Tag Archives: handwriting

Are We Getting Any Better, at Much of Anything? – Try Handwriting…



{Note to reader:  I wrote this before I read Bob’s post:  “Q 256:  How to Improve Self-Editing?” They do seem to go together}.

As I have blogged about before, Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell) and Talent is Overrated Geoff Colvin) make for a great one-two punch.  They each refer to the 10,000 hour rule, they each speak of the time and discipline it takes to get better, and they each challenge us to actually get better.

The Gladwell book is kind of “here is the philosophy.”  And here is a key quote:
The people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else.  They work much, much harder.

The Colvin book, which sadly and accurately states that very, very few people get really good at anything, says that the reason is that simply putting in 10,000 hours on a job is not enough – you have to intentionally work to get better at it.  He describes this as deliberate practice.  Here’s the key quote:

The factor that seems to explain the most about great performance is something the researchers call deliberate practice.  (This) definitely isn’t what most of us do on the job every day, which begins to explain the great mystery of the workplace – why we’re surrounded by so many people who have worked hard for decades but have never approached greatness.  Deliberate practice is hard.  It hurts.  But it works.  More of it equals better performance.  Tons of it equals great performance.

Talent is Overrated

Talent is Overrated

But here is the problem.  If we buy into the concept that it takes deliberate practice to get better, what do we then practice – what do we work on?  Even the Colvin book seems to be heavy in the sports example arena and a little light in the real world of work arena.  How do you get better at work in the everyday world of work?

I’ve got two suggestions.  (And, stay with me here – if we work at getting better at a couple of specific ways, maybe we can each figure ways to get better in other ways).
Here are my two suggestions:

#1:            Work on getting better at e-mail writing. Think about this:  have you ever wished you could pull an e-mail back?  (Yes, I know about the new g-mail feature).  We have to write so many, many e-mails that we get sloppy, too quick, too unthoughtful.  So, here’s a suggestion.  Print out five e-mails a week, re-read them, edit them, work on making them better!  Ask, “what could I do to improve the quality, the depth, the value of my e-mails?”  And remember the writing example from the Colvin book.  Benjamin Franklin wanted to be a good writer.  His dad “criticized him” in just the right way, and Franklin practiced deliberate practice. This is from Colvin’s book:

When it comes to giving people evaluations – offering praise first, then supporting criticisms with examples – old Josiah Franklin (father of Ben Franklin, after he praised, then “corrected,” his writing style) could be a model for us all.
Benjamin Franklin did not try to become a better essay writer by sitting down and writing essays.  Instead, like a top-ranked athlete or musician, he worked over and over on those specific aspects that needed improvement.


Italic Alphabet

Italic Alphabet

#2:            Work on getting better at actual writing – handwriting. OK, this one hits too close to home.  I feel like my handwriting is a lost cause.  And judging from a whole bunch of others, I’m not alone.  But twice in the last week, I have read pieces about improving handwriting.  One in slate.com (Dead Letters:  Everyone has terrible handwriting these days. My daughter and I set out to fix ours), the other in the New York Times.  (“Practice material” is included).  It may not help enough – but I have certainly spent close to 10,000 hours writing badly.  Maybe some time spent in deliberate practice could help reverse this horrible trait.

These are just a couple of simple suggestions.  Here is the real question:  what do you need to get better at?  And how can you design some deliberate practice practice sessions that will help you get better in specific ways that fit your specific challenges?


You can purchase my synopses of both Outliers and Talent is Overrated, with audio + handout, at our companion site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.