Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Practice, Practice, Practice


On a rainy Sunday morning in March, having secured the newspaper and with a Starbuck’s “tall” coffee, I quickly leafed through The New York Times Book Review. My purpose was to scope out reviews of interest for reading later in the day. The title “How to Be Brilliant” and a strange illustration caught my eye, and I stopped to read Annie Murphy Paul’s review of David Shenk’s book The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent and IQ Is Wrong.

Shenk’s thesis played out in his book is that genetics and practice, and lots of it (He calls it discipline.), play a greater role in achievement than anyone had previously thought.

I have to admit I have always had more than a passing interest in understanding how and why Yo-Yo Ma became the greatest living cellist. His father, Hiao-Tsiun Ma, a talented musician and skillful music teacher, appears to have played a significant role in developing his son’s musical ability. Yo-Yo Ma and his sister began studying first on the violin and, at his request, Yo-Yo Ma progressed to a larger instrument, the cello. He had his first recital at five, performed at Carnegie Hall at eight, and was by then on his way to being described as a musical prodigy.

This same scenario can be seen playing out not only in music but in sports as well. Tiger Woods started his career under his father Earl Woods’s tutelage and daily practice sessions. By the time Tiger was eight, he was considered very proficient at golf. When he was 21, he won the U.S. Masters at Augusta, Georgia.

Shenk talks about his own struggle to improve his writing: “I will routinely write and rewrite a sentence, paragraph and/or chapter 20, 30, 40 times – as many times as it takes to feel satisfied.” The reviewer concludes that given the content and importance of The Genius in All of Us, Shrenk may also become a writing genius, given time.

I see this all the time in my practice. A person can have decent presentation skills, but to be a fantastic communicator you have to be willing to put in the practice so you can deliver a flawless presentation that engages and informs your audience every single time.