“Again! One more time!”, I am tired of hearing those words over and over. We left the office at 11:00PM, with no dinner. The last thing my stomach remembered was a slice of bread and a cup of water. With what energy my body had left I dragged myself to bed, set the alarm so I won’t be late, and slept my tired voice and body. For the past week, we had been preparing a corporate presentation for an event. If it were just up to me, I would have just made a short AVP. But, my new boss, a perfectionist with a flair for the theater, wanted a human touch or in this case voice. So aside from slides, we had to make from scratch, I had to speak in front of everyone. Being the first time, I had to speak in front of such a prestigious audience, I told my boss if it can be assigned to someone better equipped. I’m not really sure what happened to that conversation but after I left the office, I was willing to do anything to make this presentation succeed. To help me with my newly discovered motivation, my boss asked the team to stay after work for a week and pretend to be the audience for the event. They then have to give feedback on how I can improve the presentation. We did it every day with me making the presentation for about 3 to 4 times in a span of 2 hours. My boss was there watching with us and giving comments as well. Every time everyone has finished a comment, he will shout, “Ok again! One more time!”, with the voice and gusto of a director in a musical. On the last night of practice, just before the event, only my boss was present. The others were sent home early to prepare for the next day. We practiced 4 times then went home just before 11:00PM. The last thing my boss said was that it was perfect.
Repetition is boring but so is life?
Bruce Lee, the famous martial artist, once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Repetition, practice, doing something, again and again, sounds boring, right? Sure, I agree with you. But I also agree with the fact that practice makes perfect, and that doing something 10,000 will make you a master. Yes, it is boring but life is filled with repetitive, cyclical moments. The sun rises up and sets every day. The weather may change, a holiday may be celebrated every now and then but nothing can change that 1 day is made up of 24 hours. Seasons happen but you can be sure that after winter will be spring. Even in our growth. How many times did you try to walk before you were able to run? How many times did you have to memorize numbers before you can do algebra? You see life is full of these moments and to say that it is boring is just focusing on the least important part of the process, the feeling of boredom and uncertainty. Especially in business, repetition may be boring but it is important in building success over time as it produces mastery and consistency.
Advantages of Persistence:
For first time tasks, there is the fear that we might fail as we lack confidence since we haven’t tried the activity yet. Practice refers to the actual act of doing the activity. Repetition lets you do the activity several times not just once which enables you to gain confidence. Over time practice becomes a habit and confidence is no longer an issue.
As was mentioned the fear of failure is one of the factors that we often feel uncertain about a task. Through repetition, we can see the points where we fail. We can further leverage this by having someone we trust watch us do our practice and give feedback. Thus, the failures that we identify can be improved and with each repetition, we can only get better and better until the points for improvement have improved.
For a business, this is quite important as we want to give the same quality of service across the board and in every point of contact with our clients. Repetition lets us standardize our operations and manualize it. By setting these standards we are giving clear instructions on the quality of service we want our employees to give our clients. Take note though that these are not set on stone and based on feedback from our clients and employees as we go through repetition, we can work on which standards work and which ones need to be improved. We don’t want to stagnate.
Mastery happens when a task has been repeated and has been improved and reiterated and practiced so many times that it becomes a habit. These are tasks we feel so confident that we can do it with eyes closed. We can give instructions on how it is done and even teach someone the skill. Once you have reached the level of a master then you can move on to other tasks to master or further innovate the task to improve on it. You know you are already a master when the repeated performance of the task relaxes you as it is now part of your psyche.
It seems weird but how can innovation happen in repetition? Innovation happens when we try to improve what is already there. So, the small changes we made while practicing trying to improve our performance is a kind of innovation in itself. But once mastery is achieved what else can we improve? We can leverage technology to automate and make certain parts easier without taking quality for granted. This can only be achieved by masters because if we try to automate without mastery then we only get lazy. Innovation should always improve the overall experience and not just make it easier.
Repetition is different from Stagnation
When doing the repetition, we should be aware if we are getting too focused on the process of just repeating instead of trying to achieve mastery. When we do repetition and don’t make any adjustments to improve or don’t get any feedback we are merely repeating and if we continue with this, we get a false sense of confidence. This then leads to continued repetition that leads to stagnation instead of mastery. Stagnation happens when we continue to repeatedly do something without improving. Nothing actually happens and we just waste our time. Was it not Einstein who said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”?
When do we stop repetition?
Well, it depends on the task or skill you are trying to learn. If it is just a one-time thing, a presentation that you will have to do once, then mastering it may not be so necessary. Repeat as many times to achieve confidence or even to the point that you don’t feel worried anymore. However, if it is a skill or activity aligned with your overall goals for your life and company then by any means continue and become a master. As Ivan Misner says, “Be a dog with a bone.”
I gave the presentation the next day, there was a bit of hesitation in my voice when I started but the many nights of practice with the team and their feedback finally paid off. I ended with a standing ovation and thunderous applause of a hundred people some of which are CEOs and well know people. It was one of the best days of my life. The next day my boss treated all of us a buffet dinner. He then told me that there were so many people impressed that they wanted me to speak for them. That was the humble beginnings of the successful public speaking and hosting company I started with my boss.
Life is an adventure but that does not mean that we have to skip over the boring repetitive things, success comes from mastery, which in turn comes from persistent willful practice and repetition.