There's a wonderful book by Matthew Syed, "Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice". It could be written as a training and talent development guidebook.
It explodes the myth that success comes through innate talent and explores how it is PRACTICE that makes us better. Those who seem like child prodigies are often just the ones who started practising very early, Mozart being a prime example. He was an incredible composer at 5 years old. But then again, he was made to start doing it at 18 months old by his rather controlling father. Similarly, who remembers the footage of a toddler called Tiger Woods having a lesson with his dad?
The most extraordinary part is when Syed explains how back in the 70s a Hungarian man named Laszlo Polgar set out to prove that anyone could be made into a champion of any discipline if they started practising early enough. To do this - and get ready to have your flabber well and truly gasted - he put an advert in a local newspaper for a woman to come and have children with him to do just that. Rather amazingly, someone replied and they presumably got on alright because they indeed had 3 children, all girls. Laszlo picked a subject he knew little about to prove the point even further - chess. He learnt all about it and began teaching them all very early in life. Lo and behold, all three became chess grandmasters and one, Judit, is now regarded as the greatest female player of all time. She became a grandmaster at 15 years and 4 months, at the time the youngest person ever to achieve the feat. It's a rather crazy example (it made me laugh to imagine the parents' first date....) but it's a shining example of the fact that while talent might first get you interested in something, the determining factor for success in that field is practice. It's a story I've never forgotten, and never lost my fascination with.
The moment I read it, I knew it all applied to the training and development world too. While some people might initially show aptitude for certain skills, it's practice that makes the difference long-term. And we CAN practice leadership and management or communication skills but here's how we currently try to upskill employees a lot of the time:
We talk to them about how to communicate better, feedback better etc. We show them some nice slides with a nice model or framework.
We tell them to go and do it in their actual job.
We hope they do and hope the consequences aren't too awful if they get it wrong.
Don't check whether they do any of it.
It's single event training. It's "done" so everything is fine. It's rated by how participants feel at the end of it. We look like we've accomplished something.
In reality of course, research shows the chances are that knowledge will seep away within days and being too worried to try it out, employees will continue like they always have. Or they'll stumble when they actually do try it out but the experience is so chastening that they never attempt it again.
So how do we use this 10,000 hours of practice mantra to improve things?
Make all our training experiential - there has to be an element of skills practise. Roleplay is key. Feel and experience what it's like to try things out, see the benefits as you adjust to feedback and you won't forget it.
Make that practise risk-free - we can't rely on employees trying things out for the first time in real life, we're asking for trouble. Roleplay works by simulating the real world in a safe, risk-free environment.
Check-in with employees about how they've found using the skills. Refresher sessions, check-in meetings. So we all know whether it's working and can claim some sort of ROI.
We haemorrhage information if we don't keep using it, and we won't use it if we're scared of how it'll turn out. The only way to address this problem is experiential exercises using business actors.
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