Behind every effortless display of skill

Behind every effortless display of skill lies thousands of hours of effortful deliberate practice.

I recently had the opportunity to ask a fantastic communicator about his journey to effortless public speaking. He shared two nuggets.

First, he talked about the commitment he made when he decided to become a great communicator. He realized it mattered to him and wanted to get really good. So, he committed to doing 50 speaking events in the next twelve months. 10 speaking events would be a lot for most people. But, he started with a talk at the local library and went on to complete 50 in about 18 months.

Now that he had established a level of comfort and expertise, the next step was continuous improvement. Before every talk, he asks a friend/colleague to look out for 1-2 things he can do better. By making a specific request, he ensures there’s no cop out “you did great!” answer. He then follows up after the talk on the feedback and incorporates it for the next one. He’s been doing this for a decade.

It is worth repeating again then – behind every effortless display of skill lies thousands of hours of effortful deliberate practice.

Letting your art be art

Every once a while, we see a lot of buzz about monetizing weekend projects. It comes and goes in cycles. The basic thesis is – start a blog or podcast or newsletter, build an audience, and make some money on the side. What’s the downside?

The downside, in my mind, is that pursuing weekend/side projects with the pressure to monetize (or to meet some lofty engagement goal) converts art to work. You have to find an audience that’s willing to give you their attention and build for them. That is very different from painting for fun.

It also changes the focus of the exercise from you to your audience. Your growth and what interests you matters a lot less than generating content that appeals to your audience. There are two exceptions to this – existing celebrities and the rare creator who manages to engage a large audience based solely on what interests her/him.

If you are planning on a weekend/side project, consider letting your art be your art. Perhaps it could be something you do for fun and be the kind of thing you’d do even if no one paid attention. If you can just celebrate having an audience >=1, these fun projects almost always contribute to our long term learning and growth. And, if we keep at them long enough, they provide many opportunities for us to connect with and perhaps even have a positive impact on others on a similar journey.

Let your art be art.

Understanding and expressing

It is fascinating to listen to kids who’ve just expanded their vocabulary to say “I love you” express love.

It is a fascinating dichotomy. On the one hand, they don’t really understand the meaning of the phrase and what it entails (few do). And, yet, on the other hand, there are few who mean it more wholeheartedly.

The quote – “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel” – is repeated often for good reason. When we spend time with others, we often pay a lot of attention to things that appeal to our head (the logic of their words or actions for instance) when human connection is often a function of the heart.

When we really mean something, the intent tends to shine through.

Great book experiences and oh shit moments

The best leading indicator of a great non fiction book experience is not the source of the recommendation or its average rating on Amazon. It is the “oh shit – I really need to learn that” moment that precedes searching for it. The intensity of that desire to learn what the book is about is the best indicator I’ve found.

That is not how we normally look for books – the common approach I’ve observed is to ask externally and then check in internally to narrow the list down. For example, we might 1) ask around to see what folks we know recommend or skim some successful person’s reading list and 2) ask ourselves which of the books recommended sounds most interesting.

But, we get much better results when we flip the order. As is the case with many of life’s best experiences, the journey needs to start with an understanding of what we want to learn.

And, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Fast risks and slow risks

Albert Wenger, a venture capitalist and all around wonderful person, had a great post about fast risks and slow risks.

“People worry about many risks, but generally about the wrong ones. We tend to be obsessed with personal and societal risk that is “fast.” What will the Fed Reserve announce next? Should I trust Tesla’s auto steering? These are risks where outcomes are realized quickly. That’s why I call them fast risks. As it turns out though some of the biggest risks today are slow. Outcomes will not be realized for decades or longer. The impact of nutrition and exercise on health is an example of a slow risk. The mother of all slow risks is climate change.” 

I hadn’t thought of risks this way and now see this fast risk-slow risk dichotomy everywhere. It is fascinating to think of fast and slow risks from the perspective of our careers. Fast risks are the next big presentation, evaluation, interview or promotion cycle. But, a slow risk on the other hand is any deceleration of our rate of learning.

Albert goes on to observe – “I continue to be amazed by how much fear and anxiety people are experiencing daily based on fast risk. Will I get a good grade on my exam? Will this investment succeed or fail? These risks completely pale compared to the climate change risk of global upheaval of life as we know it, with the potential for tens of millions of human deaths.”

Powerful observation. It begs the question – how can we do a better job putting fast risks in perspective and ensure we’re working toward a better response to that “mother of all slow risks” – climate change?

Doing things poorly

“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”

This resonated. It is a nice reminder to not let the desire to be good get in the way of the desire to become good.

In the long run, becoming > being.

Ravana and the Khettarama stadium

The Ramayana is an ancient Indian epic poem about a prince called Rama (the hero) who sets out to Lanka/ancient day Sri Lanka to conquer Ravana (the villain portrayed as a “demon king”) and rescue his wife.

We were in the midst of a chapter detailing a small story from the Ramayana in our 6th grade when our Sanskrit teacher stopped for a moment to tell us about the “Khettarama stadium.” Cricket matches between India and Sri Lanka were common fare growing up and these were often played in the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. And, it turns out the founding name of the stadium was “Khettarama” or “Bad Rama.”

He went on to explain that the version of Ramayana we were told was not the only version. In Sri Lanka, Ravana was famous for his wisdom and valour and wasn’t portrayed as a “demon king.” There were versions in which Rama was the bad guy – a fact that blew our minds back then. :-)

It’s been close to two decades since I heard this story and, yet, I think about it time to time as I reflect on the many stories we’re told that are just versions from one point of view. There are often two or more sides to every story and there’s a lot of wisdom in listening to both/all sides before we rush to judgments.