Your Mom Was Right: Practice Makes Perfect

Your Mom Was Right: Practice Makes Perfect

April 30, 2015

In a recent Inc. article, “Malcolm Gladwell’s 5 Best Life Lessons for Entrepreneurs,” Thompson Wall highlights insights on workplace success. One quote from Gladwell’s book Outliers really stood out to me:

Once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it.

And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder… Even Mozart–the greatest musical prodigy of all time–couldn’t hit his stride until he had his ten thousand hours in. Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.

Good point. Natural talent may help to get you started – it could even make some things easier for you –  but practice and training can take you to the pinnacles of performance.

As the economy rebounds and the talent pool shrinks, hiring managers are looking for attitude and aptitude to build versatile teams. And a willingness to practice – to aim for something new or difficult and try and try again – is a quality that’s hard to beat.

Talent isn’t irrelevant. It’s still critically important to find the employees who have the knack and the knowledge to quickly find solutions and to innovate. Someone with innate talent and the personal commitment to work hard will be a superstar in the organization. In the Psychology Today article, “Hard Work Beats Talent (but Only If Talent Doesn’t Work Hard),” Piers Steel writes “Necessarily, people who are exceptionally talented are also exceptionally rare. But from what we know about the prevalence of procrastination, people who work hard are also pretty rare too.”

In the workplace, we must commit to providing training and opportunity for those who are willing to put in the time and make the effort. Even if they are not obvious superstars, through their hard work and dedication, they stand a solid chance of growing into one through practice. There are many options for free or low cost training on the web, including and And within the organization, cross-training deepens understanding and provides much needed back-up for the team.

To practice, though, employees will need coaching on what actions to take and on what the expectations are. Thoughtful managers who give valuable feedback are essential. So is an employee engagement program that formalizes brand values and communicates goals and successes. By laying out a clear path, we can help these colleagues practice their way into their best performance.