September 2012 Bar Bulletin
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September 2012 Bar Bulletin

Concentrated Labor Is Not the Only Lane to Excellence

By Robert W. Zierman

 

Michael Phelps is the world's most-decorated Olympian. How did he do it? Practice!

Practice is terrible - just you and the black line beneath you, back and forth, flip turn to flip turn to flip turn to rest. Swim-kick-pull warm-up, then pyramids or ladders or fartleks1 or some awful interval training that punishes lack of effort. But in the end, it's all just back and forth. No scenery, no music, nothing but your stroke and your breath and whatever fills your mind to pass the time until the next chance to rest. You never play Sharks and Minnows any more.2

Incredibly, it turns out excellence is attainable by virtually everyone. It just takes work ... hard, repetitive, deliberate work (i.e., labor).

Ahem? Are you suggesting that anyone can become a Michael Phelps?

Hey, I'm no Michael Phelps in his "domain" or any other. In all honesty, Phelps' life sounds to me like "father's still perfecting ways of making sealing wax."3 I read that quote above and think: "No wonder Phelps told Bob Costas he'll swim with sharks but never again competitively."4

Yet the point remains true. K. Anders Ericsson,5 in The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology), explains excellence is not a gift. Excellence is a product.

"Don't put all your eggs in one basket." If you want to become excellent, divorce yourself from that belief. Instead, recognize this: Wealth is made on concentration and preserved by diversification.

Think about it for awhile. Starbucks earns its spurs everyday selling coffee. Sure, Starbucks also sells beverage containers, pastries and newspapers. Heck, Starbucks even sells tea and compilation compact discs. But, try as hard as it may, "Our Green Siren" will always be known for coffee. Selling coffee is what our friends from business school would say is Starbucks' "core competency."


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