Of Symphonic Musicians, Tennis Champions, and Skill Building

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Of Symphonic Musicians, Tennis Champions, and Skill Building

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell explores the habits and routines common among people in different fields who have achieved significant success. As part of his discussion, Gladwell cites the “10,000 hour rule,” which notices that many of the elite musicians in major symphony orchestras spend at least 10,000 practicing before becoming professionals. In subsequent interviews, Gladwell explains he mentioned the “rule” to show not only the effort required by the musicians themselves, but also the large amount of sacrifice and assistance needed by those around them. However, many people took the “rule” to mean that practicing something for 10,000 hours guaranteed proficiency and success.

It doesn’t work that way.
The originator of the ‘10,000 hour rule’ is Anders Ericsson, an internationally known Psychology Professor at Florida State, who was interested in how deliberate practice could help people get better at things. What he found was that it wasn’t just practice — it was the combination of amount of time, intensity, and the proper teacher. For example, in order to become a world-class tennis player, you cannot just play match after match as your ‘practice’. If you only play 10,000 hours-worth of matches your skills will not be as developed and refined as they’d be if you’d spent the bulk of those 10,000 hours with a knowledgeable coach, perhaps playing a few matches at the same time. The coach would have given you specific drills around service, return, forehand, backhand, lob, net-play, etc., and build your skills. Otherwise, you’d just be repeating the same motions and likely not improving much at all. It is the combination of having energy to focus and knowing how best to focus that energy that achieves results.
You might perhaps think this is intriguing and all, but what does this have to do with controls integration? Well, at Avanceon we are constantly looking to grow and develop our associates. Sometimes we’re trying to hone their technical capacity, but often times we work on management, communication, planning or other soft skills. Sometimes in those areas it’s easier to just throw someone into something, critique what they did (maybe even throw it away because they really didn’t know what they were doing to begin with) and then hope that organic processes make them better the next time. Maybe if you can find and string enough of those together, the associates will learn enough to start doing better work on their own. While this approach certainly can work, it is probably not the most efficient learning style and works better with some than others.
At Avanceon we have been working with a structure we call “Mindful Practice” that sets aside time regularly for our associates to focus on a given skill set. We make sure that we always spend that time improving in that particular area, regardless of whether there is an actual, real-live project to use.We think about what we want to accomplish and who the best people are to provide insight in order to achieve that end. By spending dedicated, regular time with a knowledgeable resource working on a specific skill or topic, our folks have found it very satisfying to expand their abilities and responsibilities when those opportunities present themselves.
What about you? What ways have you found work best in growing people to the next level of their careers?

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