed to improve performance. Tiger Woods will step on a ball in a sand trap to practice getting the ball out of a plugged lie. And he'll keep doing it until he's mastered the shot. That's deliberate practice.

What is Deliberate Practice?

Deliberate practice:

  • Is designed to improve performance.
  • Can be repeated a lot.
  • Provides continuous feedback on results.
  • Is highly demanding mentally.
  • Isn't much fun.

Frankly, I'd rather come to work most days and mindlessly do the same old thing, and that's what a lot of people do. They do the same thing over and over again without questioning the whys and hows of doing it.

Deliberate Practice and Lean Six Sigma

Colvin says: "Opportunities to practice business skills directly are far more available than we usually realize. 

Lean and Six Sigma are precise forms of deliberate practice. Colvin found that an average tennis player and a pro or a good worker and a great worker have many differences: 

Great players understand the significance of indicators that average performers don't even notice. Using control charts, histograms and pareto charts, great companies can detect tiny shifts in process performance that are invisible to the naked eye

They look farther ahead. Using the voice of the customer, QFD, FMEAs and so on, great companies look into the future of what customer's really want and how to deliver those wants with a minimum number of mistakes, errors or problems. 

They make finer discriminations than average performers. While most companies react to defect rates higher than one percent (10,000 parts per million), great companies react to defect rates greater than 3 parts per million.

Applying Deliberate Practice

When a problem occurs, good companies fix the product or service, but great companies go back and fix the process that created the problem. 

When creating a new product or service, good companies bootstrap the product, but great companies Design for Six Sigma

Good employees like to fight fires; great employees like to prevent fires. 

Here's my point: 

Are you going to spend part of every day in deliberate practice, getting better, faster and cheaper? Are you committed to going from good to great? Or are you comfortable being average? It's up to you.

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537, support@qimacros.com."

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