Fortune has a very interesting article about What it takes to be great. The article is from October 30, 2006 but it popped up on Twitter today. The post title says “Secrets of greatness: Practice and hard work bring success” which sums it up nicely.
The good news is that your lack of a natural gift is irrelevant – talent has little or nothing to do with greatness. You can make yourself into any number of things, and you can even make yourself great. It’s nice to believe that if you find the field where you’re naturally gifted, you’ll be great from day one, but it doesn’t happen. There’s no evidence of high-level performance without experience or practice.
They conclude that practice makes perfect but it has to be practice that is focused on improving performance – challenge your comfort zone in that area – and gives you feedback:
The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call “deliberate practice.” It’s activity that’s explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.
The article then goes to the business side:
How do you practice business? Many elements of business, in fact, are directly practicable. Presenting, negotiating, delivering evaluations, deciphering financial statements – you can practice them all.
Still, they aren’t the essence of great managerial performance. That requires making judgments and decisions with imperfect information in an uncertain environment, interacting with people, seeking information – can you practice those things too?
The key according to the article is to change your mindset: Instead of merely trying to get it done, you aim to get better at it. It is about constant improvements, Kaizen, and seeking feedback and ways to measure your progress.
In summary, change your mindset – aim to get better at what you do – and then practice to make you great.
This was originally posted at another (now extinct) blog of mine.