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Creative Career Path

Practice Secrets of the Very Best2011.11.15

    As revealed by Dan Coyle in The Talent Code, and Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success, elite performers in sports and music engage in up to 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to reach mastery in their field.


    If you are interested in the process of mastery, be sure to read a blog post from Study Hacks: Decoding the Patterns of Success, with the intriguing title:

    “If You’re Busy, You’re Doing Something Wrong: The Surprisingly Relaxed Lives of Elite Achievers.”


    This post reviews a study conducted in the 1990s at a famous arts academy in West Berlin, in which psychologists studied the practice patterns of violin players who were elite achievers, those who went on to become professional performers in Germany’s top orchestras; comparing them to the practice patterns of violin students in the education department who went on to become music teachers.


    Intensive interviews with the students in each group revealed that both practiced about the same number of hours, 50 hours a week. However, there were fundamental differences between the group of elite performers and the average performers. Despite the same overall time spent in practice, the elite performers spent 3 times more on deep deliberate practice, scheduled at regular intervals, were more relaxed, and got an average of one more hour of sleep than the average performers.


    Deep deliberate practice involves conscious mental and physical engagement in pushing through the hurdles of learning, whereas routine practice involves going through the motions and merely putting in the time. Doesn’t that sound a lot like the difference between elite performers and average players in the workplace?


    Elite performance in music and sports is very much a body-centered activity, with a competitive element and clear standards of performance, ranging from amateur to world class. Performance in the workplace may be evaluated more by experience, knowledge, and the ability to communicate and get along with people. One thing which elite performers have in common is the ability to learn at a deep level and continuously improve.


    Deep practice in music and sports is more than just a metaphor for high performance in business. It can be a model for full engagement, which surely is a rare thing in a world where as George Carlin said, “Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.”


    What are some things you can do to cultivate full engagement in your work?


    Engage in practice of a sport, martial art, or performing art. This is the Royal Road to deep practice, because you can directly experience learning and performing with full mind-body engagement, and learn how to perform with poise under pressure.


    Set goals for deep practice. Determine what your learning hurdles are, and make concentrated time to learn how to overcome them. Slow and deliberate practice is often the fastest way to improve.


    Learn from a master. Apprentice yourself to someone who has already mastered the process and learn by osmosis.


    Teach the process to someone else. As a teacher you often learn more than the student, because teaching helps you see the process from many angles.


    Follow a creative career path. Don’t just trade your hours and life energy for money. Find ways to grow and help others through your work.


    It isn’t just the time you put in, but the engagement in deep practice which makes the difference. 10,000 class 6,000 hours...teach at college 2,000 for lessons 1,000 hours... how far do you want to take it? 100 hours...what did you say your name was again?


    Find something worth learning, worth dedicating your life energy to, and make it worthwhile for others to enjoy.



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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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