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.

Sorry, but failure is NOT the road to success.

Practice instead.

The books are all wrong. The standard claptrap in the shelf-help books is that we fail our way to success. Nobody fails their way to success and you need to stop listening when experts tell you that you will.

The whole Failure-Success model needs to be revisited anyway. As the old tome goes – “treat both failure and success as the impostors that they are.”

Failure enters the picture when we think we have to do things “right” the first time. We’ve been taught all our lives not to make fools of ourselves in public by doing something stupid, and that the cool kids with perfect clothing and big houses whose lives look perfect on the surface are our example of how to make it in this world. Just pretend you and your business don’t have any problems and make sure nobody ever finds out you’re not perfect and you’ll be fine.

The problem is that the solution we’ve been given to this by the gurus is to embrace “failure as the road to success”.

Failure is NOT the road to success! There is plenty of research that shows people who chronically fail will continue to do so. I believe many of them have actually drunk the kool-aid that all they need to do is keep running into brick walls until they find their way out of the maze. They’ve been sold a bill of goods.

Failure is not the road to success – PRACTICE is the road to success. People who succeed do not fail over and over again. Instead they commit to practicing their craft every day, learning from what they did every day, then taking that daily feedback and using it to practice better the next day. The only way to succeed is to be totally and fundamentally sold out to practicing every day until you get good.

Failing is not practicing. Failing is just failing. Practicing is the art of understanding that you will not be good at something the first few times you do it, and the only way to become good is to constantly take the daily feedback from your practice sessions, learn from it, incorporate it into the next day’s practice, and take the long view that diligent practice will make you the best.

A classical musician doesn’t fail their way to a solo career and a recital at Carnegie Hall. They practice 4-6 hours a day for years and build on every day of practice by improving the next day. A world class runner doesn’t get to a 4 minute mile by failing to run well, but by diligent and disciplined daily practice, and getting better at running every single day. A great business owner doesn’t magically find success by mucking around at dozens of bad ideas and failed attempts, but by fundamental ongoing commitment and focus on their craft and to getting better at it every day.

You won’t be successful by fishing around for magic products and “moving on” every time you hit a roadblock, or by changing out your marketing for the next “secret” process. And you won’t become successful by failing over and over at different things, or by attending all the varying get-rich quick schemes until you “hit it big”.

You will be successful by putting your hand to something, committing to it, practicing it every day and knowing that you will be lousy at it to begin with (that’s not failure, that’s how you start). The only way to get better is to stick to one thing, take the daily feedback, and use it to get better tomorrow. You will become successful by stacking one great day of practice on top of another and building a lifestyle of getting better all the time.

Stop trying to fail your way to success, put your hand to one thing, practice it daily and become great over time. Failure is not the road to success – focused and committed PRACTICE of the same thing over and over is the road to success.