I sent the following in an email to Cedric, but he encouraged me to post it here, so doing so.
Thanks for sharing your journey in the deliberate practice piece.
I guess I read Peak differently than you (admittedly, it’s been several years since I read it), because I don’t recall the caveat that it requires “a field with well-established training techniques”. From your article, it seems like I confused purposeful practice and deliberate practice, as I think purposeful practice can very well be applied to most business and leadership skills, and in fact, that’s a large part of what I offer as an executive coach.
I’m curious what you think the practical difference is between purposeful and deliberate practice? I have seen purposeful practice make a huge difference in my clients in weeks or months, so maybe that’s the best that can be hoped for without the added requirements of deliberate practice? I don’t think I can get it to the bar of “unreliable to 95% reliability in 1 to 3 practice sessions” but that feels like an artificially high bar.
Regardless, I’ve found that designing small practices or experiments can lead to substantial skill gains and identity shifts for my clients. I have the advantage that I am working with dozens of leaders at once, so I can identify what are the behaviors or skills that will get people to where they want to go, and have plenty of opportunities to have clients try different practices to get there.
I do think “Talent is overrated” to some extent. People often confuse talent with practice. I sometimes refer to a quote from Teller the magician ("Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect”) and tell a story about a director of mine who excelled at executive presentations. Before I worked with him, I thought he was just naturally talented at presentation; then I saw how many hours he put into practicing and honing his presentations. That’s not deliberate practice per the Ericsson definition, but it was definitely purposeful practice. Similarly, I once had a client want to work on their presentation skills - he wanted to “Steve Jobs” it. I asked him how much he practiced, and he said he didn’t, and I reminded him that Steve Jobs would practice his presentations for a month.
The problem I see is that most people give up before they start - they don’t even try to get better. Once they try some small practices and experiments, they realize they can get better and start to develop a growth mindset and bias towards continuous improvement. A typical conversation I will have with a client when we’re starting is them identifying they want to get better at something like executive presence.
Me: “Okay, so think of a couple people you know that have that executive presence. What makes them different than you?”
Them: “Oh, they’re just naturally good at it.”
Me: “But if you observe their actual behaviors and actions, what do they do that you don’t do?”
Them: start to analyze and look for what’s different e.g. speak concisely instead of rambling, project their voice, know their audience, stand up straight, etc.
Me: “Okay, how can you practice that?”
So this gets to the idea of breaking it down into identifiable chunkable sub-skills, and applies to presence, networking, influence, and other “executive” skills that people dismiss as “soft” skills.
So I think while you may be correct that you can’t deliberately practice those skills, I think you’re too dismissive of the value of purposeful practice and the ability to improve quickly if you actually analyze and break down these skills.
[Cedric’s response pointed out that I might be the coach allowing my clients to do deliberate practice, because I design skill practices for them]
I suppose that my clients are doing deliberate practice given those parameters. Fortunately, I don’t actually have to do pedagogical development. I’ve read plenty of management books and other resources that offer practices to build such skills, so I rarely am designing anything new - I’m mostly just matching what my client needs to one of those resources. As one of my clients put it, he had read many management books but my superpower is telling him where he needs to focus right now because otherwise, it was just too much overwhelming advice and information. So my role as the coach is to identify the sub-skills that are holding back my clients, and identify exercises they can try to improve (and give them the cognitive framework to interpret the feedback they’re getting e.g. telling new executives that their functional expertise is no longer what they will be measured on).