What do Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, LeBron James, and other elite athletes have in common? They all practice. A lot. Even after winning world championships, the first thing they do the following season is undertake rigorous training and practice sessions to develop their skills to even higher levels. Then they play a number of practice (pre-season) games to further refine their skills and prepare for the real games.
My question is: if practice works so well in sports, why don’t we do it in the business world?
I study the way we work, especially leaders, and it’s clear to me that our behaviors in the workplace are becoming increasingly rote. By that I mean we’re relying more on what we believe about the past rather than taking the time to pause, assess the current situation, and make appropriate decisions. We take what has made us successful in the past and automatically carry it forward, assuming it will continue to make us successful going forward. Which is often true – until our customers, markets or industry change overnight and don’t wait around for us to catch up.
Why do we rely on rote behaviors? Because the world around us is moving so fast and our brains tell us we don’t have time to stop and practice. And the business world moves even faster because we have to play our game every day. Football players play their game once a week. In between they can study film, go over their mistakes, practice new plays and formations, and ask, “What could we do different?” They practice a lot, and then they play.
In business, we don’t have that luxury. Our game takes place every day, and if we don’t show up with the pads on ready to go, we quickly get left behind.So we never take time to practice. When we don’t practice, we end up reacting rather than pausing to think about the best decision or course of action. The more we react, the more mistakes we make, and the more we have to do things over to get them right. Not a good game plan for winning in any business!
What does practice look like in the business world?
I explore numerous techniques and tools in my latest book Using Your Brain to Win. Getting clear on winning. Slowing down just enough to ask, “What if?” Talking about winning constantly, so that everyone in the organization understands the destination and why it’s important to get there. Constantly aligning and realigning our teams.
Because we’re moving so fast, practice also includes changing our perspective, challenging assumptions, gathering data from different sources, and learning to see the world in new and different ways. It involves exposing our thinking to other team members and having them do the same. It requires actively seeking out data that challenges and even contradicts our prevailing view of our industry and our customers. And that’s probably the hardest part for most of us. When the world moves so fast, the human brain wants to hold onto the past because that’s what it knows. So we actively screen in data that supports our view of the world while actively screening out data that contradicts it.
The good news is that practicing in business doesn’t take hours out of our busy schedules. In fact, five or 10 minutes a day is probably all we need. The trick is to make it a habit, so that it happens every day and so we get better at it over time.
Practice in business consists of many little things, like pausing at the start of an important meeting to set an agenda, agree on the desired outcome, and establish guidelines for how everyone in the room will work together to achieve it. Too often, we just run into the room, throw around a bunch of stuff, and run out, thinking we have accomplished something. Then we wonder why we have to do it over.
Most of all, practice in business includes starting each day by focusing on what you need to do to help your team and organization win. It only takes a few minutes in the morning to review the activities you have scheduled for the day and make sure they align with your top priorities and responsibilities.
I don’t know whether practice makes perfect every time. But it sure makes for fewer do-overs. And it greatly increases the odds of getting where we want to be – holding up the winner’s trophy at the end of the game.
Call to action: Write into your daily schedule 10 minutes a day to practice.