This Forbes article reminded me of a story I heard of the late George Carlin. Many outside the industry applauded his ability to get up on stage and “wing it.” Reality was something altogether different. He was well known among fellow comics for repetition, practice and continually working to better his act. To prep for each one of his TV shows, he would give 150 live stand-up performances over 2 years to help him refine his material. 150 performance performances to prep for 1 TV show! Chris Rock is said to follow a similar work-man-like ritual of practice. Sobering reality as to what it takes to be an expert in your craft.
Ericsson & Lehmann (1996) have done dozens of studies on what distinguishes novices from experts, and consistently find that it takes about 10 years or 10,000 hours of concerted practice before one becomes an expert. They’ve found this to be true in every field they’ve ever studied, from musicians, to writers, scientists and my friend David Day suggests this applies to leaders as well (Day, Harrison & Halpin, 2009).
And practicing easy things you’ve already mastered isn’t going to grow you either. There is plenty of evidence that experts become proficient by consistently practicing at ever-more-difficult levels of achievement.
Doesn’t this make good intuitive sense? If everyone were investing considerable, deliberate and sustained effort to grow their proficiency levels at their own personal “sweet spot”, then leaders like Steve Jobs wouldn’t be so incredible rare.
When I coach leaders, I remind them that if they can’t do something well, or at all, they better invest time and effort to grow it, or not be surprised with their subsequent disappointment.
How much time are you investing in your own development?