Thursday, July 10, 2008

Deliberate Practice and Simulations

Research by K. Anders Ericsson and others has shown that elite performers in a wide variety of fields do not excel simply due to innate talent. Instead, these stars engage in a great deal of what Ericsson calls "deliberate practice." It's more than just hard work. Elite performers engage in practice that is aimed at a very specific performance improvement goal, and which provides immediate feedback. Moreover, deliberate practice involves focusing on the things that elite performers don't do well; many of us tend to practice that at which we already excel in our leisure sport activities. Finally, deliberate practice consists of extensive repetition of the very same activity, so as to hone a particular skill. It emphasizes focus over variety in the building of skills - i.e. working on one thing at a time. As famous tennis instructor Vic Braden has said, "“Losers have tons of variety. Champions just take pride in learning to hit the same old boring winning shots."

Can businesses leverage the power of deliberate practice to develop their human capital? Surely, they can. We can engage in deliberate practice when it comes to key activities such as drafting and making presentations. Leadership development programs can provide opportunities for deliberate practice at a variety of skills related to communication, negotiation, and the like. Beyond that, we can employ technology to create opportunities for deliberate practice. One innovative new methodology for doing so involves the use of simulations and video game technology to train employees. For instance, Hilton Garden Inn employs an interactive training game called "Ultimate Team Play." This game allows individuals to immerse themselves in various scenarios that take place in a hotel. They have to make decisions about serving customers, and they have to complete various tasks. The game provides immediate feedback to the trainees, enabling them to see how their efforts impacted measures such as customer loyalty and satisfaction.