Engaging in deliberate practice is one of the key differences between those that are good/talented/lucky and those that are truly great at what they do (and continue to be). Researcher K. Anders Ericsson talks about how innate ability and gifts will only take you so far. It might make you naturally better than the general public, but there are endless supply of people who are just as good as you in the top tier.

Experience also has its limitations. While innate ability AND experience make for a healthy combination of advantages, there are still no true barriers to entry. Every year, the top schools, organizations, and teams supply the market with new talent that will eventually ALL have experience. It is not a unique quality in which to build a sustainable advantage.

The difference is in those with ability and experience who also engage in deliberate practice to become an expert in their domain by working on areas of deficiency in a challenging, dynamic environment. It is not enough to go through the motions of practice. It must be carefully structured and methodical to lead to a systematic improvement over time. This requires relying on others to help you: coaches and teammates.

Recently, a practicing litigator published an article about this very topic. Even at a relatively early stage of his career, he recognizes that the courtroom is not where you plan, prepare as well as perform. Planning and preparation occurs outside the arena. It involves deliberate practice.

Military combat pilots believe in this approach. Flying a $100 million airplane and learning through trial and error is a very expensive (and dangerous) way to learn. Thus, they put in hours in the flight simulator. Learn down here, perform up there.

Likewise, business performers need to log time in their flight simulator. This involves training, coaching and dynamic simulations that allow them to plan and prepare for the most likely and unlikely of situations.

Personally, I would never get in a plane where a pilot refused to practice. I also won’t go to a business deal, appointment, or courtroom with a business professional that hasn’t either.

P.S. We cover this topic in Chapter 3 of my book, Cultivating Excellence. Get it here.