Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

Practice, Practice, Practice.

Most business owners don’t practice their craft, they just perform it. It’s one of the biggest reasons their business never develops into something bigger than themselves.

Cal Ripken performed in a record 2,632 consecutive baseball games. But he didn’t just perform. He dissected the strike zone into a number of smaller zones and practiced hitting pitches in each micro-zone to figure out which ones he could hit and which ones he should just hope the ump called a ball instead. He practiced at levels most people don’t bother.

I chatted with Yo Yo Ma, the greatest cello player of our time, backstage a few years ago. I asked him in front of my daughter, an aspiring cello player, “How do you become a great cello player?” He replied without hesitation, “It’s not enough to practice. You have to learn to love to practice and to practice every day as if you were on stage at Carnegie Hall.” Yo Yo Ma loves to practice, not just perform.

Theo Bikel first played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in 1967. He is now 87 years old and still works full time in many roles. He has played Tevye now over 2,000 times in 45 years.

In the 30th anniversary Broadway tour revival of Fiddler I was playing clarinet/sax in the pit orchestra when they came through Denver. For a week I listened to Bikel’s incredible rendition of Tevye (couldn’t see from the pit, only hear). By the fifth or sixth performance I could nearly repeat his rhythmic interpretation of each line, the rising, falling, the long pause here and there. He became incredibly predictable.

Every performance was the same, but the amazing part was that every performance was magical. Theo Bikel was not winging it and was not just performing. He had practiced this part and dissected it over and over again to discover the highest interpretation, then he did something few business owners (or actors) would ever do – he stuck with what worked and never varied from it.

Practice, then be consistent
I’ve never heard a more consistently repeated performance, or a better one. Theo Bikel had learned two things:

1) Practice, and lots of it, is the only way to become better. Performing is not how you become better.
2) Stick with what works. Don’t mess with success.

Learn to love to practice
Most business owners will never have a chance to stick with what works. They’ve never practiced enough to find out what truly works and what truly puts them on top of their game. They’re too busy winging it.

And even when they find something that works, most business owners will abandon it long before it has stopped working. Why? Because THEY are bored!

Learn to love consistency
They hate practicing and get bored doing the same great performance over and over. They are willing to sacrifice the success of their business so they can keep performing with variety and never practicing to find the best way to do something. Remember, your customer, like each theater goer watching Theo Bikel, is experiencing you for the first time. They aren’t bored and you shouldn’t be either.

Practice to find your groove
A great golfer practices until they find the swing groove that works the best all the time, and they never vary from it. You could look at shadow figures of some of them and know who it is by their swing (like Jim Furyk). They practiced like crazy to find it, and then do it the same every time.

I went from a 20 handicap to a 1.9 by practicing like crazy. While I was doing that I played (performed) with a lot of golfers who had never been on a driving range or taken a lesson. They thought it was a nutty idea to practice a lot, almost beneath them, and prided themselves in hacking around, never practicing, always trying a new club, a different swing.

They’re still 20 handicaps and hide their incompetence by poking fun at people who practice. It’s not manly – real men don’t practice. They laughingly say, “Practice is a sign of insecurity.” Too many business owners feel the same way.

Want to be successful? Reach your tipping point? Have the business outgrow your own capabilities and become something that makes money while you’re on vacation? It won’t happen by performing.

The way to Carnegie Hall
The tourist leaned out his car window and asked the cop, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice, practice, practice.”, was the answer the cop gave, as he waved they tourist through.

Repeatable, consistent performance is the key to a business outgrowing you and your own talents. And the only way to find what your business should do over time is to practice until you find it.

Variety is not the spice of business
Practice like crazy, learn the best way to do what you do, then do it that way every time. Variety is not the spice of life – it’s the road to mediocrity.

Silver bullet, anyone?
This blog post won’t likely get a lot of hits. There has to be a faster, easier silver bullet. The people who think that will still be 20 handicaps in their business 10 years from now, while those willing to practice hard will actually be enjoying themselves on the golf course while they’re business makes money without them.