It is a known fact that no other field has so little practical practice as in the business environment. Before we begin, on the side page, look at your calendar, and write down how much time you actually practiced a new skill or learned something to be more effective. If it wasn’t scheduled, it probably didn’t happen. Random practice produces random results.
It happens every day in every business field. We are too caught up with other more “important” business activities. A clear example is sports figures, as these high-profile athletes are often hard to coach. But what makes a good athlete great? Is it coaching or talent?
The average professional athlete spends 90%+ of their time practicing and maybe 10% playing the game. It would be amazing if the average business person spent even 5% of their time actively practicing. The only way to improve is to PRACTICE. Period. Without continuous, active practice, failure is your reward. Why would you expect anything different?
Diverging paths — Ron and Mike
In the late ’90s and early ’00s, Ron and Mike were both incredibly gifted athletes that grew up together competing on the same blacktop in Queensbridge, NY. Kevin Jackson was an amateur coach who began working with them. Mike developed quickly into a hard-nosed point guard. He would rough Ron up during the games, even though he was a smaller player. Coach Jackson once said, “You see how tough Ron is now? That’s because of Mike. Mike was the fuel to the fire.”
Both became tough competitors, although Mike was the better shooter. Once, he beat Ron 32 to nothing, in a one-on-one game. From their early beginnings, coaches and friends knew they both had the talent to become standouts in college, and with the right coaching and practice, even reach NBA status as pro players — but one was adaptable, and one wasn’t.
Mike started hanging out with the wrong guys. Guys who’d lead him into drugs and guns. He never played organized high school ball, because he dropped out. He tried to clean up for a short time, enrolling for a single season of Junior college in Oklahoma, but couldn’t make the transition to a team player. A point guard who never passes quickly becomes a huge point of team contention. Mike quickly returned home to the projects, where the street habits took over again.
Ron took a different path. He took the advice of good friends and coaches. While a very good offensive player, he developed his real talent on the defensive side of the court. He parlayed that work ethic into a successful team ethic in high school and then on to star at St. Johns. He was drafted 16th by the Chicago Bulls in 1999.
In 2004, playing for the Indiana Pacers, Ron Artest was voted defensive player of the year. 2010 saw him win an NBA title as a starter on the Los Angeles Lakers. In the off-season, while Ron was in Indiana, he brought in Mike to help him get back in shape and possibly play overseas. Mike wanted the fast money, and although he had the talent, the drive was gone. He returned to New York. Instead of an NBA career, on March 14, 2010, Michael Chatfield was shot and killed in a drug deal gone bad.
Ron has long talked about the late Chatfield, who he grew up defending on the streets of Queens, as the toughest player he’s had to guard even when he was playing in the NBA. “Queensbridge baller/hustler/idolized in the hood,” Ron said of Chatfield. “He was my No. 1.”
Ron and Mike’s story isn’t unique. There are many more examples out there following the same lines and endings. Here are some thoughts on how this is applied in business environments:
1. Selfishness is a bad counselor
Whether you are a manager or front-line rep, if you’re selfish, you’ll soon cause contention everywhere, both internally and externally. Why help someone who takes and takes without ever giving back? Communication quickly becomes shorter and less complete. Selfishness is a recipe for isolation and then failure.
2. The risk-reward ratio
There is always a risk-reward ratio. Looking for a quick return without work or a long-term perspective will kill you. Coaching is only good if the player will take personal responsibility to turn it into positive action. Work as if you need to make a difference today. Risk as if you’re responsible for others around you, living in your tomorrow.
3. Natural readiness needs peer practice
One of the best roles of solid preparation and practice is the natural execution when others falter. Competitors are going to make mistakes in every sale. They are going to slip in their delivery model as well. The real question is: Are you prepared to take advantage of it when the time comes?
Your opportunity is short-lived. You’ll miss opportunities to capitalize on competitors’ mistakes, because they can recover more quickly than you can. They usually know when the mistakes are made, so they can go into recovery mode right then. As you start to capitalize (score points) on a competitor over and over again, your odds of winning keep rising. You might not win them all, but a 90% win ratio like Tennis great, Chrissie Evert, would be the stuff of legend.
The only way to seize the opportunities when your competitors falter is preparation before the event. This means practicing with your peers to make sure your content and delivery are compelling. There is nothing worse than practicing and making a habit of mediocre or ineffective responses.
Lose the anxiety of fearing the unknown. Practice until you can perform ideal responses naturally. Talent is a virtue, but on its own, is worth little. Talent needs coaching, the right mindset and continuous peer practice to achieve natural excellence daily.