Practicing for the Emergent

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Watch this video of former Dodger shortstop, Rafael Furcal, dive to catch this ball and throw the runner out from his back. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you can appreciate the amazing athleticism on this play.

Here’s the interesting thing about it. It wasn’t luck, and it wasn’t purely talent, either. Furcal practices this play. All professional shortstops do. They know that over the course of a 162-game season, plays like that are likely to happen, and so they practice the dive and throw. And practice, as it turns out, makes it more likely that you can pull off this play successfully.

In our business, much of what we do is design for the emergent. By definition, that means that we’re not planning what happens in advance, because there’s no way we can know. However, we can prepare for what might happen by practicing. It’s that practice that makes us confident that we can help guide a group to success, even if someone hits a metaphorical ground ball up the middle.

One of our goals for 2012 is to work on “learningful” projects. As a way to encourage that, we’ve started the practice of asking the question, “What will we learn?” whenever we evaluate possible projects. We just started using a CRM to track these projects, and I spent a few hours this week back-filling information. Everytime I hit this question about learning, I got stuck.

It’s not that I don’t think we’ll learn something from these projects. It’s that for most of our projects, my answer is the same: It’s practice. And as good as we think we are, we can still use a whole lot more of it.

Here’s a TEDx talk I gave last summer on practice:

  • Ahmad Mansur

    Thanks Eugene!

    Excellent topic and example. So often, we are enamored by the amazing things that athletes and other performers do. Rightfully so. However, it’s all about practice. Kobe Bryant (LA Lakers) hits forth quarter “buzzer beaters” with a high degree of success because he takes a thousand practice shots a day. Practice allows for the intuitive aspect of talent to emerge and flourish (as a high performance experience).

    • Eugene Eric Kim

      It’s mind-blowing to think about this. I think my arms would get tired from shooting 1,000 times! Of course, you don’t have to worry about Kobe Bryant getting tired of shooting.

      I think folks like you who played sports at an elite level have a perspective that is a real advantage in life and in work. When I think about all the practice that goes into high-performance fields such as sports, music, and medicine, and when I compare that to our field, it makes me think that we are very far from being even close to high-performance. To extend the analogy, most of us consider playing in a lot of games to be our form of practice. It’s true, real experience matters, but it’s not enough to take you to the next level.

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