We like to think that practice is something we sit to do at a certain time, then we stop practicing when that time has elapsed. I put it forth for your consideration, that practice is not always confined to planned rehearsal time, or self-selected times when we who may be musicians sit and play until one of our parts or another is blistered and/or bleeding.
In fact, I put it forth that we are always practicing. Whatever we are involved with, we are practicing. So it follows that through this unscheduled practicing we become skilled, just as it is so with scheduled practice. The distinction becomes clearer when we cast each of the practice methods into its applicable consciousness state. One method is conscious, the other is unconscious, meaning we do not think about it consciously even as we do it. The things we practice unconsciously we master, just as regular practice of a musical instrument will lead to mastery. Here’s the rub, if we are involved with complaining, we will master complaining. If we are involved with being bored in our work, we will master being bored. These seem to defy the standard conception of practice, but think about it for a minute, and it will become clear. This mastery, when unconsciously practiced, is displayed without intention, so it is not something we can shape and format to what our conscious mind desires. It has a power all its own, and that power is culture-creating in an organization, just as it is habit-creating in an individual.
Organizations wondering where their zest for life went would do well to account for what is being practiced in the daily activities of the people who work in that organization. If we practice conducting boring, unplanned, and unproductive meetings, then our organization will become greatly skilled in conducting boring, unplanned, and unproductive meetings. If we celebrate paint-by-numbers consistency in our culture rather than creative courageousness, then this practice will shape the long-term output of our employees and ultimately our organization. Consistency and creative risk-taking must be balanced, and this too requires practice.
It’s worth repeating: What we are involved with, we are practicing. Once aware that this is in fact true, we can move more of the daily organizational activities into conscious practice. Every meeting is practice for future meetings. Every interaction, and the quality of that interaction, is an exercising of a skill we are developing. It’s a challenge to remain conscious of our practices, like anything else, it requires practice.
We recommend finding ways to account for what is being practiced in your organization, and building-in methods to remind those who work in your organization to be aware of not just what they are involved with, but how they are involved with it. What is being practiced in the quality of involvement? By this I mean, with what attitude are work duties/activities approached, and how does that approach impact the quality of the work?
We can begin the accounting with this simple question: What are we mastering? Once we include the unconscious practices, this question takes-on a new meaning, and one that we can use to initiate changes in the daily practices of those working in our organization. This can be a first-step in making daily practices more intentional, so the output is more predictable and desired, and more congruent with consciously identified sets of skills/abilities we want to master for the success of the organization and each person working in it.