Discipline – the magic ingredient

Back in Thomas Edison’s day, perspiration wasn’t cause for shame. “Genius,” the serial inventor declared, “is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”  In other words, talent will only get you so far without diligent effort. Writer Malcolm Gladwell makes the same point in Outliers, his exploration of the key elements of success. Mastery, Gladwell says, can only be achieved through hard work – 10,000 hours of it. One notable example: The Beatles. In their early years, the band spent extended periods in Hamburg, Germany, playing very long hours and in diverse styles around the club scene, which helped to build both their reputation and their skills base. The late management thinker, Peter Drucker, argued for the same discipline to be applied to innovation. “In innovation, as in any other endeavour, there is talent, there is ingenuity, and there is knowledge,” Drucker wrote in 1985. “But when all is said and done, what innovation requires is hard, focused and purposeful work.” Former Goldman Sachs executive, Scott Belsky, named his creative services business and an annual forum after Thomas Edison’s famous quote. “In a world full of conferences dedicated to inspiring ideas, we created one focusing solely on their execution,” Belsky says. “It was a grand experiment: would people want to spend two days talking about the laborious and despised process of turning ideas into action?” Apparently so. The 99% Conference now sells out within weeks, highlighting the growing appreciation of what Vijay Govindarajan calls “the other side of innovation”. Practice, and yet more practice, makes perfect.  As American basketball great, Dr Julius Erving, reportedly said: “Being a professional is doing the things you love to do on the days you don’t feel like doing them.”

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