Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Deliberate Practice, Habits and Productivity

Another excellent post over on Steve Rubel's Micro Persuasion Blog

Recently, I was interviewed by Kellie Kass from Simply Communicate for an in-depth business profile called "How Did I Get Here." In the article, I share something I don't think I have ever talked about before: how I apply deliberate practice in my never-ending quest for insights into digital media, marketing and online culture. I decided to write about it now because I became more aware of my habits and because I believe it can help anyone become more successful.

Deliberate practice - at least as a concept - is relatively new to me. However, little did I know it's something I have been at for years. Perhaps the same is true for you. Regardless of your passion, it's something that - when applied - is surefire road to success.

The basic idea isn't rocket science. Basically, anyone with just even a little bit of natural talent in a given domain can master it in about 10 years by methodically practicing the essence of their craft two hours daily (including weekends) and measuring their progress from one day to the next.

And... much more, with good examples -- visit Steve Rubel's Micro Persuasion Blog

Meanwhile, there was an interesting -- and related post in the NY Times the other day on Breaking and Making Habits in their "Unboxed" feature which covers creativity and innovation. Why am I interested in all this -- do you sense a theme?

Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?

HABITS are a funny thing. We reach for them mindlessly, setting our brains on auto-pilot and relaxing into the unconscious comfort of familiar routine. “Not choice, but habit rules the unreflecting herd,” William Wordsworth said in the 19th century. In the ever-changing 21st century, even the word “habit” carries a negative connotation.

So it seems antithetical to talk about habits in the same context as creativity and innovation. But brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.

Rather than dismissing ourselves as unchangeable creatures of habit, we can instead direct our own change by consciously developing new habits. In fact, the more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

But don’t bother trying to kill off old habits; once those ruts of procedure are worn into the hippocampus, they’re there to stay. Instead, the new habits we deliberately ingrain into ourselves create parallel pathways that can bypass those old roads.

“The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder,” says Dawna Markova, author of “The Open Mind” and an executive change consultant for Professional Thinking Partners. “But we are taught instead to ‘decide,’ just as our president calls himself ‘the Decider.’ ” She adds, however, that “to decide is to kill off all possibilities but one. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities.”


This is where developing new habits comes in. If you’re an analytical or procedural thinker, you learn in different ways than someone who is inherently innovative or collaborative. Figure out what has worked for you when you’ve learned in the past, and you can draw your own map for developing additional skills and behaviors for the future.

“I apprentice myself to someone when I want to learn something new or develop a new habit,” Ms. Ryan says. “Other people read a book about it or take a course. If you have a pathway to learning, use it because that’s going to be easier than creating an entirely new pathway in your brain.”


She recommends practicing a Japanese technique called kaizen, which calls for tiny, continuous improvements.

Which is not unlike the process Steve describes above.

But if, during creation of that new habit, the “Great Decider” steps in to protest against taking the unfamiliar path, “you get convergence and we keep doing the same thing over and over again,” she says.

“You cannot have innovation,” she adds, “unless you are willing and able to move through the unknown and go from curiosity to wonder.”

Read the full article at: Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?

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