The days of the gifted amateur are over – training and coaching lead to gold medal performances in Project Management as well as the Olympics

Jessica Ennis stamps her authority on Olympic gold
Jessica Ennis stamps her authority on Olympic gold

Athletes, and Project Managers, only put in gold medal performances as a result of dedicated training and coaching.

I just finished reading ‘Outliers‘ by Malcolm Gladwell, #1 best selling author of ‘Tipping point’ and ‘Blink: thinking fast and slow’.  The book famously espouses the ‘ten thousand hour rule‘, that is, to excel is not dependant on raw talent or aptitude but rather on putting in 10,000 hours of structured training and coaching.  At first I was dubious, thinking that talent and genius must play a greater part, but the book, and recent events, now show it to be clearly true in all arenas of life.

The golden girl of the games, Jessica Ennis, started aged 10 and trains under her coach 6 hours a day, 6 days a week.  GB’s first ever 10,000 meter gold medal winner Mo Farah runs three hours a day, that’s about a marathon, 6 days every week.  And the most successful Olympian of all time?  Michael Phelps’ coach has him practice what he calls FILO – be the first in the practice pool and the last out.  GB’s double figure medal haul in London, compared to Olympian Steve Redgrave‘s solitary gold at Atlanta, is down to the UK’s Lottery funded training and coaching programme.  Talent?  Its in the training.

Michael Phelps trains the hardest

What does this mean for Project Managers?  It means that we have to think beyond being naturally talented as a PM, with maybe a basic 5 day training course and multiple choice exam under our belt, to maintaining continuous professional development and adopting structured mentoring and coaching.

Currently, less than 10% of people calling themselves project managers are members of their professional body, and less than 10% of those turn up to a single talk or event, so the PM standard is shockingly poor.  When I speak at events and workshops and mention what I consider to be standard management texts and theories such as those on Emotional Intelligence, a lot less than 10% of even this 1% are even familiar.  And how many have a coach?  Probably even less.  We have a long way to go, but at least you are probably in the 1%.  But where next?

‘The days of the gifted amateur are over’
Andrew Bragg, CEO of the Association for Project Management

Incidentally, Gladwell also illustrates that a key contributor to outstanding achievement is going to a good school (not necessary the best).  The Sunday Times, making reference to Gladwell’s book, reports that 40% of medals for Team GB were won by people who were privately educated.  Millfield school alone has 9 current and former pupils competing in this Olympics.  But that aspect isn’t about being smart, or even having good facilities, but an indicator of having smart parenting to instil effective behaviours.  (In fact, Gladwell also shows that IQs over 120, ie about the level necessary for a good University degree, are less indicative of success than what your parents did for a living, ie who your role models were.  We will talk about modelling on another occasion).