When you start your entrepreneurial journey, it's easy to find yourself working multiple jobs - you're the idea generator, the executor, the web-developer, the marketer, the customer support person... and so many other things you've just never done before!
While outsourcing is a great solution, it's not always possible. Sometimes you need to give in and learn all the new skills to scale up. How can you to this without wasting a lot of time and energy that you could spend on moving forward?
In this episode, the founders of Thrive Themes, Shane Melaugh and Paul McCarthy, are presenting a very specific way of learning and practicing new skills the fastest possible way, that helped them move the needle and grow their business. They're now applying this method to the members of their team and the improving their team management skills through it.
This episode is about a skill building method called Deliberate Practice, exactly how it works and how you can apply it to your business. Listen in!
Hello and welcome to episode 32 of the Active Growth podcast. Today we're revisiting one of my favorite topics and what I think is one of the most important topics that every entrepreneur should put at the top of their list, which is skill acquisition and skill building. And so we're talking about what exactly can you do to identify the kinds of skills you need to overcome the challenges that you will face as an entrepreneur? And we'll talk about specifically a method called deliberate practice, which is a lame name, but we'll get to that. We'll talk about this method and how you can apply that as an entrepreneur, and also the limitations and the special challenges when it comes to skill building that you face as an entrepreneur that many people in other fields, professionals in other fields do not face the same challenges. So, this is a tailor made, how to build skills as an entrepreneur specifically episode for you today.
Today, as a special guest, I'm happy to have Paul McCarthy on the podcast. He is my business partner, the Co founder of Thrive Themes and I invited him specifically to talk about this topic because it's something that he has researched very intensely over the last couple of years. And also has practiced in his own life and with a team that he built up, like he's just got a lot of practical knowledge and application of this topic as well. And as you'll see, there's a lot that he can bring to the table in this discussion.
So without further ado, let me just mention that as always, you can get show notes for everything we talk about. You can go to activegrowth.com/32 to get the show notes and links and so on for this episode. And you can also leave a voice message there, leave a comment there, and get a discussion started. So with that, let's get into the episode.
So on the Active Growth podcast, we talk about skills a lot and today we're going to talk about skill development, a specific way of developing skills. And the reason we have this focus is that what I see in a lot of material on entrepreneurship and online marketing, there's always this focus on tactics. There's always this focus on things to do, right? What are the right moves to make in order to build a successful business? And I think that in reality, in many cases that's the wrong question to ask because quite simply, if you give all the right instructions, all the right moves to make all the tactics to the wrong kind of person, then it's all useless, right? The wrong kind of person will not be able to make anything of all that. Whereas a strong entrepreneurial person, someone with strong work ethic, someone with great ... Someone who you know is kind of the archetypal entrepreneur, even without any instructions or even with a set of wrong instructions, they will make it work somehow.
And so I think the focus has to be much more on how do we become that kind of person? And not as much on what are the exact moves to make? What is the recipe? So today I want to talk about specifically deliberate practice and we have on the podcast for the first time since a long time, we've got Paul McCarthy on the podcast. So for those who don't know Paul yet, he has basically been my right hand man for a very long time. He is the co founder of Thrive Themes and he's been involved in basically everything that I've done on the Active Growth side and also on the Thrive Themes site for for a long time, but he tends to operate behind the scenes. So here's one of the rare occasions where we get him in front of a microphone.
So let's start. Paul, you've done a lot of work on this and you've done a lot of research on this. Can you give like a summary of what is deliberate practice? When I say deliberate practice, what does that mean?
Well, I guess the simplest way you could describe deliberate practice is it's the best known method of getting good at something in the fastest possible time. So it describes a way of practicing a skill so that you can learn that skill really, really, really quickly. And it's a set of principles that you can pretty much apply to anything that you're learning. So it operates above the level of the skill that you're trying to learn. And so there's quite a few components of deliberate practice. First, let me just give some background about this. So I learned about this or I came across this method of practicing things by reading a book called Peak by Anders Ericsson, who did I think a 30 year study on why prodigies became prodigies.
So he looked at the backgrounds and the histories of various high performers, and these are like extreme high performers, you know, the top one percents, the world class performers, so to speak. So he looked at musicians, he looked at athletes, he looked at people who are just clearly outliers in their fields to see what kinds of things they did to get into that position. And the one thing that stood out is that they all did deliberate practice.
Now I think one thing we should add here is that deliberate practice, I think it's very poorly named because when you hear a deliberate practice, you're like, "Yeah, I've done that. I've deliberately practiced something in my life." So I think it's actually, it's just you have to think of it as just a very poorly chosen brand name, because when Anders Ericsson talks about deliberate practice, he doesn't actually mean just, "Okay, I'm sitting down to practice this thing." He means a very specific way of practicing, and yeah, It's just poorly named.
Yeah, I think. I think you're right when you say that, it definitely has a bit of a branding problem. Because there's many different ways you can practice something, and practicing isn't anything new to any of us. We've all practiced things in the past, but probably what we haven't realized or what we haven't been taught when we're young is that certain types of practice are pretty much useless. For instance, if you sit in front of a piano and you're trying to improve your piano skills, but yet you're playing the same old song over and over and over again. At that point, you're already operating within the level of your ability and it becomes pretty much automatic to play this song. Your hands are basically operating automatically. It's not difficult for you. Any time where you practice a skill and you're operating like this where it's automatic, it's not challenging, it's pretty much a waste of time in terms of skill acquisition. You're not making any improvements there.
So can we break it down like what makes deliberate practice? Like what are the aspects that would make real deliberate practice, deliberate practice? And then we'll start talking about how to apply this for entrepreneurial skills.
Yeah. Okay. So I think there are a few key components. I think the first is you want to try and break down your skill into kind of sub skills or different parts of that skill. Let me use golf as an example, right? Let's say you want to improve your golf game. Well, there are various different types of shots that you need to improve your golf game. You have to drive off the tee, you have to play short pitch shots, you have to learn to pat. You have to learn to play out of the bunker. All of these skills are kind of sub skills to golf, and I think that's the first important part of deliberate practices, is that you want to try and break down this skill into the smallest sub skills that you can practice.
So to continue the example, a golfer would perhaps go to the golf range and hit 100 shots off the tee. That's a specific skill that's required in golf. And to take this into like a business context or to a more professional context in terms of building a business or doing some work or learning some new skill. Imagine that you're a writer or imagine that you want to improve your writing, one way of doing this would be to break down an article into its different sections. So you have, for instance, a title. You have a lead in. You have the main body or the main content of your message, and then maybe you have a closing statement or I final conclusion. Each of these, writing each of these parts of an article, our skills in and of themselves, which are then brought together to form this biggest skill of being able to write well.
I think one of the things that's important to mention here is that ... Or I think one of the reasons this is important, this breaking down is important is because with both examples we can basically see this, right? If you're a golfer, then there might be something that's quite important to your overall game, but that in the course of just playing around with golf, you won't encounter that often. So you know, one of the things you mentioned is like playing out of the bunker, right? Now, this might not happen at all during the whole course for game, it would happen quite rarely, but the problem is if you just play golf, this happens so rarely that you'll never really get good at it. You won't get enough repetition, right? And so that when it happens you'll basically be lost because maybe you have gotten a decent amount of practice patting through the course of playing games, but you've just not had enough playing out of the bunker, right?
And so that's one of the reasons why we want to break these things down because just in the natural course of doing a thing, it just doesn't happen often enough. Now with writing, it's a similar thing. We've talked about this before in a couple of episodes about copywriting. One of the things is, you know your headline is incredibly important, makes a huge difference to whether people start reading your thing at all. Whether they click on a link to a blog post at all, right? And when you're just writing, basically in the natural process of writing articles, you will only encounter that skill and practice that skill once per article, because every article has one headline. And this is why we've talked about the importance of writing many headlines for every article or even taking some time just writing headlines and doing nothing else. You're just practicing that one skill because you realize that the importance of this skill is disproportionate to how often I normally do it. So I need to practice this more.
And another one, and we'll link to all these relevant episodes in the show notes, but another one I've talked about, the Bento box thinking method, which also it's one aspect of creating content which we can separate out and practice specifically. And it applies to writing, it applies to creating video content or whatever, but we're pulling out this one aspect because we're looking at it and saying, "Hey, this is disproportionately important. I want to make sure that I deliberately practice this component."
Yeah, I think that's a really important point that you made there because one of the key components to learning a skill really, really fast as you need to get your reps in essentially, so have very quick fire repetition. We're actually doing this with a new member of our team and she's trying to improve her writing and what she's been doing recently is every single day she'll come up with headlines for an article. And then she'll get feedback on it, and then the next day she'll try and improve what she wrote the day before. That rapid quickfire succession on a daily basis, she's writing five, 10 different headlines on a daily basis. That's far more intense, that's happening far more often than it would otherwise happen if she was just writing articles on an ad hoc basis.
And then what happens is when you practice each of these sub skills and you have practiced them with high frequency, they eventually come together to produce this whole skill of writing that is far in excess of what it would otherwise be if this person was just writing.
Yeah, and the next component here is also his feedback, right? Because that's another component of what makes deliberate practice difference from just practicing. Is that ideally you get rapid and direct feedback from an expert on what you're doing, and this can be quite tricky, but it's incredibly important, right? You have to have outside eyes, someone who knows what they're doing, who can give you some feedback on on what can you do better here? And as an example, under Thrive Themes team, we have this review process which is just part of what we do. Basically nobody publishes anything without getting review from someone else. First, we just give them some insight on how could this be done better? And yeah, I think this is very important, but it's also ...
This is one of the difficult things for your solo-preneur wardrobe, digital nomad type. This is quite difficult to find someone or to have someone to have some kind of a system where you can actually get feedback on what you're doing and you're not just kind of working away in your own little cave, in your own little bubble. Because then again, you can basically just be spinning your wheels, even if you're a practicing a lot, you can just kind of be deepening the grooves of all the mistakes you're making.
Yeah. Feedback is a critical component to this. Like you said, in certain disciplines there's lots of world class knowledge available. You can find teachers let's say, going back to our goal, for example, there are plenty, plenty of expert golfers out there that will be happy to tell you why you're slicing the ball off the tee or hooking it into the trees. But in other disciplines it's somewhat harder. For instance, I'm in one of our teams we're having our members do touch typing deliberate practice so that they can type faster. Now, here is a discipline where you don't really have much in terms of knowledge available and how to type fast. You have typing technique but not speed typing information and teachers out there that you can use, so it becomes a little bit tricky.
But in that case rather than having feedback from an expert teacher or coach, or world class coach which would be ideal, you use the score that you get while you're touch typing. So you have that feedback of, okay, I just typed at 75 words per minute or 80 words per minute. And in certain instances scores like that can also be used as your feedback loop.
Yeah, I think that's also something applies quite well to a marketing context at least in certain areas. So for example, if you are writing ad copy, you basically have a built in feedback loop, right? If you're publishing Facebook ads or AdWords ads or something, you have these stats about your click through rate and conversion rate and so on. That's really the most important feedback. Now it's not a higher level feedback, right? An expert could still tell you, "Well, here's why you know your click through rate was horrible on this ad but good on that one." But even in absence of that, it gives you ... you get some real world feedback and it also has, it can have this aspect of fairly rapid feedback. I mean, you write a set of ads, you publish them and fairly quickly you see which ones rise to the top. And that's something where you should definitely look out for opportunities. You know, where can I get this feedback either from people or from some kind of a system so that, yeah again, that you're not just kind of a working away by yourself without any feedback loop going on?
Yeah, and just to highlight a point you just mentioned that it's really important that the feedback is fast. It's no good, for instance, practicing and then a week or two later getting feedback. You really want to have a fast feedback loop so that you really get your reps in rapidly, so you can do training session after training session in a short space period of time. That will enable you to grow your skills as fast as possible.
So deliberate practice, the components are we need to be taking a skill apart into sub components. We need to be practicing frequently with frequent feedback, and you kind of hinted at this, we need to be practicing at the edge of our ability, right? We need to make sure that the task we're doing is challenging so that we have to kind of bring our best to keep up, but also not too challenging. There's no point in repeatedly practicing something that is too easy for you. There's no point in repeatedly practicing something that's just too hard and overwhelming and frustrating either. And I think here actually, you know, the exercise analogy is perfect, right? If you go to the gym and you lift some weights that are so light for you that you can just rep them all day long, well that's pointless obviously.
But also if you put on so much weight, put so much weight on the bar that you can't move it anymore, that's also pointless. You have to find that sweet spot where it is difficult for you to move that weight. It's challenging. You're at the edge of your ability, but you can do it, and that is ... This analogy is actually how I often think about the work I do, right? I often think in terms of how can I add some weight to this, right? Or Am I miscalibrating the amount of weight I'm putting on the bar here? It's kind of an analogy I use in my mind to think about things like content creation and other marketing and entrepreneurial skills.
Yeah, so to make this analogy more real in your minds as to what it should feel like when you're doing deliberate practice. I think in Peak, in Anders Erickson's book, he mentions about musicians and how they practice, and he mentions what they feel like at the end of their practice, and basically they feel drained. And they can't do more than three to four hours of practice a day. Now bear in mind these musicians that have been practicing their instruments for 10, 15, 20 years sometimes. So they're very practiced at deliberate practice. And I think the key point here is that if you come out of your deliberate practice session and you look back on it and it was like, "Okay, that was easy," and you don't feel at least a little bit drained while you're in this practice session, you're not focusing your attention. Your mind is kind of wondering what two different things. You're not really focused on the skill that you're trying to build. Then probably you're not practicing hard enough.
You should really come out of your session feeling at least a little bit drained. And it's not enjoyable, by the way. A lot of these musicians, all of these athletes that were researched for this book they mentioned that they actually don't really like doing this deliberate practice. It's a chore for them, and the reason it's a chore is because they really have to push themselves pretty hard. So I go back to that, that piano analogy that I gave earlier, if you're playing the piano, you're playing the same tune over and over again, realize that that's not really very effective for improving your piano playing.
But if you're on the other hand playing a song where maybe you start this song and then five seconds in, you realize you make a bit of mistakes. You have to go back and think about what the mistake was and then try and play that song again. And then maybe over the course of a one hour or two hour session, you get further and further through this song and start playing this song better basically. Then that's more like deliberate practice, and that's going to give you more value in terms of skill acquisition.
Okay, so now that we've laid out how deliberate practice works, let's bring this more into entrepreneurial skills. Because the thing is, this theory of deliberate practice is extremely useful and it is especially useful for all the disciplines we talked about. It is especially useful for this kind of focused mastery of a single skill like playing an instrument or being an athlete, where again, just usually very focused, very narrow set of things that they need to optimize their bodies and their performance for. Now with entrepreneurial skills, it becomes a little bit more challenging, because first of all, well an entrepreneur, the entrepreneurial skillset is vast and complicated and also fast moving. Especially in the world of online business, things are changing all the time. So we cannot simply say, "Okay, you know, the goal is to become a better entrepreneur. Here are the five sub skills of this."
It is way more complicated than that, and especially if you're doing the kind of thing where you're bootstrapping a business, where you're a solo-preneur, maybe a two or three person business where everyone in the business has to wear many different hats. And you simply cannot narrow this down to just a handful of skills. This is an important thing to keep in mind together with what we just talked about, which is that doing deliberate practice is difficult, and you cannot be doing this all day long, right? There's just no way, so there's no way that you will spend most of your time doing deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice is something you can insert for maybe one to two hours a day and you have to insert it somewhere in your day where it fits. Where you have enough energy to do this, where it helps you improve your skills. But where you can come out of it and maybe you've done some other stuff before, maybe you're taking a break after and then you're doing some other stuff after because you don't have the luxury of basically saying, "Well, my job is to play the violin, so all I really have ... I can expend all my energy on getting better at playing the violin." It is unfortunately a lot more complicated than that for entrepreneurs.
So let's talk about, how do we make this work? I mean, how do you think an entrepreneur, especially kind of the bootstrapping, solopreneur type, can use deliberate practice to step up their game?
Up until this point, we've mainly been speaking about how to use deliberate practice to become like an expert or a world class performer in your field, or whatever skill that you're producing. Those are the examples that we've been talking about, but I think in terms of entrepreneurship, it's more valuable to think of this in terms of let's say you're a solopreneur and you've got 15 or 20 different tasks that you need to do. And some of those you've never really done before, and you have to learn them and you don't have the resources to outsource this to somebody else. So the only option you have is that you have to figure this out and get good at it in the fastest possible time. And that's basically what deliberate practice can be used for as well. So if you're completely new to something, there's actually a book out there, I think it's called 'The first 20 hours' right by Joshua Kaufman.
Yes. So this book is all about rapid skill acquisition, but in the first phases of learning a new skill, and I think that's really important, if you have something that you need to learn as an entrepreneur, which let's face it, that's often the case. Let's say you don't know how to build a website. We don't have to put an article together or do a video, then that could be a new skill that you need to learn. Firstly, it's important that you understand that you don't have to spend hundreds of hours practicing this thing to get to a point where it's good enough for you to use it. And the figure that, in this book, 'The First 20 Hours' is 20 hours.
And in this particular book, Josh does a number of things. I can't remember what they are top of my head, but one of them is he learns to type using a Dvorak keyboard as opposed to qwerty. So he completely retrains his brain. And if you're not aware already, Qwerty is a layout of keys that's probably the standard layer of most keyboards. The way the keys are arranged, they're not great for your wrist, it puts an excess of strain on your wrists, so he decided to change to another keyboard layout. And it took him 20 hours to basically make the switch between the two keyboard layouts. And he's applied this 20 hour role in many other disciplines as well.
So I think firstly, it's important to realize that any skill that you need to learn, let's say you have something you need to pick up quickly, you can do so in a relatively short period of time just by consciously applying what we've been speaking about, what deliberate practice. You break it down, you focus on it, you challenge yourself to the edge of your ability and you get quick feedback.
One of the things that I think is very important, or at least has been in my history is not very important, is that you run up the steep part of the learning curve of many things, right? And so to kind of visualize this, and we'll put a visual representation of this in the show notes as well. But basically whenever you're learning a skill, the curve of how your ability in any field develops is a curve that starts very steep and then evens off. And basically what that means is the better you get at something, the more time and energy you have to invest to get a little better at it, right? So if you're already extremely good at, let's say playing the violin, then you have to spend many, many hundreds of hours to get noticeably yet a bit better, right? To move from the top 2% into the top 1% takes a long, long time. But to go from absolutely no skill at all to decent, I can more or less do this now. That doesn't take very long. And that's the steep part of the curve.
And so there are many things like, the typical entrepreneur we have to teach ourselves. For example, how to build a website. And this is something where you can get to the point where you can put together a website and you can more or less manage this website and understand what's going on in a matter of, yeah, maybe 20 hours, maybe 100 hours, something like that, and you don't ... But you don't have the knowledge of a server tech. You can't code HTML or CSS. You don't have all this intricate knowledge of how all this technology works, right? You're not an expert in this field, but it's good enough. And for entrepreneurs, getting from zero to good enough rapidly is an extremely important skill.
Yeah, precisely. The second reason why I think it's important to at least be aware of deliberate practice or understand the science behind getting good at stuff is that it helps you as an entrepreneur develop what's called a growth mindset. Let's say you have a skill that you want to learn, but you feel like it's beyond your ability. You feel like it's something you can't pick up. You're just not that type of person. Well, if you study the science behind this, it's very rarely the case that you're not able to learn something. It's it really is a case of practicing and the right way and applying yourself for long enough period of time. So I think the second important point here is that by learning about these practice mechanisms, you start to build up in your mind this sense that I can actually do this. Whereas if you're not aware of these skills, you might be inclined to think, "Oh, this is just beyond my ability."
Right? So you don't feel helpless in the face of challenges that you've never seen before. Or you don't feel like it's pointless to even try. The book we're referencing here is a mindset by Carol Dweck, which is an interesting read and the reason we're mentioning this is because actually your beliefs about this make a big difference, right? If you believe hard enough that you cannot learn a new thing, or that whatever skill that you need to master is too difficult for you. If you believe that, then you will make it true, right? That becomes true. Whereas if you have the general belief that, "Yeah, I can figure stuff out," it makes you a lot more effective at figuring stuff out. It's one of these self reinforcing things.
Yeah, and there's quite a lot of literature about this. I'd recommend reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport. Mindset by Carol Dweck, as you just mentioned, and Peak, Anders Ericsson. All of these books. If you read these within a month of each other, then you'll start to develop subtly this growth mindset. You'll start to develop this belief, "Okay, I can actually do this. It really is just the case of practicing and focusing my attention."
So the third thing where I think deliberate practice can help us as entrepreneurs is, let's say we're not a solopreneur anymore. Let's say we have a small team. When you apply and teach your team about concepts like this, they feel like they can grow their skills. They feel like they're in an organization that values growth and values skill development. And the reason this is important, I think, is because it increases engagement. Now as a guy, Kevin Kruse, I think he's one of the thought leaders on engagement and I think he became this because his company was one of the best companies to work for, for a couple of years running in a certain state or something in America. I can't remember the specifics.
But anyway, he talks about what he does in his businesses to keep people engaged, and one big part of this is growth. If you know about deliberate practice and you can teach your team that they can develop their skills using this set of techniques or using this practice mechanism, and you can try and instill a growth mindset in them, they're going to feel engaged. Especially if you can give them skills to practice. For instance, writing practice or video practice or whatever. This might be a nice supplement to their daily routine whereby they really feel they're making progress and that's such a key part of keeping our organization engaged.
Yeah, and I think, I mean for me at least, it's also one of the most satisfying things about being an entrepreneur is that I get to learn all these new things. And the sense of making progress, the sense of doing things better than I used to is just immensely satisfying.
Now let's go into some examples for an entrepreneur. What are examples of skills that we can apply this to? What are examples of skills that make sense for an entrepreneur to develop as quickly as possible and how he would do that? The one skill we already talked about is writing. I would even go bigger picture here, a communication skill. I think for any entrepreneur, a communication skill is incredibly important because you have to be able to communicate internally. You have to be able to communicate if you have a team. You have to able to communicate to people what your business is about, what they're supposed to do, what the end goal is and so on. And the better you are at clearly communicating that, the better you can run your business.
And also externally, if you think about all of the stuff that happens, all of the marketing stuff through all the different channels, whether you're creating a sales page or recording a podcast episode, or making video content or posting on social media. These are all communication channels and there are underlying communication skills that the better you are at communicating in general, the better you can do all of this marketing stuff across all these modalities, and across all these channels. So communication skills is definitely one of the things that I think every entrepreneur should spend at least those 20 to 100 hours on doing. We've talked about this on the podcast before and how to do this.
First of all, listen to the Bento Box Thinking episode. That is for me the foundational framework of clear communication. And then another thing we've talked about is recording videos. Recording videos of yourself and improving those videos over time. And that's even whether you publish those videos or not, but just getting that practice of getting in front of a camera and for example, giving an elevator pitch of what your business is about, and then watching yourself give that elevator pitch, thinking about, "How can I improve this?" Doing it again and so on, and refining that pitch. Or just explaining things on video, things that are related to your niche, things that are related to your business. I mean, those are two of the things that I think are ... One of the most useful skills for an entrepreneur to develop is, like I said, communication skill and these two methods of practice. I would say any entrepreneur can benefit from doing this.
Yeah, I completely agree. Especially the recording of cell phone video is incredibly illuminating to see yourself babbling on and on and on about this intricacy that while you are in the moment talking about this thing, you thought you were the most interesting person ever. But then you watch it back and you're like, "Oh my goodness, what is this guy babbling on about?" And this only happens so many times before you catch yourself doing it, and you resolve it, and you can kind of self correct like that. And I think the second thing I would say about communication is that as a small business you can somewhat get away with it.If you're a solopreneur, or if you're two or three, just two or three people all huddled together in a room building a startup. You know, if there's any kind of miscommunications, there'll be quickly resolved, quickly corrected.
But let's say you've got a team of 60 people or 70 people and you're trying to communicate an idea, trying to communicate a vision, a strategy, a direction, but you can't communicate that effectively. That can be catastrophic. So I think communication is a cornerstone skill that only becomes more important as your business becomes more mature.
As sub skills of this, I would say that it makes sense to spend again, a period of practice, a period of deliberate practice of maybe 100 or a few hundred hours on one specific type of communication. All right, so I think it makes sense to achieve some level of mastery in content writing. I think writing is incredibly useful because if you're a good writer, you can write all the content on your website, you can create good content. Whether it's content for your email subscribers that you send out your emails, whether it's content that you turn into products, like eBooks or books or something like that, or courses. And you can also do a lot of marketing stuff that involves writing such as writing guest posts. And so I think a good writing skill is something that is also worth practicing.
I think for writing, if we want to practice writing deliberately, the one thing to pay attention to there is to get feedback. Because the most effective way to do this, to turn just writing practice into deliberate practice of writing is to make sure that you have someone who can go through your work and give you feedback. My favorite type of feedback is the one thing to pay attention to the next time, right? So someone reads what you wrote and says, "Okay, there's," maybe it gives you a bunch of feedback, "Okay, this is what I'll do differently. This, this, this." But for the next article you write, "Here is the one thing to pay attention to, you know, use more examples and metaphors. That's your task for the next article, right?" Because you're not going improve everything from one article to the next, but it's good to have someone who gives you a mission of this is the one thing to pay attention to.
And the exact same approach goes for making video content or making audio content, which I think are very similar actually in many ways. So there again you would spend some time recording and getting feedback ideally from someone else, but also for yourself. That's one of the great things about recording. If you record a video and then you watch it two or three days later, it's almost like you're a stranger watching yourself, and you can actually see, "Okay, here, here's some problems. Here are the main issues. Here's the one thing I want to improve in the next video."
You've actually implemented this with the marketing team, right? How did you set that up specifically when you were doing the writing deliberate practice?
Yeah, so what we did with the marketing team for a while is that basically every day they would have, I think it was half an hour or maybe 20 minutes or something to ... We'd give them an assignment to write an article, and of course it will be a short article, right? Because they only had a half an hour, and so every morning they get an assignment, this is what you need to write about. They'd write their short article and sometime in the afternoon they will get the feedback on it for the next day. So they would get a list of notes and like I just said, they will get one thing where it's like, "Okay, in tomorrow's article this is the one I'd like you to try and improve."
And so that was daily, daily repetition for how long did they do that for?
I think like six weeks, something like that.
And did you notice the improvements at the end of that?
I mean huge as day and night, as day and night, yeah.
So yeah, that's an example of how the practice regime was set up such that the output didn't actually have any business utility other than just to get people good at writing.
That's a good point about business utility. So when I started writing I just had like two blogs that I wrote stuff on, and for me all of this was just practice. Practice in building and running websites, practice writing and communicating and so on. But it also turns into some, you know, it does turn into some utility because I did build a little audience for these websites, and at least on one of them I did some affiliate marketing and I did make it a bit of money from this. Which I do think you can often design your practice in such a way that you can get utility out of it. And I think the important thing there is to not be overly perfectionistic and be okay with publishing something. Yeah, of course your video isn't perfect. Right? But publish it anyway. I mean, I've published many, many a bad video.
I think that's a great point about perfectionism, because really if you think about it, that is the enemy of rapid skill acquisition. I mean, let's take the example of writing. Let's say you're only going to publish your best stuff. What does that look like in reality? Well, probably you're going to spend hours and hours and hours just looking at the intricacies, changing your sentence structures, changing the way you phrase things just to get one article published. And then maybe let's say that takes two weeks, right? After that point, you get some feedback and then you start again and it's another two weeks. So in the space of a month because you're so perfectionistic, because you're so attached to the output, you only really get two pieces of feedback, two chances to improve.
As opposed to somebody who's less attached to the result, less attached to producing a perfect piece of work, and more focused on the practice. Let's say this person does a piece of writing every single day and gets feedback every single day. In that first month, that person will get 30 pieces of feedback as opposed to two, 30 chances to improve their skill. You can imagine that that person has probably improved far quicker than the other perfectionistic person.
Yeah, this is a link to my video about the 80% rule, which you should watch because I think it's one of my most important videos. But also if you look at the 80% rule where I talk about exactly what Paul just described here, where it's basically about not doing your best, right? It's about not delivering the 100% as good as I can make it piece of work. Instead you do 80% of your best and you improve every time. And at first this might seem like it's at odds with the idea of deliberate practice because you're supposed to be at the edge of your skill. But I think this is very important because that's, to me, that's the difference between 80 and 100%, right? If I do a 60% article, then it's too easy and I don't learn anything. If I do a 100%, then I'm too perfectionistic, I'm leaning too far the other side and the spending too much time, not actually improving. And 80% for me is like that sweet spot where I'm still doing ... This is still a decent effort, right? This is not easy, but it's efficient enough that I can publish something, get feedback, published the next thing, and so on.
All right, let's go through some more examples of entrepreneurial skills. Another one that comes to mind for me is to basically look at a specific marketing or traffic channel and focus on that. Now, this depends basically depends on your business a lot, depends on your budget. But there I also think that you can get a lot more out of basically picking a channel that will work well for your business and spending this time deliberately practicing, pushing out a lot of content, getting feedback on that one channel. So whether that is, I don't know, maybe you're doing something social media, right? Maybe you have like a product that's really well suited for social media advertising, or for building even organic social media traffic and stuff like that.
So you would spend time doing that. You would spend time learning what do people respond to? What do people share, right? What kind of stuff actually works and brings people back to my website or leads to conversions? Or whether it's, you know ... Maybe it's something like AdWords or another form of PPC advertising, or maybe it's search engine optimization, or whatever it is, but I think the important point here is that you pick one and you spend this period of time doing deliberate practice on it, running up the steep part of the curve instead of trying to do a bit of everything. This is something I've seen. This is I think has been the death of many a small business, is that the people running it can't decide what to focus on.
So it's like, "Oh, I'm doing a bit of social media. I'm paying a bit of money here for AdWords, but it's not really doing anything. And then I'm also doing this podcast, and then I'm also doing a bit of outreach but nobody's responding. And I'm doing a bit of SEO but I'm not getting any traffic there either." And you're spending all this time on 15 different things, you're getting any result. So that's another thing where if you think of it in terms of building the skill and deliberate practice, you know that you cannot spread your focus like that. You have to pick something, get good at it, even if it's just for a period of a month two months or something like that. Get good at it, get some results, and then reassess your situation.
I think that's a great point about focusing. If you've ever read a book called The Dip by Seth Godin, he talks about being the best in the world. Not the literal world, not the world where there's 7 billion people in but your world, what you're doing. Maybe you're a Vegan Italian restaurant in Bali or something like that, he says "If you can be the best in the world, you get a disproportionate result compared to, let's say, being a 3rd best or 4th best, or 10th best." And you can see this all around you. I mean in Google, if you get the first spot in Google, you get 22 times the clicks of being 10th. What you just mentioned here about focusing on certain marketing channels, or focusing on one channel means that you'll get into the upper 5% or 1% of your competition, and it's so effective because you'll get far greater rewards. You'll benefit from this law of disproportionate results.
A good book to read on this topic is 80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall, which talks a lot about this. right? It's much better to be at the top of one specific field than to be in the middle of 15 fields. So yeah, that's an interesting book that goes into a lot of detail on ... That basically thinks that through, right? If you follow this strategy of I want to conquer like one field at a time, and how do I leverage that into like total market domination? It's pretty interesting, pretty interesting read. So that's 80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall, is that right?
Alright. More entrepreneurial skills to focus on. I think another one ... I mean for me actually one is also, and this is related to communication, so on again. But for me, one of the things that I focused on a long time ago and that I'm basically still focused on now is just getting better at creating good products. So basically being on the product side, right, where I spent a lot of time learning skills related to how do I make better products? So originally for courses and such, that was how do I improve my presentation skills? How do I structure a course in such a way that people get the most out of it? And also how do I make a good experience, a good user experience for people? When they do become a member of my course, how do I make that as seamless and useful as possible for them?
Because I was always frustrated with when I would buy an online course for example, and then I just get like a bunch of PDFs to download or something. And now you read through these PDFs or something. I wanted to make it as easy as possible for my customers to consume this content and to really benefit from it. So I spent a lot of time working on that and focusing on that where ... Again, by the way, this is another thing where it's very difficult to get feedback on something like this. All right, this is one of those areas where you can't just ask your local specialist in online courses to give you feedback. This is quite difficult, but still you can still try and apply this focus and try and apply as much of this deliberate practice principle as possible. Because again you can create a piece of whatever your product is going to be, and you have to go out and get feedback, right? You have to ask people for feedback.
You have to maybe do some user tests to get insights. But that's again, something you can do quite rapidly. And at the same ... Even with courses, I mean I created many courses, right? I created many courses, some of them for free, mostly just to practice this and to get feedback. So even if the feedback loop isn't, you can't always have a feedback loop where it's like on a daily basis, right? But you can create a course like a mini course within one or two weeks, publish it, get feedback from the people who take it, publish the next one and so on. That's still much better than what most people do where it takes them forever to make just that one course. Right.
And then on the product side again, you know what later became, when we started making software, it became a lot about learning about user experience and user interfaces and understanding how people interact with software. And getting better at understanding the needs of customers and how to solve problems using technology and software, which is a whole other is a massive rabbit hole of intricate sub skills in there as well. But again, you can read about it, you can learn about it, you can design, you can do mock-ups of user interfaces and stuff like that, get feedback on those. You can do user testing. There's all these tools available for you to do this, to practice this and to get the feedback.
And then the final one that comes to mind is then basically on the management side, how do you manage people? How do you build a company that works well? How do you get all these people together and coordinate them somehow in a way where everybody knows what they were supposed to be doing, everybody does their best work and everybody feels happy about what they're doing? And that's basically where we are right now. That is the skill from a ... As a manager, basically, I'm trying to build these management and leadership skills right now where once again, I think this is one where it's very difficult because you can't ... It's much more complicated to practice something like this than to practice a specific skill like typing or writing. It's much more of like a, an intangible and soft scale and you can't have a super tight feedback loop, but you can still apply the same idea.
As you can still deliberately focus on it. You can still find ways to do something to make a change, to change the way you do your management and get feedback on it. And one of the ways we do this is that we break our team up and we basically run like management experiments on smaller groups to see how it works. If it works out, we rolled it out to larger groups. But we've done that quite a lot over the last years that we'll try a new thing often read a book, try a new thing on a small team and see how our management and organization style evolves over time.
Yeah. Those are some great examples of how you've taken the concept of deliberate practice, but it doesn't really quite fit. So you've kind of bent the rules slightly to try and do as close as possible to deliberate practice. But I think the overriding theme here is that when Shane is describing how he built his skills on product development, and leadership, and management is the way your consciously looking at this. You're strategically figuring out a better way and probably in the short term that's going to be maybe a sacrificing in results. Maybe sometimes it means that your immediate effect is slightly worse than if you just screamed at people and got them to do stuff. But the the longer term result is that as as your skill evolves the company who will get better, your product development will improve.
And the thing that's an overriding theme that in the short term if you're trying to grow your skill, you're trying to practice in the short term, you should be prepared that maybe the results will not come quite as fast. But in the longer term there'll be way in excess of what would otherwise be possible.
Yeah. Which is also basically the perfect parallel to the 80% rule, right? So my example in the 80% rule was again, basically an exercise example where for sure you can ... If you have two people go into the gym and one of them lifts as heavy as possible, eyeball-poppingly the heavyweights, right? And the other person does 80%, which is an easier workout. Then in that first workout, the person who does 100% seems strong, moves more weight, right? But over time, because the person who does the eye-poppingly difficult workout every time needs much more recovery, he makes much less progress and can do fewer sets and fewer reputations and so on. Over time, the person who does the "easier workout" will actually become stronger, right? And will actually be capable of moving much, much more weight.
And this is how I think of many of these things, like you just said, right? There's no point in trying to do this maximum effort straining, everything bursting at the seams, trying to do the very best you can do right now for that extreme short term gain. Because that extreme short term gain pales in comparison to what a more deliberate approach gets you, even within the span of a few weeks or a few months. You have built up this team, you've built up a support team following a very deliberate approach. And I think that was an example where you did a lot of foundational work where you didn't just sit people down and have them answer support tickets right away. But pretty quickly I think you've got to a point where that pay off. I mean it didn't take years, right? To get to that point.
So yeah, I think this actually can pay off quite quickly to kind of take a step back and be more deliberate and be slightly, slightly slower in your approach. It's basically slower but steadier gets you there, gets you further quite quickly. I guess that's the tortoise and the hare principal, although that story is a bit dumb, so let's not expand on that analogy that story is just a bit weird.
So up until now we've spoken a lot about kind of like the business case of deliberate practice, but now kind of the parting thought that I'd like to leave you with is thinking in terms of skills. Thinking of every problem that you have in your business, every challenge that you have in terms of just simply a skill that you can learn is a really good way of thinking for you as an entrepreneur in two ways. The first way is that you're going to experience success more often. So every time you grow your skillset, every time you improve whatever it is you're working on, you get that positive feedback loop. It's internally satisfying for you as opposed to simply being attached to external results and getting external validation from let's say, people commenting on your post and telling you how good it is. You can experience that internal growth.
But secondly, I think it gives you a sense of control. So when you see your business as simply a series of problems and challenges that you can conquer by developing the necessary skills and you thoroughly believe that you have the ability to do that. Then it's simply a question of choosing which battles to take on. You have control in that situation and you're not just a victim subject to all this external pressure that you can't handle. It's a change in mindset such that you feel in control. And I think as an entrepreneur that's really helpful.
And that wraps up the episode. Not the first time and certainly not the last time that we are talking about skill building, but before next time we take on this topic as always I want to encourage you to take action on this. Even though I know this is a podcast, most people kind of passively consume podcasts whilst probably doing something else while you're listening to [inaudible 00:52:09] and that's fine. I think passive consumption is fine, but the problem is that you're quite likely to just kind of forget about this and move on. But I really want to encourage you to take action on what you hear us talk about here because we make sure to gear our content towards an action orientation if you will. We make this action oriented. We do our best to keep this fluff free and action oriented for you and this all comes from things that we have personally experienced that we are personally built and done and practiced and so on.
And that's why I know that if you take action on this, it will be something that helps you. Now if you struggle taking action on it, make sure you catch the previous episode where we talked about this problem, right? Because sometimes you hear some really good advice but then you kind of can't get yourself to implement it even though you want to, and even though you know you could theoretically. So if that sounds like you and you haven't listened to the last episode yet, go to activegrowth.com/31 or tap on episode 31 in whatever podcasting app you're using. That is where we talk about exactly that and what to do about it.
Now, one last thing, there is another great review that came in that I want to read, so we're still getting reviews on a regular basis on iTunes and those are the ones like see here. If you've reviewed us elsewhere, I might have not seen that, but anyway, there's a great review that I wanted to read out here by username, Not a drunk yet. That's a pretty good user name right there. The title is Deep, Thorough and Pertinent Info for the Online Entrepreneur. And the comment reads, "I'm a real newbie at this stuff. I have been at it for around seven months now. I have consumed and applied a ton of information on marketing, productivity, copywriting and so on and so on. In terms of value, realistic, excellent, usable content, delivered in a concise, no hype but easy to listen way, I think Shane and [Hannah 00:54:03] are absolutely top of the heap."
So thank you very much, Not a drunk yet, for this review. We appreciate that very much and if you enjoy this podcast, we'd really appreciate if you could review us as well. If you're listening to this on Apple Podcasts, then leave us a rating and review there. We really appreciate that. Or, whatever podcasting app you have, if there's some options to leave a comment or review or something that really helps us out and we super, super appreciate that. But also apart from reviews, this is not just about getting better ratings or whatever, we love to hear from you. So go over to activegrowth.com/32 to get to the show notes and there you can leave us a message. So you can tap on a button there on that page at the bottom of the page, you can tap on the button there to leave us a voice message. If you have any questions or any feedback we'd love to hear from you or you can also just type a comment there.
If you have any questions, again, like we love to answer your questions, we love to get your perspective on the stuff that we talk about on the podcast, and it really helps us make more relevant episodes in the future. We shape our content by the kind of feedback and kind of questions we get. So please do that, go over to activegrowth.com/32 to get a discussion started with us and to just let us know what you think, what's been helpful, what hasn't been helpful, what do you like more on and so on. So with that, thank you very much for listening and I'll catch you in the next episode.
We challenge you to try deliberate practice. It's up to you what skill you pick, but once you've chosen, apply Deliberate Practice to it (sub skills, feedback loop) and focus on that one thing for 30 days.
Let us know in the comments below what your experience is and whether you felt like you've progressed faster than before. Don't forget, it's quick to get to a "good enough" level with the right method - and as an entrepreneur, "good enough" at most areas is what you need to scale your business.
As always, we want your feedback, questions, tips and stories. You can leave them in the comments section down below or leave us a voice message by hitting the "Start recording" button below:
See you soon with another episode!
Alexandra is a traveling marketer. When she is not editing podcast episodes or writing blog posts, she's out there exploring a new city. She's the creator of the Morning Mindset daily mindfulness journal.
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