CTO Compass series
- Welcome to The CTO Compass
- Solving Problems with Precision: The Science of Structured Thinking
- Are you response-able?
- Keep Score and Watch Your Performance Soar
- The Importance of Software Maintenance For Successful Software
- How To Make Good Contracts With Yourself
- Does your business have an operating system?
- 🧹 Messy Code, Messy Kitchen – It’s time to do the washing up
- How to be 37 times better by this time next year
- Good Timber Does Not Grow With Ease
- Create a compelling vision for your organisation
- Why embracing Tsundoku will make you more insightful and a more interesting person
- The Maintenance Burden: What You Don’t See When Adding New Features
- 8 tips for improving your decision-making
- How to fix your time and attention leaks
- Faking It Until You Make It: Why You Don’t Have to Automate Everything (Yet)
- How to turn Positive Thinking into Positive Action
- How to take advantage of alignable differences to make change more acceptable
- Your chair may be trying to kill you – and what to do about it
- How to craft your day for maximum focus
- 1000 seconds to boost your focus, energy and well-being
In my blog email, we explored the simple maths behind the 1% Rule and saw how important consistency is in getting 1% better every day.
While the math is neat and accurate and the phrase is catchy, the real world is more complex. As a CTO, I am far more interested in what is practical and can be put into action. At best, it might encourage you to begin taking action. The real trick is maintaining momentum. As the equation demonstrated, generally, the issue is a lack of consistency, not applying effort and hard work for a long enough period to see tangible benefits. Most people don’t stick to anything long enough.
Beyond that, there is another reason: people aren’t systematic in their learning, so there’s no material improvement.
Putting in the hard work…
By definition, learning is uncomfortable. However, understanding and improvement only occur when you are just outside your comfort zone.
To grow, you need to experience discomfort and adversity. Whether you like it or not, you must put in the work every day. As Phil Stutz says, “We will never be exonerated from three things: pain, uncertainty, and the need for hard work.”
Success is not guaranteed. The only guarantee is that you almost certainly won’t succeed without putting in the reps.
Hard work is not enough
Yet putting in effort is not enough to achieve growth. Taking a vague or aimless approach to learning will likely slow down or impede progress, as there will be no clear improvement to show for your efforts. Instead, applying focused and deliberate effort will yield much better results than a haphazard or unfocused approach.
We have recently been hiring more developers to join our team, and there’s a common thread in many of the CVs we receive. The candidates purport to be senior-level developers because they have worked in the industry for ten years. However, their CV doesn’t demonstrate that they have improved their skills significantly over those ten years. More often than not, they have repeated the same year or two of experience ten times.
Okay, so how do we make sure we’re specifically getting better at improving our skills or those of our team? There are a variety of approaches, but today, we’re going to concentrate on Purposeful Practice.
You may have heard of Deliberate Practice. It’s a term popularised by K. Anders Ericsson through his research and resulting books. For something to qualify as deliberate practice, it must contain the following elements:
- Practice must be focused such that you are applying intense effort and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. For example, writing a program using techniques you already know doesn’t count.
- Practice requires feedback and then adjustments to technique following that feedback. Feedback doesn’t need to be instant but must follow soon afterwards.
- The practice has well-defined, specific goals, e.g. it’s not to play the entire musical piece; it’s to master a complicated section that requires unorthodox finger positions.
- Practice is conducted in a field with a well-established pedagogy of training techniques.
- A teacher or coach guides practice.
- The practice should build on or modify previously acquired skills.
Encompassing all these points is particularly difficult in wicked domains like knowledge work. However, the first three points can be more easily achieved with forethought and planning, constituting Purposeful Practice.
So, to progress in any field of study, the key to seeing real improvement with consistent hard work is to identify the skills you want to improve. Then, break those skills into specific sub-skills and create exercises and drills to practice the required techniques. Set yourself up for success by removing distractions and preparing your environment for practice. Schedule your sessions and track your completion. You’ll be more likely to maintain momentum by building a streak.
Do the focused practice and then get feedback on your effort. Ideally, have someone with more expertise in that area review your work and provide information or advice on adjustments you should make. If that’s not possible, at least reflect on the exercise yourself. Consider what went well, what needs work, and how you will improve it the next time. You’ll make more meaningful gains when you consistently apply hard work and effort with a focused study practice.