Monday, February 08, 2010

The Essence of Greatness

What makes for greatness in different fields of endeavor? What distinguishes those who are good at what they do from those that reach truly elite levels of performance?

Here's an excellent article that highlights one of the important secrets of greatness: the role of practice and hard work.

In my book Enhancing Trader Performance, I describe the achievement of Zohar Sharon, an accomplished golfer who is also blind. His coach, Ricardo Cordoba-Core, required Sharon to practice his swing for months before ever getting onto the golf course. Indeed, he placed a pole next to Sharon so that, if Sharon swung the club the wrong way, he would smack the pole.

Practice. Feedback. Further practice.

But how could Sharon possibly aim his shots toward the hole?

His coach stood by the hole and clapped his hands. Sharon thus compensated for his lack of visual ability with a superior auditory capacity. He swung for the sound, and he swung flawlessly after extensive practice.

Surely this is one of the secrets of greatness: building strengths with continuous effort and learning and sustaining the learning with a process that generates ever-greater experiences of accomplishment and mastery. Because the practice is intrinsically rewarding to the performer, it is not tiresome or effortful to sustain the learning process. Indeed, it's not so much that the elite performer has a drive to succeed as the drive has taken over the performer.

So much of greatness boils down to exponential learning under conditions of flow: we absorb learning when we are truly absorbed in the process of performance.