I was conducting some sales training this past week and I said something at the end of the two-day session that gave me pause. It sounded like it came from a Fortune Cookie or maybe some sort of self-help bumper sticker.
“You have to be willing to be bad to be good.”
My son has a number of friends that won’t try a sport because they might not be the best at it right away. Many of them are good athletes. I’m sure you know people like this as well – both personally and professionally. They won’t try to learn new skills or go outside their comfort zone to attempt something different.
Very few people are good at something the first time they try it. Pick almost any topic. There are few people who can easily do calculus their first time, or throw a strike every pitch, or call on a C-level executive with ease and confidence.
Look at Sara Blakely, the youngest self-made female billionaire in history. When she was growing up, her father would ask – “So, what did you fail at today?” If there were no failures, her dad would be upset. His wise question helped to teach Sara that failure is not just an outcome, but involves going outside of your comfort zone and attempting to improve from the day before.
When Tony Robbins, one of the most sought-after speakers in the world, wanted to improve his public speaking skills he started to speak to anyone anywhere – church groups, boy scout meetings, small conferences, etc. He wanted to speed up his rate of failure to get better faster. If you were to speak one time a month that’s twelve times a year. You will get better. If you speak twelve times a month you will get better much faster.
There is a lot of talk today about the 10,000 hour rule, or the amount of time it takes to be world-class at something. The time, however, should be spent doing deliberate or deep-practice and not going “through the motions.” If you think about mastery in any area it requires the willingness to be imperfect and to rationally critique yourself so you can make small adjustments to improve. In some ways, it can be quite Darwinian. Rinse, repeat and replicate what works best. Rapidly get rid of what doesn’t work.
The lesson for sales professionals is that every sales call or customer interaction is essentially an experiment to learn something. If you can be bad in private through deep-practice (think of role-plays with a mentor or call planning with a manager) you can increase your chances of being good on game-day … and winning the business. What’s your story?