In Matthew Syed’s excellent book Bounce, he analyses what makes for the successful sports person. He examines nurture vs nature, training techniques, the psychology of winning. And he comes away with some rather startling results – it is purposeful practice not talent. But what is even more interesting is that many of his findings can be directly applied into a business setting. But are not.

Many of you may have been to after dinner speeches by sports people, well past their prime, but making a good living by drawing tenuous links between sport and business and telling some great stories of past glories. Bounce is not that. The findings are profound.

Sporting excellence is not a mystery

In summary:

– natural skill is rarely (never) a defining factor in overall success

– the time spent in purposeful or deliberate practice makes the greatest difference and about 10,000 hours are required

– purposeful practice is a hard grind and is not just “time on the court” or “total hours hitting the ball”

– purposeful practice focuses on making small but measurable improvements

– measurable improvements means there needs to be a baseline, and technique (swing, stroke, action) that is consistent so it can be improved upon**

** great story: A friend of mine decided to take a golf lesson to improve his driving.  He met up with the Pro who asked him to hit 20 balls off the tee so he could watch. My friend hit the 20 balls and then asked the Pro what he should do to improve. The Pro scratched his head and said “Which of your 20 swings do you want me to help you improve”. Job #1 was getting my friend to hit the ball consistently.

Business excellence should not be a mystery

So how does this apply to business?  Surely we don’t get the chance to ‘practice’ and make mistakes. Business is full on from the time we clock on until we leave exhausted in the evening. Whilst sporting excellence is a zero-sum game – if you win then someone else needs to lose. But business can be win-win.

If everyone wins, what could be the effect on society as a whole?

What if I adopt the principles f purposeful practice and increase my productivity and salary by 10%. I can no spend 10% more on food, clothes, toys benefiting those businesses. Now extrapolate this to everyone in your company, or everyone at work. The cumulative effects over time could be devastating. That is how whole countries drag themselves out of the also rans into the top performers.

But it is only in sport that the principles of purposeful practice are evident.  Think about the last 2 steps in my Sporting Summary. Aren’t these at the heart of BPM or Business Process Improvement?

– purposeful practice focuses on making small but measurable improvements

– measurable improvements means there needs to be a baseline, and technique (swing, stroke, action) that is consistent so it can be improved upon.

Learning from sport

So we can learn from sport, but is probably not what you expected. It is not about talent or determination. But about improvement techniques.


4 thoughts on “Deliberate practice; proven approach for sports people, but never used in business #process #bpm

  1. Ian, it is clearly an illusion that anyone can become a world class athlete in 10.000 hours …

    IF YOU HAVE THE TALENT AND THE PHYSIOLOGY, then it still needs 10.000 hours to become world class.

    Likewise, will no one become an entrepreneur by practicing it.

      1. Just in the unlikely case that you mean me … being a contrarian 😉

        … no need to practice … its in my genes to speak up … someone recently wrote to: ‘when you respond to a post, Max then I know I wrote about something relevant.’

        If people look for agreement only, then they shouldn’t put their opinion up for discussion … I read more than a 100 posts a week and I comment on maybe five … the rest I don’t bother.

        So let’s continue to share and discuss ideas … in any case I have a contrary opinion to Matthew Syed in this case … I even disagree with many leading authorities on quantum physics, so you are in good company.

        The only authority I accept is nature …


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