Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect After All
I recently read a post about practicing versus rehearsing. Being a social scientist and a word nerd, the nuances caught my attention. Practicing, I found, is doing something repeatedly to improve proficiency. Rehearsing is to do something repeatedly to develop consistency. Practicing lets the trumpet player improvise during a jazz performance. Rehearsing lets the pianist play Mozart’s sonata #11 in A-Major with their eyes closed.
A few years back, I led the campus visit and tour program for a small College. One of my tour guides knew everything about the school. She knew all of the facts, stories, myths, and legends. She rehearsed. She said all of the right things, she was personable when she had to, and told the right story at the right time. She was perfect – every – single – time. But, she struggled with adapting when the guests when off script. I was so close to letting her go because her perfection made her too rigid at times and we didn’t get the positive feedback we needed when she gave a tour. As I bemoaned my dilemma, a trusted confidant pushed back “You have plenty of tour guides who are brilliant with the guests. What can she do that others can’t?”. That shift in thinking saved her job. She became a cornerstone on our team because I gave her the room to develop new opportunities that were exactly what the College needed. She rarely gave another tour but she meticulously planned ideas that let her colleagues and the College shine.
Let me come clean here, I find rehearsing to be mind-numbingly boring. My creative side always takes over and I find myself tweaking, reflecting and adapting. Before a big presentation, I don’t rehearse – I practice. On the flip side, I have a former colleague who would create quickly and rehearse until she could do it exactly the same in her sleep. She wasn’t necessarily creative, but she was consistent and nailed it every time.
She and I were opposite in just about every way you can imagine. And yet, together we were magic. We understood and appreciated each other’s strengths even when they drove us crazy! Which they did. We asked each other for support where we were weak and always kept out shared purpose as out guide. We accomplished together what we could never have done alone. That kind of synergy doesn’t happen by accident.
Every thriving organization needs a jazz band and a concert pianist -There is room and a need for employees that practice and employees that rehearse in any team. Leaders, take a look at your teams and consider how you might think and operate differently, intentionally making space for creativity and mastery. What can you do together that you cannot do apart?