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AdMen and Athletes: Not So Different
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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Throughout the ages, the pen has faced the sword. Those who strive to master communications have been pitted against those who rely on brute strength or gifted athletic ability. The argument is compelling, for the worlds of the athlete and the Adperson rarely seek comparison. Each can be a celebrity within their own circles, admired for their skills and their abilities, and the most successful ones become models for upcoming generations to follow and beyond. But aside from the specific skill each one maintains, there is a trait that they share that makes them much more similar than different.

It is called intentional, or deliberate, practice. It is a method of sharpening a certain skill or set of skills continually until you can perform them exceptionally.

In the book SuperFreakonomics, K. Anders Ericsson, a psychology professor, describes the tenets of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice isn't just when you go to the track and run or sit down at the computer or notebook and draw. It is a process. Let's outline each of the three elements needed in order for one's practice to be deliberate.

Setting Specific Goals
In order for deliberate practice to exist, you have to be working towards a specific outcome. For baseball players, it may be strengthening the outfield-infield throw. For football players, it may be running better wide-receiver routes. For an Adperson, it may be writing better copy or getting better with creative technology. Set a specific goal before you begin working on a skill.

Obtaining Immediate Feedback
Not "feedback at any time" or "look at it when you get the chance"; for deliberate practice to exist, there must be mechanisms in place for your actions and skills to be evaluated. In our opinion, this is the most important aspect of deliberate practice and an area AdLand falls short on. For athletes, getting immediate feedback is easy; most of those working to improve have coaches or teammates around them that will provide the athlete needed criticism on their form and skill. Coaches work with athletes on a consistent basis and can provide roadmaps athletes can follow to improve. In AdLand, for years there has been a steady call for effective mentors.

AdLand has gotten so soft and politically correct that instead of simply admonishing ad professionals for poor work, they are either ignored or let go without explanation. Sink or swim. No advertising professional can apply this tenet of deliberate practice in that kind of environment. The feedback has to be constructive, and the ones giving the feedback have to be able to set the practitioner up for success.

Concentrate on Technique as Much as Outcome
Let's say that the athlete made a great play, and the ad practitioner created a great piece for a client. How did they get there? Can they do it again? That's why the third part of deliberate practice is focusing on technique. Yes, it is sweet to see that you've succeeded, but without focusing on how you did it, you might not be able to duplicate it. That's why quarterbacks hit the field time and time again to work on their throws. That's why copywriters write all the time. That's why researchers go back and look at observations and analyses to make sure they know how they came to the right conclusion. That's why creatives continually look for the methods to keep themselves fresh.

Get out there and set specific goals, find someone you trust to provide immediate feedback, and remember: the end is just as important (if not more) than the means.


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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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