Don’t Drop the Baby

joe —  Sun 2-May-10 — 11 Comments
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Colonel sanders raceWhat is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say Colonel Sanders? Chicken, right? How about Hank Aaron, Job, or Debbie “Mrs.” Fields? Despite the incredible complexity and richness of each of these people each are predominantly known for one standout thing.

Unless you are an avid football fan you may not known Rudi Johnson. Rudi is a running back in the NFL that is superior to nearly all other running backs in one way – he hardly everfumbles the ball. In eight seasons and over 1,600 carries, Rudi has only lost the ball 8 times – that’s once every 200 attempts.To give you a comparison, Adrian Peterson, one of the best backs in the NFL loses the ball roughly every 50 attempts.

butterfinger.pngIt’s really not an accident he rarely fumbles as Rudi has made holding on to the ball a priority. He equates a fumble to “dropping the baby – you never drop the baby.” He has a system for holding on to the ball that he calls the iron claw that he demonstrated on a recent Fox Sports show called Sports Science.

Sports Science is a show my son and I enjoy where they apply sophisticated technical machinery and heavy doses of science to help understand the sporting world. On one particular episode they wanted to understand how much force it takes to cause a fumble. To make it entertaining they matched the best with the best. The ball carrier, Rudi Johnson, was lined up against four of the best Mixed Martial Arts fighters in the world. These guys were scary tough.

Rudi had to run through a line where each of these fighters got a shot at punching the football out of his hands. After five attempts by each fighter and an average of 800 pounds of force for each strike, no one was able to punch it through. Then they decided to see what it would take to get the ball loose. Rudi now had to stand in place with one of the fighters taking his clear best shot at the ball. Place your bet – what do you think happened?

I was surprised to see that he dropped it, but did you notice Rudi’s response? He didn’t say “he got lucky” or “I wasn’t ready” or “the ball was wet” or even “let me try that again” – his response was

“Let me see the replay. I got to see how he got the ball out.”

You’ll consistently find this attitude and behavior in the best of the best. There is an internal engine that fuels constant improvement. When they fail their first concern is not their ego or even the failure itself but rather on learning what happened and how to adjust so that it doesn’t happen again.

In Outliers, Malcom Gladwell cites the recently popular “10,000-Hour Rule” which states that in order to achieve world class mastery of a subject you must spend 10,000 hours of deliberate study on that subject. I highlight the word deliberate as it is crucial. Deliberate indicates a purpose or goal and a system to reach that goal – a system that includes how to deal with failures along the way. It’s as much a mind set as it is a discipline. I will bet that early in Rudi’s career his first response to failure wasn’t “let me see the replay.” It took a conscious effort to adopt that mindset.

Pianist.pngI estimate that I have sat down and played my piano for over 20,000 hours. I am nowhere near master level, but I play well enough for my own enjoyment. I always attempt to get better but not with the deliberation it takes to achieve mastery. Had I spent that time in a system where constant improvement was front and center I would be playing at a much higher level – but I didn’t want to master this field.

However, there are some fields I do want to excel at even if not at a mastery level and I believe the same rules apply. Instead of 10,000 hours I might devote 1,000 hours. Either way there must be deliberate practice, a developed mindset of constant improvement that knows how to watch the replay of my failures and apply them toward my ultimate goal.

In other words, to be as good as you can at something you find important you must be deliberate.

Tody’s Question
What types of practices do you employ or have seen others employ that demonstrate a mindset of constant improvement?

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  • Tim Dodd

    This is a good lesson, applicable to any endeavor. It also explains why I have not yet mastered drinking through my nose.

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      But I have really enjoyed watching you practice.

      • Tim Dodd

        I was helping some beginning dancers in class a few weeks ago. A typical comment, on observing an advanced dancer, is how smooth and effortless they make it look. I say something like, “You can be as good as she is, if you work at it. You have to realize that she has done that move thousands and thousands of times.” This is where most people stop. What they really want is for you to tell them about a magic pill they can take.

  • Chris Anderson

    Cavers and rope work. Everyone I have seen is helping newer guys (like me) learn new skills. Of course the penalty for failure is high here. All of us practice each skill to master it. You try to get used to trusting the equipment, then someone elses rig, then your own rig, and the basic skills of going up and down a rope. I spent 5 hours practicing change overs, rigging, toe’s to nose, and getting over the lip. The real key to practice is loving what your doing and then doing it.

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      Amen Chris!

  • http://jason.aminus3.com Jason

    Your observation about deliberate practice vs. general noodling is key. A skill can be greatly improved using a feedback loop to set targets and metrics which measure success (and failure).

    Thinking about your question led me to consider meditation. It is becoming more and more accepted that meditation has some positive affect on our physical and mental well being, but how can people know that what they are doing is working? It can be challenging for someone to try out one of the many techniques and determine whether it is really doing anything.

    One technology that came to mind is a little device created by the Heart Math institute which measures Heart Rate Variability as a determining factor.

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      Jason – have you tried the device?
      One of my favorite new devices is this rather expensive feedback gear you can wear to help you to master sleeping. Never used it, but if there is something I think we would all love to mast it would be sleeping.

  • Sue

    Let us not forget about what has sparked our interest and the inspiration of why we would like to Pursue the adventures we set out. Was it the challenge of the self improvement? Was it the mentor who helped us start our journey? Was it the weekly Lessons we endured and complained about as we are in the learning process? How many of us have stated ” I just don’t get it” and later have had the opportunity to gather all the info we can from others until we do get it.
    When we set out to become the best of the best, we generally have had an inspiration to be better than the person before us or the others who have helped us succeed.

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      Great point about inspirations, Sue. I’ve never really felt compelled in my life to be the best at anything it always seems that there is significant diminishing marginal utility very early on – but I have this constant desire to be better tomorrow than I was yesterday in nearly everything.

      It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from As Good As it Gets when Jack Nicholson says to Helen Hunt “You make me want to be a better man.”

  • Betsy

    I am planning for my master’s degree and was overwhelmed by a mere 33 hours of study to complete my degree… 10,000, in comparision, makes the program seem really manageable. Thanks Joe for always putting things into perspective.

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      You are welcome Betsy (Betsy by the way is one of the people mentioned in the article on Hidden Mickeys).

      10,000 hours is roughly a little over 4 years of going to work 5 days a week for eight hours doing the same thing without a vacation. Sounds kind of like a Dilbert strip.

      Good luck on the Master’s program. It looks exciting.