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EVP, Marketing at Specialty Print Communications

Against the Grain

By Dustin LeFebvre

About Dustin

A third-generation printer, Dustin LeFebvre delivers his vision for Specialty Print Communications as EVP, Marketing through strategy, planning and new product development. With a rich background ranging from sales and marketing to operations, quality control and procurement, Dustin takes a wide-angle approach to SPC


Experts Are Made, Not Born

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Corporate recruiters, sports agents and casting directors spend countless hours traveling and searching for the next undiscovered “great” in their fields. In doing so, they’re wasting their time. You may be, too.

Experts are made, not born. Your parents were right when they made you practice the violin or juggle the soccer ball thousands of times. Malcolm Gladwell captured this perfectly in "Outliers: The Story of Success," when he declared, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing that makes you good.” In the book, he promotes the notion of the 10,000 hour rule—commit to excellence, dedicate the time, and you can become an expert in anything.

Last week, I presented 4-Color Hybrid Imaging to an agency that specializes in loyalty marketing. After the meeting, my team informed me that my presentation was the sharpest they had seen from me. It’s unsurprising that it has improved. I’ve made the presentation more than a dozen of times. I’ve practiced. I’ve noted what works, and what doesn’t. I’ve adapted, I’ve refined, and I’ve become so fluent with the material that I focus on the audience, not the material itself.

And it all came from practice.

Herb Simon is the father of much of the thought on artificial intelligence, information processing, and decision making. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1975 “for his pioneering research into the decision-making process within economic organizations.” He determined that there is too much data in the world for us to process. Thus, we must devise a way to see only what is important. We achieve this through pattern recognition and representations.

We don’t see things as they are; we see them as our brains imagine them to be through patterns we recognize. We know more than we can say, and the difference between experts and novices is that experts see only what is important, while novices are still working through the patterns.

A fine example is Jose Raul Capablanca, a world champion chess player from the first half of the twentieth century best known for his ability to play quickly. “A towering genius,” he is widely considered to be one of the top three chess players to ever live, if not the best. Undefeated from early 1916 to early 1924, Capablanca‘s most famous feat was when he played over a hundred games simultaneously against professional chess players.

Capablanca would approach a board, make a move without hesitation, then move onto the next board and do the exact same thing. In 103 matches, Capablanca won 102 and drew one. When asked how he was able to play so quickly and effectively, Capablanca responded that when he approaches a board, “I only see one move, and it’s the right one.”

Capablanca may have had innate talent, but he achieved his powers through practice and hard work. He played so many games that he built patterns and representations so strongly in his head that he did not need to think when he approached a board. He simply saw the right move.

Practice and repetition beat innate ability. Gladwell notes that “Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for 20 minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after 30 seconds.”

It’s about doing the work. Practice makes us better; it builds patterns and representations in our minds that enable us to see what others cannot. It makes us experts. Have you ever embarrassed yourself in front of your family by practicing a presentation aloud? If not, perhaps you should. Capablanca would have.

So the next time you’re looking for your next big sales hire, ask yourself if they see what only experts can see. And if they can’t, are they willing to practice to get there? The more they do, the better they’ll look in the board room. And so will you.

Just like your parents told you.

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