Principles of Deliberate Practice [Ericsson and Pool]

In the Petriglieri post I authored a couple of months ago and just published, one line in particular deeply stuck with me.

In discussing why hard work in a professional setting rarely translates to growth, or in other words, why suffering if often mistaken for sacrifice, Petriglieri made the following observation:

We seldom seek to understand and work on our limits as seriously as athletes do

It resonated with me so much since I’ve come to believe that professional sports, and other non-work professional fields (music, entertainment, etc.) are a great source of inspiration for the future of work. In fact, I can’t even take credit for that prediction. Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline already made that observation, more than 30 years ago:

Yet, this is exactly what teams in modern organizations lack. Imagine trying to build a great theater ensemble or a great symphony orchestra without rehearsal. Imagine a championship sports team without practice. In fact, the process whereby such teams learn is through continual movement between practice and performance, practice, performance, practice again, performance again.

Curious to explore this further, I started off by checking out Endure, the book that Petriglieri referenced in his piece. But it was too physiologically-focused to be of much use. Fortunately, it did remind me that I had another book sitting in my queue, which proved out to be way more relevant: Ericsson and Pool’s

Peak: Secrets from the new science of expertise

The book details the genesis, development, and application of Deliberate Practice.

Sadly, Ericsson et el.’s work first became popular when it was referenced in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers under the catchier name that Gladwell had given it: “The 10,000 hours rule”. It’s sad because as Ericsson points out:

Unfortunately, this rule — which is the only thing that many people today know about the effects of practice — is wrong in several ways.

The path to expertise is not simply doing something for 10,000 hours. It requires practicing in a very particular way, Deliberate Practice, which adheres to the following principles:

  1. Deliberate practice develops skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques have been established. The practice regimen should be designed and overseen by a teacher or a coach who is familiar with the abilities of experts performers and with how those abilities can best be developed.
  2. Deliberate practice takes place outside of one’s comfort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities. Thus it demands near-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable.
  3. Deliberate practice involves well-defined, specific goals and often involves improving some aspect of the target performance; it is not aimed at some vague, overall improvement. Once an overall goal has been set, a teacher or coach will develop a plan for making a series of small changes that will add up to the desired larger change. Improving some aspect of the target performance allows a performer to see that his or her performances have been improved by the training.
  4. Deliberate practice is deliberate, that is, it requires the person’s full attention and conscious actions. It isn’t enough to simply follow a teacher’s or coach’s directions. The student must concentrate on the specific goal of his or her practice activity so that adjustments can be made to control practice.
  5. Deliberate practice involves feedback and modification of effort in response to that feedback. Early in the training process, much of the feedback will come from the teacher or coach, who will monitor progress, point out problems, and offer ways to address those problems. With time and experience, students must learn to monitor themselves, spot mistakes, and adjust accordingly.
  6. Deliberate practice both produces and depends on effective mental representations. Improving performance goes hand in hand with improving mental representations; as one’s performance improves, the representations become more detailed and effective, in turn making it possible to improve even more. Mental representations make it possible to monitor how one is doing, both in practice and in actual performance. They show the right way to do something and allow one to notice when doing something wrong and correct it.
  7. Deliberate practice nearly always involves building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working to improve them specifically; over time this step-by-step improvement will eventually lead to expert performance. Because of the way that new skills are built on top of existing skills, it is important for teachers to provide beginners with the correct fundamental skills in order to minimize the chances that the student will have to relearn those fundamental skills later when at a more advanced level.

Now evaluate any professional training that you’ve ever attended, not to mention “learning-by-doing” or “on-the-job training” catchphrases, using these principles and you’re likely going to reach the same conclusion as I did:

There is a massive effectiveness gap in the way we currently build professional expertise in almost any domain.

The good news is that the deliberate practice principles not only show us the gaps, they also provide us with a roadmap towards developing more effective expertise building experiences and strategies. More on this will likely follow in some future posts.

Principles of Deliberate Practice [Ericsson and Pool]

A silent meeting is worth a thousand words [Ricau/Henry]

I’ve been writing this blog long enough that seeing thoughtful organization practices slowly propagate through the business ecosystem bring me true joy.

The latest example:

A silent meeting is worth a thousand words by Pierre-Yves Ricau (aka Py)

More than 4 years ago, in June 2014, I covered Jeff Wiener’s “A simple rule to eliminate useless meetings” in which he discussed his adaptation of the same meeting practice Jeff Bezos gets credited for pioneering. It was the 4th blog post that I’ve authored. This is my 244th.

It’s one of the facilitation principles that truly stuck with me over the years, and one that I’ve brought with me to every organization I was part of. While I always use it with discretion (it’s not always the right solution…), I’ve seen it work wonders for groups ranging for the executive team to R&D all hands with more than 100 participants.

My primary motivation for using it has mostly been pragmatic efficiency: meaningful dialogue requires shared context, and it’s better to do that through self-paced reading (rather than walking people through slides) and better to do it as part of the meeting container (since not everyone will get a chance to read something in advance).

Py’s post, channeling Alyssa Henry’s perspective on it, adds another important dimension: increasing inclusion and better harvesting the team’s diversity by giving everyone a chance to react to the content, in writing, at their own pace. In that way, it complements the verbal part of the meeting, that has some inherent bias towards participants that are physically present and ones that think quicker on their feet.

A pure silent/written meeting has its drawbacks as well: we usually write less than we can say (some context gets lost), written reacts seem to run a higher risk of turning passive-aggressive (at least in my experience), and some people need the space to think out loud in order to formulate their perspectives.

A combination of the two pieces: a silent/written part, and a verbal part, can be designed to harness the best of both worlds.

A silent meeting is worth a thousand words [Ricau/Henry]

What All Great Teams Practice [Fogelson]

I came across

What All Great Team Practice

by Mackenzie Fogelson a few weeks back and immediately knew that it’d merit a blog post. But also that it’d take a bit of work to unpack. Below is my summary of the piece, which required some rejiggering of content in a way that’s hopefully still in-line with the author’s original intent.

The piece kicks-off with an important distinction between:

  • Ways of doing — actions teams and organizations operationalize in order to work in new, adaptive ways.
  • Ways of being — mindsets and behaviors that are integral to changing the ways of doing.

The key thesis in the piece is that teams and organizations often run off to change the ways of doing, ignoring the needs to change the underlying ways of being. If the current ways of being include learned helplessness, retaliation, shame, blame, and fear — no material change will be accomplished.

Specific practices can be used to address the emotional (ways of being) side first and cultivate the critical mindsets and behaviors:

  • Self-awareness — through the use of structured personal self-reflection exercises (what’s one strength you bring? what do people misunderstand about you? what needs acknowledging? what behaviors served or have not been serving this team?) and regular team check-ins.
  • Psychological safety — through the use of daily reminders of the commitment that each individual makes on the way they’re going to show up when engaging others, and the collective environment that they want to create.
  • Curiosity — through the use of more Socratic questioning instead of being “the person with all the answers”, and, mixed-up with strengthening self-awareness, the use of above/below the line reflections.

With more productive “ways of being” in place, the focus can start shifting towards better “ways of doing” starting off with a comprehensive team chartering exercise, which is detailed in the remainder of the and covering the following questions:

  • Mission + Purpose — Who do we serve? Who is our customer? How do we contribute to the organization’s success? What’s our outcome and how do we know we’ve reached it?
  • Values + Guiding principles — How do we want to show up every day? How do we want to get our work done? What will remind us to stay true to ourselves, our values, and our purpose?
  • Meetings — What is the purpose of each of our meetings? How often and how long do we meet? What meetings are missing and which ones do we need to stop having?
  • Communications — How do we collaborate? What technology do we use? When and why? What methods will we use for feedback and conflict?
  • Guardrails and norms — What guardrails will allow us to be autonomous in pursuing our purpose? What idiosyncrasies are important for us to name so we can do our work? When will we revisit our commitment to each other?
What All Great Teams Practice [Fogelson]

Decomposing Management: Stewardship [Loomio]

Source: Enspiral

Stewarding at Loomio

Out of the many organizations doing innovative exploration of the future of work, Enspiral, and its ventures (such as: Loomio) are most certainly at the leading forefront of some of the most radical experiments.

Flatter, more egalitarian working environments are a big part of their organizational vision and as a critical milestone towards accomplishing it, they are working to minimize the natural power dynamic that exists in the way the role of managers is traditionally defined.

Rather than simply “eliminating managers” and suffer the consequences of the gaping organizational hole that is left (a common anti-pattern), they’ve set out to deliberately identify the critical functions that managers play and unbundle them into several roles, that are then spread more evenly across the entire community.

One of those roles is “Stewarding”, which is defined as follows:

When you have an issue, you can’t approach a group; you need a specific person you know you can turn to. This is what your steward is for. They won’t solve every problem, but they are your point of contact to make sure the problem gets solved. If you don’t know who to go to, you can always go to them.

Stewarding is not about managing your daily work. Its about you as an individual, and your relationship to the co-op. They can be your mentor, or your guide, or your sounding board. If you ever get into a conflict situation, they’ll be by your side making sure you are well supported to a resolution.

They also provide a few concrete use cases that you’ll typically use your manager for but at Loomio, should be addressed by your Steward:

*) Be the ones you talk to if your coworker is being a jerk

*) Support you to meet your personal development goals

*) Help make sure you do the things you said you were going to do

*) Put a human face on talking to ‘the organisation’

Almost everyone at Loomio has a Steward, and almost everyone is someone else’s Steward (the illustration at the top of the post demonstrates that well), with a couple of edge cases that are spelled out in detail in the Stewardship policy.

While this solution is not without its shortcomings, for example, it works best when Stewarding needs, capabilities and motivations are homogeneous (which is hardly ever the case), it is, by all means, a viable alternative solution to the way these responsibilities are handled using the traditional management approach. Which is more that can be said for several other proposed alternatives out there. I’m excited to see how this organizational experiment pans out as both Enspiral and Loomio scale and looking forward to having them share their learnings with the broader community.

Decomposing Management: Stewardship [Loomio]

NOBL’s Org Design Principles [NOBL]

NOBL’s What Is Organizational Design? page is a trove a trove of useful frameworks and tools for anyone interested in playing an active role in shaping the future of work.

Today, I want to call out their list of “Org Design Principles” in particular (full descriptions are available on the NOBL website):

  1. Serve.
  2. Anticipate change.
  3. Surrender the past.
  4. Chase fit, not fads.
  5. Do no harm.
  6. Design by doing.
  7. Play your zone.
  8. Advocate for the individual. 
  9. Delay drawing boxes.
  10. Keep work simple. 
  11. Make change a habit. 
NOBL’s Org Design Principles [NOBL]

The Comp Transparency Spectrum [McKinney Blount]

Source: First Round Review

Just finish reading this weekend the First Round Review article featuring bethanye McKinney Blount’s work:

Opening Up About Comp Isn’t Easy — Here’s How to Get More Transparent

As its title suggests, is an extensive “how to” guide on how companies can start taking steps towards making compensation more transparent. A loaded topic that I’ll probably come back to and analyze in more detail in the future.

It covers the whole gamut from the initial motivation that push companies to be more transparent about their comp, through the critical milestones, all the way to the important minutiae of delivering the right messages by managers and the key points in the company all hands.

The most useful thing that I took away from the article is the “comp transparency spectrum” featured above. It presents pay transparency more as a polarity than a dichotomous either/or problem, and offers multiple notches in between the poles. Comp transparency is not simply going, step-by-step from the far left side of the spectrum to the far right side of the spectrum. It’s choosing where you should be on that spectrum (according to the kind of culture you want to create), identifying where you are now, and then taking the gradual steps to go from point A to point B.

The Comp Transparency Spectrum [McKinney Blount]

From ignorance to ineptitude [Parrish/Gawande]

I came across this older post listening to a recent episode of the Knowledge Project Podcast in which Shane Parrish interviewed Atul Gawande.

Atul Gawande: Why we Fail

The article mentions an older paper, by two philosophers, Samuel Gorovitz and Alasdair MacIntyre who in the 1970s published a short essay called “Towards a Theory of Medcial Fallibility”.

In the essay they make a distinction between two types of failure:

  1. Ignorance — we may err because science has given us only a partial understanding of the world and how it works.
  2. Ineptitude — the knowledge exists, yet we fail to apply it correctly.

Gawande then makes a couple of super interesting observations:

1 . For most of history, we’ve failed because of ignorance… [however] over the last several decades our knowledge has improved. This advance means that ineptitude plays a more central role in failure than ever before.

2. Failures [of ineptitude] carry an emotional valence that seems to cloud how we think about them. Failures of ignorance we can forgive. If the knowledge of the best thing to do in a given situation does not exist, we are happy to have people simply make their best effort. But if the knowledge exists and is not applied correctly, it is difficult not to be infuriated.

Parrish fleshes out #1 in a bit more details:

Today there is more to know, more to manage, more to keep track of. More systems to learn and unlearn as new ones come online. More emails. More calls. More distractions. On top of that, there is more to get right and more to learn. And this, of course, creates more opportunity for mistakes.

Our typical response, rather than recognising the inherent complexity of the system by which judgments are made, is to increase training and experience.

Gawande’s solution to the challenge is to do a better job in capturing the critical know-how through checklists.

But on a deeper level, I think that to make meaningful progress, we’d need to decouple failures of applying (“known”) knowledge from automatic judgment, at least initially. Not all of these failures are inherently blame-worthy. If we are to learn from these failures and improve, compassion may be a better emotion to start with.

From ignorance to ineptitude [Parrish/Gawande]