I’m reading Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. It’s the book selected for the first Australian Institute of Training and Development online book club. While attendance at our book club webinars has been low I have been having side conversations via Twitter and blogs about the book. I’m currently reading chapter 5 – Principles of Deliberate Practice on the Job. I was really excited in earlier chapters to learn about the effectiveness of deliberate practice, which was illustrated with research into skills such as playing musical instruments and a range of sports. I kept wondering how I could apply deliberate practice to my professional development.
What I learned in chapter 5 is that I can’t as the most of the skills I use don’t meet the criteria for deliberate practice:
1) it requires a field that is reasonably well developed – a field in which the best performers have attained a level of performance that clearly sets them apart from people who are just entering the field. The authors explicitly exclude “many of the jobs in today’s workplace – business manager, teacher, electrician, consultant, and so on.” (At which point I sigh audibly in disappointment while reading.)
2) it requires a teacher who can provide practice activities designed to help a student improve his or her performance.
But wait, there is still something I can do – although it will require more effort and research. The alternative for those of us who aren’t musicians or athletes is purposeful practice. The guidance given for purposeful practice is to:
1) Find an expert – using objective, reproducible measures that consistently distinguish the best from the rest. Alternatively, approximate as best as you can.
2) Identify what they specifically do that separates them from less accomplished people in their field.
3) Determine what training methods helped them to get there.
I had a short conversation with Neil Von Heupt via Twitter messaging about deliberate versus purposeful practice yesterday. I told him I was disappointed that there wasn’t a body of knowledge about best practice training methods to draw upon in my field. In a short sentence that could lead to years of work if I choose to pursue it Neil suggested “Maybe you need to create that body of knowledge.” Little suggestion. Lot of work. However, it’s enticing, and probably some of this has already been created for the learning profession. The first step may be to find what already exists and pull it together. I’m going to sit on this idea right now and see if it draws me in further.
Neil participates in a circus school as a hobby/sport. He continued his message as follows: “I suggested the idea at my circus school – to create a skills framework, but interestingly, part of the framework is that you have to find your own way to keep that creative element in amongst the skills.” This reminded me of my experience doing a creative embroidery course through City and Guilds when I lived in the UK in the late 1990s. The course was so enjoyable. It consisted of two strands – art techniques and embroidery techniques. We would learn a set of new art and embroidery techniques in parallel. Each block of learning started with basic traditional skills in the techniques. We would learn and practice from an established body of knowledge.
Then the real fun began – breaking the rules. This was the ‘creative’ bit. A cross-stitch with only one of the diagonals. Or diagonals of different lengths. Or stitches overlapping, not laid out in a neat grid. However, first understanding the existing body of knowledge, the traditional approach, helped us to understand what rules to break. My sense is that regardless of whether it’s embroidery or circus skills finding your own way to creative mastery is founded on learning the basic skills first.