One of those great lines you’ve heard many times, is practice makes perfect. I don’t know about “perfect” but it does make us better. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Outliers, takes this historical cliché of common sense one step closer to statistical truth with the proclamation of his 10,000 hour benchmark. In his work, Gladwell basically correlates the connection between 10,000 hours of actually doing something with mastering that “something.” Using example after example, he makes a compelling case. It does make common sense that the more you do something, the better you will get at doing it. The wisdom in his work, however, is that you may have to practice for a lot longer than you had originally thought.
It may also profoundly explain our challenge in living core values.
The bottom-line is that we really don’t like to practice. We like to be in-the-game, but we don’t like to practice. For most of us, this dislike for practice started at a very young age. I wonder how much undeveloped talent exists in the world just because we were not committed to practice. I’m not talking about taking our athletic talents to the major leagues, our acting talents to the big screen, our musical talents to the big stage … or our artistic talents to a famous art gallery. But who knows?!? I’m also not talking about woulda, coulda, or shoulda either. I’m just talking about our overall dislike for practice. And Malcolm Gladwell was talking about the necessity of it.
I’m sure many of us can think back to a childhood activity in which we were involved. It wasn’t that we didn’t like the activity itself. In fact, for some of us, we liked it a lot! We just weren’t committed to practice it. Which ultimately meant we weren’t committed to the activity itself.
This partially explains why so few organizations master core values.
Many organizations have put a lot of effort into defining their organizational core values and then committing resources to a nice roll-out of their announcement. No question, it’s an important part of the process. And it can take a lot of emotional energy to get that done. The problem begins when an organization basically feels, just because their core values have been announced, the task is done. And some leaders make a dangerous assumption when they assume their newly announced core values will just be done.
It is with the announcement that the real work begins. A coach would never announce the team and then immediately take the team to a game. Long before the first game there would be practice after practice. There would be formal practice and then the personally imposed additional practice of each committed team member.
The bottom-line of core values is that they take practice.
When it comes to core values, practice won’t make us perfect. Practice will make us consistently better. It is a day-in and day-out practice. Just because we might announce “respect” as a core value means very little. Everyone practicing respect means everything. We don’t get more respectful just because we claimed it as a value. We get more respectful because we practice it.
Malcolm Gladwell claimed that we get better when we do it … again and again and again. He didn’t say we always get it right. The magic of the 10,000 hours resides in the commitment itself … in the tiny celebrations when we get it right and learning from where we sometimes, painfully, get it wrong.
When you think about it … the benchmark of 10,000 hours literally takes a long time to get there. In an organization, that would be close to 5 years (and that would be assuming every working hour was just practicing that one thing!). That explains a whole lot since most organizations have forgotten the announcement of their core values in less than 5 months. It may also explain why less than 5% of the executives I ask, can immediately tell me the stated core values of the organizations they lead. I usually get a response something like … “I know I should just know them (to which I mentally agree). I will have to get those to you … I think they are somewhere on our website.”
Is it that they aren’t committed? Some aren’t. Most just don’t like to practice.
Practice is the ultimate form of commitment. Just like any other skill … core values become increasingly valuable the more hours they are practiced. Practice isn’t about always getting it right. It’s about the deep commitment to keep practicing. Getting it consistently right just becomes a lot more likely … five years later!
Today’s post is the featured article from the March 2014 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.