18th July 2013

Intentionally Get Better! by Ian Kinnery

There has been some revealing research over recent years about people who display great mastery of a skill set or subject matter and one of the recurring themes is that of “10, 000 hours of practice”, which being crudely précised says that we need to practice for a long, long time before we reach a level of mastery. The Beatles and Mozart are often cited examples of this.
Understand that there is a difference between repetition and deliberate practice. I have been driving for long enough to have passed the 10, 000 hours mark, but that doesn’t make me a Lewis Hamilton, because when I am driving I am not deliberately practicing. I don’t have any feedback from a coach, or an observer. The intention is not purely to get better.
This is what an athlete does when he or she trains. They will repeat, refresh, adapt and perfect their technique. They will try to take out all the variables and isolate the one shot or kick, or stride or technique that they want to perfect. A table tennis player will have a machine firing balls at a certain angle and speed time and again until they repeatedly perfect the ideal return. Great exponents are obsessive about deliberate practice, with their coach, who can observe their technique and provide valid feedback.
I wonder in our chosen fields how often we apply ourselves to “intentionally get better”. Or do we just show up and imagine that is enough and I will bet that we don’t even do that a lot of the time? If I think about the multitude of skills that a business leader needs to perform at a high level my mind boggles. There are all of the numeric skills, the people skills, the communication skills, the adaptive skills, the hard skills, the soft skills and I could go on and on; and all of this in the cauldron of a busy day and a busy business. How often, I wonder do we ever take time out to “intentionally get better”? What would be the effect if we were to just allocate an hour a day to “practice our swing?” How good do you think Jonny Wilkinson would be if he hadn’t practiced to the level he has? What about David Beckham, Bradley Wiggins or any other person of mastery you admire.
Deciding to get better is a choice. Is it a choice you have made or one that you might want to make? Do you want to get better, or do you think you have what it takes to just turn up, and wing it?
Can we really believe that we can perform at a great level in anything without applying ourselves to intentionally get better?
So what are your strategies to intentionally get better, I wonder?