Lead While You Practice Leading

We just wrote a new piece at Harvard Business Review looking into the relationship between practice and the expertise required to grow or lead an organization.

Research shows that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to develop this sort of expertise.The challenge, of course, is finding time to deliberately practice your skills.  

In HBR we offer three tips, grounded in our recent Babson Executive Education study of over 500 companies, to help you find the time by working and practicing simultaneously:

Try experimentation. Previous studies show that experimentation is one of the most fundamental forms of deliberate practice we can engage in. By performing more of their work in the form of experiments, employees can synchronously advance projects while putting hours in toward their 10,000.

How is an experimental approach different than business as usual? Much of conventional organizational work is about planning and analyzing how to act, often on a large scale; risk is controlled by repeatable processes and standard routines. Rather than planning to do things, experimenting means doing things in a new way on a small scale. You get quick feedback, allowing you to make timely adjustments and improvements. On seeing the results of your action, practitioners can adopt the new way, discard it, or modify it and try again.

Maximize your opportunities to experiment. By understanding a variety of ways to experiment, employees can create more opportunities to accrue their 10,000 hours. Donald Schon’s seminal work on reflective practice identifies three basic experimentation strategies, each of which we found at play in our own research: move testing, exploratory experimentation, and hypothesis testing.

Focus on the social side of experimentation. Our research shows that experimentation in organizations is social and highly collaborative. By networking with like-minded experimenters and teaching to uninitiated colleagues, you create additional opportunities to accelerate your way toward 10,000 hours.

Begin by asking a few tough questions. Where are the project delays? Is there a big idea in the innovation pipeline that never seems to go anywhere? These are situations that are ripe for experimentation. One senior manager at an agriculture products firm described how an “inexperienced team’s analysis paralysis” was preventing them from developing a marketing strategy for entering a lucrative geographic area. In response, the manager is helping the team to devise experiments to test competing hypotheses. Not only is he helping to break the impasse, but he is starting others on their own journey toward 10,000 hours.

You can find the full discussion here.