Practice makes perfect

When we appreciate people’s artwork or performance, it’s common to say, “They’re so talented.” What defines talent? Is it really talent that makes them so good at what they do?

A person watching a juggler saying, “Wow! So talented!”

This must mean that we cannot achieve greatness in a skill or task if we aren’t talented. Several people know and practice sports, dance, instruments, and more. However, it is only a select few that will achieve greatness.

How can greatness be achieved without talent playing a role?

Person thinking if they can become the greatest juggler
Person thinking if they can become the greatest juggler

The current definition of practice is vague. — Ericsson et al.

As an Indian classical dancer, I’ve practiced for hours until I achieved a level of perfection. We associate the practice with performing the same activities, over and over, which may not necessarily lead to impactful improvement. Ericsson et al.’s framework is based on the particular concept of “deliberate practice”.

An illustration of myself dancing
An illustration of myself dancing

Talent is Overrated

I came across the book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. He discusses what separates the expert performers from the average performers was “deliberate practice”. It’s a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain. Deliberate practice requires identifying defined elements of their performance that need to be improved and then worked on intently. The expert performers isolate specific aspects of what they do and focus on those until they are improved and then on to the next aspect. What was profound was that as a dancer, I wasn’t conscious that this was the way I had been rehearsing to achieve that level of perfection.

An illustration of the book, Talent is Overrated
An illustration of the book, Talent is Overrated

Feedback loops

We need immediate, reliable feedback to inform us where we’re weak. Otherwise, we don’t know and would have to rehearse the entire routine blindly.

An illustration of feedback through likes and ratings.
An illustration of feedback through likes and ratings.

A real example of obtaining immediate and reliable feedback was when Ben Franklin wanted to become a better writer. He compared his writing to well-written articles to get feedback and identify where he needed to improve. He noticed that he needed to expand his vocabulary, which gave him a specific area to focus on for deliberate practice. He worked on it and tried again and, over time, became an excellent writer.

An illustration of Ben Franklin comparing different papers to become a better writer.
An illustration of Ben Franklin comparing different papers to become a better writer.

Now, let’s take a look at UX. Is it easy to obtain immediate and reliable feedback in the field?

For example, you’re looking to improve the existing workflow for clients, and you’ve come up with an improved workflow. Is it better? The team may think it’s better, and user testing may be positive too. However, the only reliable feedback is to have it implemented and compare the analytics to the prior workflow. This isn’t immediate, it’s delayed.

An illustration of an improved UX workflow with approval from the UX team and user testing.
An illustration of an improved UX workflow with approval from the UX team and user testing.

This is a challenge for UX. Unlike the Ben Franklin example, where set standards existed to get immediate feedback for improvement, in UX, the field is ever-evolving. We may not always have standards to compare against to get immediate and reliable feedback.

To conclude, I’d like to leave you with this question, how might we obtain immediate and reliable feedback in UX?

An illustration of someone pondering.

Toronto-based designer specializing in user experience and visual design. https://pavi.design/