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Practice May Not Make Perfect But Can Definitely Improve Skills


In a recent Clean Language: Core Skills training event, Marian Way told us that in order to improve in Clean Language, we need to do ‘due diligence’ to this craft. This was a term David Grove used often and what Marian meant by it was: do lots of practice, get feedback and learn from it.

I was curious to understand a bit more about due diligence and to explore how practice might make a difference in helping me to improve my Clean Language skills.

I asked myself 4 questions:

1. What is the value of practice?

2. What kind of practice is that practice?

3. How much practice is enough?

4. How can I practice Clean Language?

1. What is the value of practice?

There is much debate on the value of practice and how much you need to do to become an expert. Malcolm Gladwell, author of ‘The Outliers’ was the first to popularise the 10,000-hours rule, stating that “in an incredible number of fields ... you need to have practised, or to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours to achieve expertise.”

The 10,000-hours research can be found in a 1993 paper written by K. Anders Ericsson, called The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. This highlights a study of the practice habits of violin students in childhood. In the study, all students began to practise at the age of 8 and started to take lessons. By age 18, the elite/best performers had averaged more than 7410 hours of practice, rising to over 10,000 hours at the age of 20. By contrast, the average performers had only done approximately 3000 hours of practice by 18 and 4500 by the age of 20. Ericsson concluded that many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are in fact theresult of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years.

So practising a lot could mean that I would become an expert. Now, it might be an obvious question but what is the value of that? Ericsson articulates this very eloquently as further explored in an article by TomGram in HRVoice where he defines an expert assomeone who:

  • Perceives more: Sees patterns, makes finer discriminations, can interpret situations more quickly and as a result make faster, more accurate decisions.
  • Knows more: Has more facts and details available, has more tacit knowledge and an unconscious“know how” that only comes with experience.
  • Has superior mental models and rich internal representations of how things work and how knowledge is connected which is used to learn and understand situations more rapidly.
  • Uses personal networks more effectively and knows who to go to for help.
  • Sets goals and can evaluate own skills against a standard and make corrections and adjustments more quickly from feedback.

I really like the sound of that! My obvious conclusion from all this is that I will be far more useful as a Clean Language coach if I practice and aim to become an expert. This will enable me to get better results for me and my clients.

2. What kind of practice is that practice?

OK - so does it mean that due diligence is about practising lots of times? The short answer to that is “No”. Ericsson states that it isn’t just frequency of practice but also the quality of practice and getting feedback that matters.

Ericsson calls this ‘deliberate practice’, which requires a specific, and sustained effort to learn something new. Tom Gram summarises the key requirements for practice to be deliberate:

  • It must be designed to improve performance
  • It must be based on structured and authentic tasks
  • It must be challenging and effortful
  • It must get immediate, informative feedback – In the absence of adequate feedback, efficient learning is impossible and improvement only minimal
  • It must allow reflection and adjustment to inform behaviour change
  • Back to the 10,000 hours… deliberate and frequent practice with feedback to an average of 10,000 hours is required to become a complete expert

3. How much practice is enough?

This all sounds a bit exhausting! When do I stop?

I was discussing this with my husband and he reminded me of a book we used to read for the children when they were young. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by RichardBach tells the tale of a young seagull who always thinks he is at the top of his game. Something always happens to show him that there is a higher level to be reached and new challenges to be explored.

I am starting to see Clean Language in the same way as that book and the conclusion I have come to is that, no matter how good I get, there will always be another whole level to learn. Practice may not make perfect but due diligence and deliberate practice can improve our skills.

4. How can I practise Clean Language?

Obviously this question now becomes, “How can I deliberately practise Clean Language?” There are a number of ways we can all practise and get feedback.

  • Join a practice group
  • Practise with your friends: set a development task, practice it and then get feedback
  • Go on a course or attend again (Clean Learning offers reduced fees for people repeating a course)

Use the comments section below to share how you practice Clean Language and how it has helped you. 

About Louise Hockaday

Louise joined Clean Learning in 2016 to help with marketing the business. She has over 20 years’ experience in the Defence and Aerospace industry and has held a number of senior positions delivering large marketing, communications and change management projects. She has a Master’s Degree in Marketing, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and is also a Chartered Marketer. Louise started training in Clean Language in 2015 and is working toward becoming a Clean Facilitator. She has a keen interest in the application and use of Clean Language and Coaching in business environments to improve business development and change.

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