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Monday, October 23, 2006

The Fundamentals of Becoming Excellent

Another article in Fortune's "Secrets of Greatness" series: "What it takes to be great"

The premise?

  • Your lack of a natural gift is irrelevant - talent has little or nothing to do with greatness.
  • You will achieve greatness only through an enormous amount of hard work over many years.
  • Understand that talent doesn't mean intelligence, motivation or personality traits. It's an innate ability to do some specific activity especially well.
How are certain people able to go on improving? The answers begin with consistent observations about great performers in many fields.

The conclusions:

  • The first major conclusion is that nobody is great without work. Yet that isn't enough, since many people work hard for decades without approaching greatness or even getting significantly better. What's missing?
  • It's 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. More deliberate practice equals better performance. Tons of it equals great performance.

How do we transfer this to business?

  • Many elements of business, in fact, are directly practicable. Presenting, negotiating, delivering evaluations, deciphering financial statements - you can practice them all.
  • Anything that anyone does at work, from the most basic task to the most exalted, is an improvable skill.

The missing elements? Attitude. Mental discipline. Feedback & Learning

  • Armed with that mindset, people go at a job in a new way. Research shows they process information more deeply and retain it longer (new attitudes, new habits.)
  • This difference in mental approach is vital.
  • Feedback is crucial.

BOTTOMLINE: "If great performance were easy, it wouldn't be rare. Which leads to possibly the deepest question about greatness. Maybe we can't expect most people to achieve greatness. It's just too demanding. But the striking, liberating news is that greatness isn't reserved for a preordained few. It is available to you and to everyone."

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