A few years ago, my supervisor’s supervisor suggested a book to read called “Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everyone Else” by Geoff Colvin. Mr. Colvin is Senior Editor-at-Large for Fortune magazine. In it, he makes the argument that what separates the successful professionals from the rest of the pack is “Designing a system of deliberate practice.”

What really captured my attention, however, were the words coming before “deliberate practice;” namely, “A system of,” and “Designing.”

While “deliberate practice” is essential, the reader gets to know the difference between “regular” practice and “deliberate” practice.  The key learning for the reader is the “how” to get from “regular” to a system of “deliberate” practice.  In that respect, deliberate practice is the “what” must happen, but the key to making such a system work lies in “how” that system is designed.

Once a system can be analyzed into its component parts, then each of the elements can be refined based on the designer’s knowledge, then synthesized into a new system for a different application.

Yes, there’s a lot of Bloom’s Taxonomy happening in there – and you thought Bloom was all about education.

You’re right – it’s just that corporations have seemed to have forgotten that they need to be, in the words of Systems Thinking pioneer Peter Senge, “learning organizations,” and not just organizations that focus on the bottom line.

What are the components of a successful system, and, how are the elements connected when one is “Designing a system of deliberate practice,” especially when it comes to what one does for a living?  Here’s an interesting perspective from Geoff Colvin:

“…in the great majority of careers, and in the advanced stages of all of them, there is no published curriculum, no syllabus of materials that must be studied and mastered.  In deciding which skills and abilities to work on, and how to do it, you’re on your own.  Most of us are completely unqualified to figure these things out by ourselves; we need help.”

There are many fields where professional development is essential.  Teachers, as well as medical professionals, must complete a certain number of hours of professional development each year or over a period of years to maintain their certifications.

However, that’s not the message here.

Notice that professional development is necessary to “maintain”…not necessarily to improve, master, or hone their chosen field of expertise.

Perhaps practitioners aren’t that interested in being the very best they can be, since, as many educators have discovered, it’s difficult to land a position where the attained expertise will be met with an appropriately acceptable amount of increased financial compensation.

Therefore, these 5 things one needs in life to succeed does not help to define success in terms of monetary gain, but are necessary so that one can “design a system of deliberate practice.”

1) Mentor

You need a mentor.  Someone that can bring out the best you can be.  Someone that can see what you’re doing, and offer not just criticism (in the positive sense of the word) and reinforcement, but to bring new ideas to expand your horizons, even though there may be some pain involved.

Some folks refer to this person as their sensei, their coach, or even their confessor.  Apprentices had master teachers who were mentors to them so their artistry and craftsmanship could continue.

In Christian terms, both St. Joseph and God the Father were Jesus’ mentors.  St. Joseph taught him the artistry and craftsmanship of carpentry, while Jesus had long talks with his heavenly Father, and made requests so that God’s glory could be made known to the people.

2) Students

Just as the mentor trains the apprentice, there needs to be someone to continue the lineage as the apprentice matures in into a world-class performer.

Just as water flows in and out of the Red Sea, there needs to be an “inflow” of training as well as a sharing of the knowledge and experience gained.

The gift must continue to be given.  Jesus had His students in the form of the Apostles and His Disciples.

3) Supporters

It easy to see how many followers one has today with reality of Facebook, and for the most part, one’s followers are one’s supporters.   However, there’s an old saying that goes, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

So, while we could group followers along with your supporters, supporters comprise your circle of friends and your family that truly offer support (I’m sure you may know of family members who are your biggest fans, and others who are your biggest detractors).

If there are people who keep bringing you down in those circles, telling you your ideas are ridiculous, your dreams are fantasy, and your beliefs make no logical sense in the spirit of keeping your “grounded,” they are not your supporters…but they could be your followers…and they could also be your students as described above.

If you become a world-class performer, you certainly will have taught them something.

In Christian terms, these were the people who believed in Jesus, which provides another example why “followers” are not necessarily supporters.  Jesus’ followers were the Apostles and His Disciples, but remember Peter also told Jesus he would stand up for Him…and wasn’t very good at keeping his word.

4) Passion

Passion is even stronger than desire.  It’s the highest degree of healthy emotional engagement.

Let me explain.

A few years ago, I developed the Logical/Emotional Scale to describe the degree of left-brain/right-brain response to an event or experience.  From left to right, it consists of 5 degrees – Expectation/Need/Want/Desire/Passion.  “Want” is the response in the middle, which is a response that consists of equal amounts of both logic and emotion, engaging both sides of the brain equally.  Logic mitigates the intensity of the emotion in the “Need” degree, while increasing the amount of emotion involved elevates the response to “Desire.”  The completely logical response is the “Expectation,” while the completely emotional response is “Passion.”

Going off the scale is not healthy. “Apathy” or “indifference” could be considered to be the “off the chart” step to the left, while “Obsession” is the taking passion to an abnormal, and sometimes unhealthy, level.  Considering this, the Passion of Our Lord isn’t just the events of Holy Week.  Jesus’ overwhelming desire to share his body and blood with his disciples and to suffer and be put to death was His passion.  No one can dispute the fact that He was passionate when it came to doing His Father’s will.

5) Dedicated Commitment

Colvin’s work examines study after study which conclude that “dedicated practice” is the factor that separates outstanding performers from the rest of the pack.  Colvin says, “One factor, and only one factor, predicted how musically accomplished the students were, and that was how much they practiced.”

For most, it takes YEARS of this dedicated practice so that not only physical changes but mental changes can take place to allow outstanding performance to be achieved.

Notice that a person who does not have passion will not practice shooting baskets, sinking putts, throwing strikes, or playing inverted modal scales for hours and hours and hours each and every day for years on end.

As for Jesus, his dedication was demonstrated when the devil tempted him with food, invincibility and power, to which Jesus replied, “Get behind me, Satan.”  It’s interesting he said the same thing to Peter when he admonished Jesus after He said that he would rise from the dead on the third day.

Are these five elements consistent across all disciplines?  Perhaps not, but in the case of a master teacher, they make a tremendous amount of sense.  And education is only the start, since it must also impact business.  As Colvin states, “In every industry worldwide, businesses have to perform at the highest standard, and then get continually better, just to be competitive.”

In order for businesses to perform this way, its people must also perform this way, since Covin reminds us, “The scarce resource today is human ability.”

(All quotes from Colvin, Geoff:, “Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everyone Else.” New York: Penguin Group, 2008)

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2012-2022