Deliberate practice…

Practice is undeniably important. HOW people practice is even more impactful. When Tiger Woods hires a swing coach, that coach doesn’t just tell Tiger to hit more golf balls. The best swing coaches know body mechanics and the physics of a golf swing and can pinpoint the motions that cause issues with ball flight. They assign specific drills and workout regimens to address the shortcomings and nuances of each swing. Tiger can then work towards that one specific gain to help get the overall mechanics back on track. This is deliberate practice.

As with sports, an important aspect of many jobs is the embedded notion that people should be improving the necessary skill set for that work. For some roles, the practice needed to improve is well-known and clearly defined based on the details of the position. People generally understand sports examples of practice but struggle to relate it back to occupations. While just gaining more experience in a field can be helpful, it’s the deliberate practice that really makes a difference.

For educators, this means taking one skill, one pedagogical technique or tool, one research-based practice, one tip from your cognitive psychology class from two decades ago, and then making a plan to improve. Note: THIS WON’T ALWAYS ALIGN WITH YOUR ORGANIZATION’S IDEA OF IMPROVEMENT. In fact, it rarely does. You’re not doing this for your organization (although they benefit of course), you’re doing it for your students and for yourself. Don’t forget that Tiger Woods didn’t just take more swings to become the best, he took a targeted approach to improvement.

For a decision-maker in an organization, it becomes convoluted and more difficult to pinpoint. At the executive level, the most important skill to hone might be decision-making, managing people/projects, or collaboration. Prototyping and pilot programs are great ways to test the impact of a decision, but still come at a cost and pilot programs don’t always scale well. So what does deliberate practice look like for the executive? In some instances, there is just no substitute for experience. Making decisions, living with the outcomes, and embracing a growth mindset to learn from mistakes become some of the most valuable tools in the toolbox.