Many people have heard about the famous rule of thumb regarding the "10,000 hours" required for someone to become an "expert" in a field. Gladwell wrote about this notion in his Outliers book. The notion of deliberate practice has been studied extensively by K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues. They have documented how star performers in music, sports, chess, and the like are not simply born. They are made, in the sense that they engage in thousands of hours of what they describe as deliberate practice.
However, many people misunderstand the notion of deliberate practice. As Geoffrey Colvin of Fortune has written, "Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers don’t get better. Hitting an eight-iron three hundred times with a goal of leaving the ball within twenty feet of the pin eighty percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours each day – that’s deliberate practice.”
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. 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." Moreover, deliberate practice means paying close attention to your technique, not simply the results you achieve.
Does deliberate practice apply to business? It certainly does. As individuals and organizations, we engage in many activities repeatedly over time. We can become more deliberate in the way that we engage in those activities, with more focused reflection on process, not just outcomes, so as to improve over time.