Aaron is about 5 foot 8 inches, 150 pounds dripping wet and bald. A big-time producer? You wouldn’t think so. But, when you look at his numbers, they are way beyond impressive.
Why is that? Is it pure talent? Gift of gab? Is he incredibly smart?
Maybe it’s all of the above. He is also a hard worker. And when you take it apart, seam by seam, you’ll see someone who works on the little things.
Meet Dr. Chambliss, a professor of sociology. Dr. Chambliss did an 18-month study on swimmers. He felt swimming was uniquely suited for measuring excellence.
What he found out goes against popular notions on success and excellence.
He said, talent is what we sometimes call natural ability. He went on to say that these terms are used to mystify the everyday mundane processes that athletes endure to achieve excellence in sports.
For those of us who never achieved anything substantial, using the words talent and natural ability protect us from our own responsibility.
Is Dr. Chambliss right or wrong? That’s for you to judge.
Quality and Quantity
I remember watching a documentary on Herschel Walker. As a kid he was chubby, shy and often bullied. At one point, a group of kids knocked his books out of his hands, pushed him to the ground and roughed him up. It was at that point that he made a personal decision to do whatever he had to do to prevent that from happening again.
He started to run. He ran and he ran. He endured the mundane physical exertion called running and went from chubby to slim, strong and ultimately fast. We can easily focus on the survival part of the story and not pay attention to the work he put in. Herschel went on to be a Heisman Trophy winner.
Steph Curry, NBA MVP, two-time World Champion and member of the Golden State Warriors was passed up by all the major universities coming out of high school. They said he was too small to make it in D-1 sports. He ultimately went to play for Elon, a small private school in North Carolina. Yes, he got his feelings hurt when the major programs told him no. But the real story is his work. And not just the quantity of his work, but the quality of it.
I got to see Curry warming up against the Dallas Mavericks a year ago. He was handling two basketballs at the same time, like he was a part of the Harlem Globetrotters. His warm-up routine was insane, and he hadn’t even put up a shot yet.
Dr. Chambliss talks about this work in his paper. He refers to it not as quantitative work, but quality of work, meaning, Herschel, Steph and many others worked on small things and did them to the extreme to build muscle memory or habit.
Why is Aaron such a great producer?
Can we deconstruct why guys like Aaron are great producers? To some degree, yes.
Aaron has built a repertoire of questions much like a rock band has a list of songs. He’s played those questions, molded those questions, rephrased those questions, until he got it just right. It’s not only the words, but the tone of voice, the expression on his face and the pace at which he melodically lets the words roll right off his tongue.
Then, he’s perfected the look on his brow in much the same way my Labrador used to look at me. His eyebrows raise, his forehead wrinkles, and his expression begs for the prospect to tell him something meaningful in much the same way my dog says, “come play with me.”
Excellence is a lot of little things, coming together like a symphony to produce something extraordinary. But, in doing so, there was nothing done that was extraordinary.
What Does That Mean?
Dr. Chambliss says that Talent Is a Fictional Concept Invented so We Can Be Lazy and Ignorant but Not Feel Bad About Ourselves.
There is a great book, Talent Is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin. He too makes the case for deliberate practice, not general practice. Do the mundane thing over and over until it is buried in your soul.
In many ways, it’s those with a tolerance for repetition and mundane practice, like hitting the golf ball perfectly over and over again that makes for excellence.
As a guy who’s made his living doing sales training for over 20 years in the insurance business, it’s easy to see those with the ability to be deliberate and those that can’t. There is nothing we teach that is hard.
Dr. Chambliss boldly says: “Practice does not make you perfect; it makes you mediocre.” He explains that more reps are not the answer to excellence. But, excellent reps with those small distinctions like we saw in Aaron and his questioning ability could be. In summary, to be excellent you must first decide to be. Then you must work yourself through the small things over and over until they are habit, or hard-wired.
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