Practice Makes Perfect?

Continuing the story of my violin-playing daughter, she is now practicing diligently for an upcoming competition in Italy.  She’s working on the repertoire required, two short Caprices by Paganini and Wieniawski for the initial round, and then for the final round (assuming she gets that far) a lovely piece by Igor Stravinsky, Suite Italienne (Here’s a link to the famous violinist Itzhak Perlman playing the first movement).

So the question of the day is: How long should someone practice to gain mastery on a complicated piece of music?

We posed the question of how long to practice to her violin teacher, Hu Kun (his story is fascinating by the way) who was taught directly by the great virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin for over 15 years.  His reply was different from what I expected.

“Practice doesn’t make perfect,” he replied.  “Perfect practice makes perfect. When I was young I only practiced about 2 hours a day when many of my colleagues in music school would spend 5-6 hours practicing.  Yet I won all the competitions.  It’s not how long you practice, it’s how you practice.  You need a good method that delivers results and too often people who practice long hours using a poor method do themselves more harm than good!”

Sage advice from someone who has been there, and it got me rethinking about how much time executives spend at work and whether or not they are really being effective, or just making things worse?

Here is one of my favorite stories about how we work:

One day Little Joey came home from school and asked his mother why Dad was always working late and why he had to bring work home as well.  Mommy replied that daddy was very busy and couldn’t get all his work done at the office so he had to work in the evenings as well.

Little Joey thought for a moment: “Then why don’t they put Dad in the slow group?”

I see too many executives spending long hours and to be honest, not accomplishing as much as they would like.  And I’ve been to marathon meetings that waste everyone’s time and definitely create more bad feelings than brilliant business solutions.  We are working long hours but are we using the best methods?

And as I’ve said many times before, business processes (how we work) are a key contributor to corporate culture and poor processes help create a culture of frustration and cynicism.

When was the last time your management team took time out to evaluate the way they work?  Are they using the best business processes?  Too often when someone is failing at work we blame the person when we should be helping improve the processes they are using.  W. Edwards Demming was very astute when he said:  Don’t blame the people,  fix the processes.

My daughter’s violin teacher is constantly showing her better fingering and other methods that he learned on how to short-cut practicing time and make that time more effective.

Are you working on improving your methods, or just working longer and harder?

Tight Lines . . .

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
This entry was posted in corporate culture, parenting. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Practice Makes Perfect?

  1. Pingback: Hard work, Disappointment and Learning Life Lessons | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

  2. I’m not positive where you are getting your information, however great topic. I must spend some time studying more or understanding more. Thanks for magnificent information I used to be searching for this info for my mission.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s