Practice makes perfect

Paul Butler

I’m a big Beatles fan and just this morning, I was thinking about the vast library of wonderful songs they wrote and performed — 213 original compositions and 73 cover versions, all in a relatively short eight-year career together.

If we just take the original compositions, that’s the equivalent of writing 26 songs a year, or one every two weeks.

I then started thinking about their live shows, as I knew they’d performed a lot. Their first concert was January 1961 at Litherland Town Hall in Liverpool and their last concert was August 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

They only played live for about five and a half years, but how many concerts did they perform in that time?

The answer is 978.

That’s an average of 178 concerts a year, 15 a month or every other day! You can tell I’m a numbers guy.

Why do I say all this? Well, there’s an old adage we’ve all heard that goes like this: “Practice makes perfect,” and I’d suggest one of the factors that made The Beatles so successful was their work ethic.

Their manager, Brian Epstein, said of them early on: “I’ve never known such a group of hard-working lads.” The members of The Beatles were not classically trained musicians, but they had a lot of grit and determination.

They simply worked much harder than other bands around them.

I remember when I was taking all of my accounting exams as a younger man in England. I had to take 16 exams, and this was while working full time. Gaynor and I had just married, and about halfway through my exams, we were expecting our first child.

My point being, we had a lot going on.

The members of The Beatles were not classically trained musicians, but they had a lot of grit and determination.

Deep down, I knew I wasn’t academically the best student, but I knew I had a solid work ethic based on how I was raised. I couldn’t outsmart my fellow students, but I knew I could outwork them. You might be thinking: “What does your performance as a student have to do with the other students?”

Well, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants only let a proportion of people into the charter each year — precisely 25 percent of students. This meant that, regardless of whether you “passed,” it really was a matter of “how well you passed” in comparison to other students — you see, I had to work harder because many were much smarter.

The author Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers” states: “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good — it’s the thing you do that makes you good.” His research suggested that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field.

This reminds me of the late Eddie Cantor’s quote: “It takes 20 years to make an overnight success.”

As I write this, I am also reminded of Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare. To refresh your memory, the story concerns a hare that ridicules a slow-moving tortoise. Tired of the hare’s arrogant behavior, the tortoise challenges him to a race. The hare soon leaves the tortoise behind and, confident of winning, takes a nap midway through the race.

When the hare awakes, however, he finds that his competitor, crawling slowly but steadily, has arrived before him. A Greek scholar commented on this fable: “Many people have good natural abilities which are ruined by idleness; on the other hand, sobriety, zeal and perseverance can prevail over indolence.”

So, whether you’re an employee or an entrepreneur, it seems to me, we do reap what we sow. If we work hard, we’re likely to be rewarded well. If we focus our time and energy to master something, we very likely will.

Being a “rock star” in the workplace takes time and plenty of it. Can you imagine a working world where every single person “practiced” and “played” as if they truly wanted to master what they were doing — not for themselves and their own adulation, but to be of optimal service to others?

Now, that would be FAB! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].

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