The best are not superhuman. It seems natural to endow Ironman competitors, Navy Seals, world class surgeons, etc. as a special and a separate class, but they are not superhuman. More often than not, two macro factors facilitate top performance—1) training and 2) fortitude.
The average Ironman finisher spends a minimum of 10 hours a week cycling, running, swimming, and lifting. Navy SEALs undergo a year of induction, selection, and intensive training just to earn the right to be called SEALs. Surgeons go through four years of medical school and often a decade more of specialized training to be proficient in their craft.
Yes, we are dealing with survivorship bias but we are looking at top performers. You are going to get a skewed sample. This bias in our selected sample is the very thing that gets us to the second macro factor—fortitude. With that, let us focus on training because not all training is treated equally.
When it comes to training and knowledge acquisition, repetition to mastery has proven results. This is where you chunk a lesson into predefined sections and sequence them in a logical order and repeat the sequence to build muscle memory. In children’s books you see this in regular word repetition as it takes between 5 and 16 times before a word is cemented in a young reader’s brain.
For our intrepid tri-athlete their training did not start with 100 plus mile bike rides, mile long swims, and marathon runs. Rather the distance they train at are shorter and repetitive providing them with ample training to develop the muscle strength and mental resilience.
Coupling repetition to mastery with experiential learning provides adults with the greatest opportunities for knowledge and skill acquisition. Seal training is famous for taking its candidates through simulations that prepare them for the crucible of combat. Hell Week uses live fire, sleep deprivation, long rucks, and arduous swims to put candidates through the physical, mental, and emotional stresses that will prepare them for the job they are trying to fill. They live and breathe the axiom that what you do in training comes out of you in real life.
The stakes are rarely as high as life and limb in the conference rooms of corporate America, yet hands on simulation based training holds a valuable role. Many investment banks put their first year analysts through financial modeling training that requires them to build a merger model from scratch and then present a pitch to provide base knowledge and experience to new hires. They achieve all of this before they ever engage with client facing work. Law firms put on mock trials from time to time for the same reasons and one Fortune 500 company, requires new sales hire to successfully close two managers in a mock sale before they are let on the road.
These hands on training simulations:
- Establish a division/ firm wide base level of knowledge on a topic/ core competency.
- Facilitate learning through repetition and context.
- Formulate (the) optimal approach(es) to common problems.
- Give employees a place to learn free from making errors in front of clients or bosses.
- Identify common errors and mistakes to be on the lookout for.
- Maximize on-the-job training by focusing it on firm specifics or case specific practices.
- Drive productivity higher for new hires.
- Demonstrate to employees the value and worth the firm sees in them now and in the future.
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