Coming from the performing arts, I have learned to value one thing above all – the ability to practice. Practice implies trying something out, learning from each practice session and trying it another way. It is sometimes solitary and sometimes in a group, but one component is absolute – the awareness that it is practice, and not the final product. That means that, until the curtain goes up, there is always room for change, growth and learning.
When I direct a show, the first thing I do is to figure out the rehearsal schedule. I do that so I know how much time we get for the practice. I want the actors to have as much time to discover their voices in the characters, and I want to learn from them. It is only in the practice that the piece comes to life. I remember directing the play Volpone several years ago. We were late in the rehearsal process, when the actress playing the character of Fine Lady Would-Be (yes, that was the character’s name!) suddenly tried something new and outrageous. As she was trying to get the other actor to do something, she simply placed her hand under the blanket on his knee. As the scene went on, she and the other actor began playing with the progression of the hand up his leg, his gulps, her smirks, and so on. For the first time, the scene came to life and was hysterically funny. It was only in the practice that we discovered how the scene needed to be played.
As leaders and as those who would cultivate innovation in our organizations, I think we have an obligation to spend a lot of time in practice. That includes our own abilities. None of us became leaders in our organizations overnight. We had to learn a lot of skills and techniques. We had years of practice. We would not expect any athlete to become great without hours and hours of practice. Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour mark for becoming really good at something. While it may not always require that amount of practice in order to become a more effective leader or a better innovator, that does give us all a bit of grace.
Each mistake and each triumph that I have had has been fuel and has been a form of practice. I have had a chance to apply those to my work, and I hope I have become a better leader – through practice, practice and more practice. As we want to change our own behaviors and those of others, we need to allow for practice.
When you are in the practice, be totally in the practice. And then step out of it and see what you got from the practice. Be aware of when something has to be completed, and then see where you are on the timeline. What else needs to be practiced in order to get you to your goal? If we continue in the practice on a regular basis, I think we can all become more effective in working with our people and in creating organizations in which innovation will flourish.