Practice Makes Perfect

For abil­i­ties to become effec­tive skills, we have to prac­tice a lot, make mis­takes, and gain expe­ri­ence. What is intu­itive­ly under­stood for rid­ing a bicy­cle or for crafts­man­ship is gross­ly under­es­ti­mat­ed and some­times com­plete­ly ignored in the agile trans­for­ma­tion of orga­ni­za­tions. Pop­u­lar mod­els and frame­works are good start­ing points, but at the core it is about learn­ing new skills of col­lab­o­ra­tion jointly.

A shop­ping trip through the hard­ware store does not make a crafts­man; my wife will con­firm that. Only after many hours on YouTube, numer­ous unsuc­cess­ful attempts, and the sup­port of a real expert as a coach can we hope for a viable mas­tery of the craft. The best assort­ment of tools is nei­ther suf­fi­cient for pro­fi­cien­cy nor nec­es­sary at the begin­ning. Prac­tice makes per­fect. The dif­fer­ence between a good crafts­man and me is a few thou­sand hours of prac­tice. And you can see that dif­fer­ence — at least that’s what my wife says.

We all have the abil­i­ty to ride a bicy­cle. But for this abil­i­ty to become a skill, it takes a lot of prac­tice and, espe­cial­ly in the begin­ning, a help­ing hand and feed­back from par­ents. It’s not enough to select the best bike and suit­able equip­ment at the store. Skills only devel­op through prac­tice. There are cer­tain­ly exer­cis­es, pro­ce­dures and train­ing plans that lead to pro­fi­cien­cy more quick­ly than oth­ers. Train­ing wheels on the bike also lead to the goal, but the bet­ter option is to first prac­tice bal­ance on a run­ning bike and then learn to ped­al, brake and final­ly shift gears.

We are born with fac­ul­ties and pow­ers capa­ble almost of any­thing, such at least as would car­ry us far­ther than can eas­i­ly be imag­ined: but it is only the exer­cise of those pow­ers, which gives us abil­i­ty and skill in any thing, and leads us towards perfection.

John Locke

If skills are already a mat­ter of prac­tice at the indi­vid­ual lev­el, this is all the more true wher­ev­er sev­er­al or many peo­ple are work­ing toward a com­mon goal, and thus smooth coop­er­a­tion itself becomes a desir­able skill. An out­stand­ing soc­cer team is not cre­at­ed sim­ply by sign­ing up first-class indi­vid­u­als and explain­ing the strat­e­gy to them in a webi­nar. Work­ing togeth­er requires prac­tice and the sup­port of an expe­ri­enced coach. Only then does the whole become more than the sum of the parts. 

In prin­ci­ple, we also all have the abil­i­ty to work togeth­er in a self-orga­nized, respon­si­ble, and ulti­mate­ly agile man­ner and to explore solu­tions to prob­lems togeth­er step by step, or rather, exper­i­ment by exper­i­ment. Kinder­garten­ers are great at this, which is why they do bet­ter in the Marsh­mal­low Chal­lenge than busi­ness school grad­u­ates, lawyers, or CEOs. In the depths of the func­tion­al­ly opti­mized hier­ar­chies of our cor­po­ra­tions, how­ev­er, these abil­i­ties eke out a drea­ry exis­tence. Every­one is only respon­si­ble for their own tiny sec­tion of val­ue cre­ation and only thinks with­in their own role descrip­tion: ser­vice by the book in the depart­men­tal silo.

It is there­fore gross­ly naive to hope that orga­ni­za­tions will become agile by copy­ing Spo­ti­fy or intro­duc­ing SAFe. All of this can be a pos­si­ble start­ing point for a joint learn­ing jour­ney, just as you can start rid­ing a bicy­cle with train­ing wheels or a run­ning bike. But it is cru­cial to rec­og­nize, on the one hand, that a longer phase of prac­tice is inevitable and, on the oth­er hand, that this should be well accom­pa­nied by appro­pri­ate coach­es. Too often, how­ev­er, the pat­terns of clas­sic orga­ni­za­tion­al devel­op­ment and change man­age­ment take hold instead: ana­lyze the prob­lem, com­pare solu­tions, select and roll out — done. Mount train­ing wheels, com­plete the webi­nar and then down­hill tomorrow. 

The focus of an agile trans­for­ma­tion is too often on select­ing or design­ing the “right” mod­el. This is often jus­ti­fied with the argu­ment that you don’t have to repeat the mis­takes of oth­ers. I, too, don’t like to see my chil­dren fall off their bikes, just like all the chil­dren before them did dur­ing their first exer­cis­es. And it would be fan­tas­tic to become a pass­able crafts­man in no time at all with the right tools. But no pain, no gain. Prac­tice makes per­fect. Repeat­ing the mis­takes of oth­ers is not a waste, but a good invest­ment in learn­ing new skills. “Per aspera ad astra” is a say­ing that dates back to Seneca; loose­ly trans­lat­ed, it means, “Through toil you reach the stars.” How­ev­er, with a cheap Spo­ti­fy copy or SAFe by the book, you won’t be able to over­come the grav­i­ty of your own encrust­ed structures.

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By Marcus Raitner

Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.


Obri­ga­do, Már­cio! Ten­ho a certeza que encon­trarás mais impul­sos inter­es­santes aqui no arquivo.

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