Deliberate Practice of Performance Measurement

Top performers engage in what K. Anders Ericsson calls “deliberate practice” – an effortful activity designed to improve individual target performance. Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, has spent 25 years interviewing and analyzing high-performing professionals and is the co-editor of the Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (Cambridge University Press, 2006). He claims that, except maybe in some sports, elite performers aren’t genetically superior. They just do some things differently – like monitoring and managing their performance using established benchmarks.

“Successful people spontaneously do things differently from those individuals who stagnate,” Ericsson said in a recent interview in Fast Company (November 2006). “They have different histories.” He explained how deliberate practice with an example of a medical technician who may see a patient once or twice, make a diagnosis, and then move on, and never see the patient again. A highly successful medical technician who Ericsson interviewed works very differently. “He spends a lot of his time checking up on his patients, taking extensive notes and what he’s thinking at the time of the diagnosis, and checking back how accurate he is.” This extra step gives him a real advantage over his peers.

The take-away message from Ericsson’s work is that the “deliberate practice” of performance measurement is not just good for the “patient” and the medical organization, but good for the individual who engages in it. If you’re a court professional who wants to excel, you’ve got to monitor, analyze and manage your performance deliberatively. You’ve got to know what’s working and what’s not. You’ve got to learn from that knowledge and act accordingly.

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