The Equation that Unlocks Our Potential

Our talent/ability + what unlocks that talent = fulfilled potential

Conventional wisdom says fulfilling our potential (or brilliance) is heavily reliant upon our talent/ability. (Some would call it intelligence and, yes, there are multiple intelligences).

Psychologists have, for the most part, focused on the intelligence / talent piece and only recently begun the researches into the necessary capacities that unlock our talents. Today, we introduce one of these: Grit

The 10,000hr Rule

This rule stems from the work of Anders Ericsson, a Psychologist at Florida State University then popularized by Malcom Gladwell in Outliers.

The number refers to the number of hours of deliberate practice that's universally required for world class achievement in any domain. In studies of experts of various kinds (performance musicians, world class athletes, highly skilled professionals), nobody reaches world class levels until they have acquired 000s of hours of the hardest, most concentrated practice.

This is 10,000hrs is not just any practice, it’s deliberate practice

Deliberate Practice

Deliberate Practice is the practice that actually makes you better at what you do. It has three elements:

  1. You need a specific goal in mind of what you want to improve – e.g. you can’t say "Today I’m going to be a better leader... or a better coach”. It needs to be more specific – "Today I am going to listen closely for understanding when my clients/staff have an emotionally charged comment to make”.
  2. Then you have to get feedback - some way of knowing whether the adjustments in what you're making are working or not working.
  3. And then you need iteration. This is where you come back and try it all over again, and again and again... with further adjustments and refinements.

This kind of practice is extremely effortful; it takes all of your concentration and, crucially, it’s not like flow – it doesn’t feel very good. You don’t feel like you're ‘at one with the music’ or that time is warped and that you could do this forever.

In studies of experts, the most deliberate practice they can reliably do in a day is four hours. Hence the 10,000hr rule: breaks down to 4hrs of deliberate practice, six days a week, 52 weeks of the year for 10 years.

Why aren’t we all doing deliberate practice all the time?

Why am I not an Olympic level athlete even though I have been running for 10 years? I’ve gone for my daily jog and haven’t got a second faster during that time.

The reason is, I haven’t been doing deliberate practice. I have been doing practice, but not the very specific kind deliberately directed at improving a particular facet of my performance with feedback and iteration

Where does Grit fit into this?

Grit as a character strength really predicts how much deliberate practice people are willing to put in.

But where does ability fit into this?

High achievers in any area are usually extremely hard working and prodigiously talented. They tend to be on the right tail of the distribution bell shape – the outliers.

Interestingly, however, Anders Ericsson would argue that effort and practice are enough!

How to develop more grit in yourself?

Outsource your grit – have a coach or mentor. Feeling tired, stressed, frustrated and bored are natural process because if always stuck to your path, wouldn’t make good trajectory changes. It’s powerful to someone outside of your skin who is not feeling those emotions, brings objectivity and reminds you that this too shall pass.

Love the burn. Reframe feelings of frustration and boredom. These emotions are definitive of learning experiences. When children experience boredom or frustration, they take this as a cue to stop what they’re doing. But in adults, they are often simply symptoms of learning. If you’re not confused, falling down, if things aren’t lumpy, then you’re performing some highly practised skill, but you’re probably not improving.

Figure skaters, when learning new moves, fall down all the time. If you’re confused and bored and max-ed out, take this as a cue that says ‘Oh, I am probably on my edge. I’m probably doing deliberate practice. It’s good for me.’

De-synchronise bad days from decision days. There is a timing issue with quitting and emotion. Time your big decisions (quitting decisions: stick with your career, partner etc) so as not to co-incide with bad days.

Make those decisions in a much calmer, reflective space. Schedule deliberate angst filled moments at a particular time of the week/month over coffee at Starbucks and between those monthly sessions I’m not going to worry about it. This is one way to de-couple them

Implications for Improving Your Leadership Skills

Leadership is, by definition, moving into the unknown; leading is learning, self-learning. The more you extend your edge, the more emotionally challenging it can become. Grit is what will get you to the ease of expertise on the other side. The change is messiest, most demanding in the middle.

One effective strategy is to outsource that grit – hire a leadership coach who can both support and hold you accountable. They will ensure your goals are highly specific, provide regular feedback and support you to try again.

Ahem... I happen to now of a good leadership coach I can recommend!