Creating a culture of discipline and practice in your business

By Larry Velez, Sinu founder and CTO

I have often repeated Malcolm Gladwell’s statement from the Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. Gladwell claims that 10,000 hours of "deliberate practice" are needed to become world-class in any field. There is an interesting article in Entrepreneur (7/8/14) that analyzes that theory. It references a recent Princeton study that challenges the overarching principle, however, the report goes on to admit: "There is no doubt that deliberate practice is important, from both a statistical and a theoretical perspective. It is just less important than has been argued... For scientists, the important question now is, what else matters?"

According to the Entrepreneur report, Frans Johansson, author of The Click Moment, argues that “deliberate practice is only a predictor of success in fields that have super stable structures. For example, in tennis, chess, and classical music, the rules never change, so you can study up to become the best.” 

But for business owners who face ever-changing challenges and opportunities (and not bound by a set of constants), I would argue that the “what else matters” question can be answered by discipline, documentation, and balance. I believe you can improve productivity and profitability through your business process, employee training, and encouraging an infrastructure that allows them to practice the skills they learn.

So with the demands of day-to-day operations, how can your organization incorporate a culture of deliberate practice in order to become a better business?

Try to create a set of “rules” for success that never change. This means really thinking about what the goals are and how policies and guidelines can be created that would always point toward that goal. Developing and following a set of accepted “rules” can help boost productivity and morale and it sends a message that your organization values time, efficiency, and practice.

The goal is to have self-reinforcing rules in place for your entire organization in order to create an ecosystem of guidelines that is as closed as possible. In chess every piece has absolute rules and all the rules fit together with almost no exceptions. Your business will never be as well defined as a chessboard – but the closer you can get, the more expert your team can become on what the rules are and how to succeed and contribute toward the greater success of the company as a whole.

Practice makes perfect, but only when you know what to practice and can practice the same way every time. If there is a strong culture of practice in place, your organization will run more smoothly and will be better prepared to take advantage of opportunities that arise in an ever-changing marketplace. That’s the balance – the “what else matters.”