Friday, 26 April 2013

Smart practice involves four steps: here is the first

A young student of composition went to a famous composer and asked for some lessons. The famous composer listened to her music and came to the conclusion that the young composer’s approach needed to be more rigorous and disciplined. He advised the young woman to take lessons from a colleague of his, a very well respected composer, because he had a reputation for encouraging the technical discipline required.

The young composer took the famous composer’s advice and went to the well respected composer. She told him what the famous composer had said and then played him some of her music and showed him some of her scores.
The well respected composer listened to the music and studied the scores. He then thought carefully for quite some time. He turned to the young composer and said, ‘Your strength as a composer is in your intuitive, natural approach, we need to work together to develop this aspect and help you make the most of it, not suppress and cover it over with unnecessary discipline and rigour.'
The young composer agreed to this approach and went on to become a famous and well respected composer.

Step 1. Identify, focus upon and develop your strengths
The above example emphasises the importance of identifying, valuing and developing existing strengths as a foundation for future development. Focusing upon your strengths and encouraging their development helps you develop your own unique style and approach and make your own unique contributions. It also, importantly, enables you to develop from a position of strength, so providing the confidence you will need to focus upon weaker areas and develop new and personally challenging skills.

The process of identifying and developing existing strengths, as with the other three components of smart practice, must be done in a deliberate and systematic way.
The key questions to ask when identifying existing strengths are: 

  • What strengths have you exhibited and how do you know they are strengths? What evidence do you have to confirm they are strengths?
  • What feedback have you gained from others about your strengths?
  • Have you tested your existing strengths? Have you knowingly used them and gained good results and feedback?
  • Have you recorded when you used your strengths and the results you achieved? 
For example, if you were seeking to identify your existing strengths in terms of presentation skills you could review your performance during presentations and analyse any feedback obtained. What comments indicate a pattern of positive performance and in what specific areas does this take place? In addition, what personal feedback have you obtained from audience members, co-presenters, colleagues or managers to confirm these areas of strength?

Once you have identified feedback about the strengths of your presentational approach you are then in a position to test them. You can make a point of using and exploiting them during your next few presentations. If you have been told you have an open and engaging style that encourages participation, you can make sure that you continue to use it. You can also make a note of when you used it and the results it achieved for you.

This process of knowingly playing to your strengths and explicitly noting the effects of doing so is a corner stone of personal development. It not only reinforces the strength but also encourages feelings of competence and confidence that will support you through future developmental challenges.  
Once, with the help of others, you have accurately identified and tested your strengths, you need to work at developing and enhancing them. The key questions to ask when developing existing strengths are:

  • What specific aspects of your strengths do you want to concentrate upon so that you can make even better use of them?
  • How can you make sure that you give your strengths the space and time they need to develop and be even more effective?
  • What opportunities are you going to give yourself to expand and exploit your strengths and value and enjoy them?
  • How will you know that you have succeeded in enhancing your existing strengths?
For example, if you are seeking to maximise the strengths of your existing presentational approach you could focus upon the body language elements of your ability to engage effectively with your audience. How could you make your posture even more open and inviting of participation? How could you soften or firm up your hand movements to encourage or manage audience participation? How could you better use your facial expressions to encourage empathy with and participation from your audience? How could you improve and better use your eye connection with an audience?

Lastly, you can check that you have succeeded in enhancing and exploiting your strengths. You can analyse any feedback obtained about your performance to find out if your use of your strengths is having an even greater positive effect upon the quality of your presentations. You can also gain face to face feedback from audience members, co-presenters, colleagues and managers to find out if they have noticed any improvements.

Look out for future posts that will describe steps 2 to 4.

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