Every other Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal development, personal productivity, or business book of interest.
One of my mentors once told me that there’s usually no difference in content between a good job and a great job, but that the spoils go to those who do the great jobs. What’s the difference between good and great, I’d ask. He’d tell me it was lots of little things – humor, polish, connecting with people, and so on.
That idea is basically the premise behind The Encore Effect by Mark Sanborn. The core idea here is pretty simple: there are a handful of general principles that can take any well-performed task and make it exceptional. The title hints at the result – people want more from a person who turns out something exceptional, thus ensuring career success to the person who masters those principles.
There’s a lot of merit to this general concept. Think of it in terms of baseball. People don’t remember Steve Dalkowski, perhaps the most naturally gifted pitcher who ever lived. They remember Greg Maddux, who covered up a lack of a real fastball with incredible mental preparation, which led him to a Hall of Fame pitching career.
For me, the greatest baseball memory I have is watching Game 1 of the 1988 World Series in which Kirk Gibson, suffering from a stomach virus and two bum knees (one of which was so painful Gibson would tear up from the pain of every swing) faced the best pitcher in baseball at the time, Dennis Eckersley, in the bottom of the ninth inning – and Gibson knocked it out of the park. I was a jubilant ten year old, jumping around the living room whooping and hollering. Only later did I realize that what Gibson did was the result of years and years of intensive preparation for that moment – and it paid off.
What makes those more memorable performances stand out? Preparation is obvious, but what other factors make the difference between a good performance and a great one? Let’s see what Sanborn has to say about it.
1. The Power of Encore Performances
We all have a lot of roles we fill in our lives. In my own life, I’m a writer, a father, a husband, a community member, a volunteer, a neighbor, a speaker … the list goes on and on. Within each of those roles, we have the capacity to do poorly, solidly, strongly, or exceptionally. Am I an exceptional father? Am I an exceptional husband? How about as a writer? And, if I’m not, why not? Exceptional performances in the roles we have in life not only fulfill us personally, but add great value to the lives around us. If I’m an exceptional father, my children will have an exceptional childhood. If I’m an exceptional writer, my readers will have an exceptional reading experience, adding value and entertainment to their lives. And when you give out great value, it’s paid back to you often in very unexpected ways.
2. From Routine to Remarkable – Make Them Want More!
If you’re remarkable in some fashion, people are going to want more from you. They’ll generate word of mouth discussion for you. You’ll get more business, get raises, get job offers, and countless other perks. But it starts with you. Today, when you go through your normal routine of activities – regardless of whether someone is observing you or not – do every task exceptionally. Do it as well as you possibly can. Hold yourself up to the highest standard you can possibly reach. Then do it again tomorrow, and again the day after that, until the exceptional becomes the norm. Take what you consider exceptional now and make it normal – and apply that to everything you do.
3. Why Remarkable Performance Matters
Sanborn uses the strong analogy of a sports team here to indicate why remarkable performance matters: whenever a team succeeds on the field, the team is rewarded with more fans in the stands, more merchandise sales, more concession sales, and so on. When a team doesn’t produce remarkable performance, inevitably the rewards that come with such performance begin to slide away. What kind of groundwork is needed for consistent remarkable performance? Sanborn points to five factors: commitment (the willingness to work for it), professionalism (the willingness to do the job, no matter what it calls for), skills (the abilities needed to do the job), values (the aspects you find important in the situation), and character (the positive personal qualities you bring to the table). These five aspects combined provide the foundation for remarkable performance.
4. A Different Kind of PDA
Passion. Discipline. Action. Sanborn defines these as the three core pieces of any remarkable performance. Passion is the desire to do a great job. You enjoy it and you want to do it well. Discipline means you’re willing to put in the hard hours to do whatever it takes to do a great job. You’ll practice and work diligently to make it happen. Action means that you’re not afraid to step up to the plate when an opportunity presents itself. When you’re handed a difficult task where you can really show off a remarkable performance, you jump right on it instead of being timid.
5. Passion: The Fuel for Remarkable Performance
Much of the remainder of the book revolves around the “six Ps,” which Sanborn argues are the keys to achieving the “encore effect,” the first of which is passion. Sanborn states that passion is the fuel for a remarkable performance. It is the desire to excel at what you’re doing. It’s the burning inside of you to learn more, do more, and do it well. In my own life, I’m most passionate about parenting and writing – those are the things that really fuel me. I’d rather be doing research or sitting at a keyboard or reading stories to my kids or playing in the yard than just about anything else.
6. Preparation: Where Remarkable Performance Begins
The second P is preparation. Preparation means knowing what you need to know, knowing what you need to practice, and having the necessary skills and materials ready to go when the time comes. Preparation isn’t just the time you spend making slides before a talk, it’s also all of the time spent gathering the information in your talk, as well as all of the skill and hard work that took you to get to this point. Don’t let all of that work down by not adequately preparing the little things for your big moment.
7. Practice: It Won’t Make You Perfect, but It Will make You Better
The third P is practice. A great musician doesn’t become great by practicing for just an hour a week. A great musician practices all the time, learning new chords and techniques and mastering old ones. A great presenter doesn’t wing it. Instead, (s)he works on that presentation, honing it until the skills of presenting are natural and the slides hum beautifully in concert with his or her words. Parenting is much the same: the more time you spend with your child and the more meaningful interactions you have, the better you’ll grow as a parent and the stronger your relationship will be. Practice makes perfect.
8. Performance: How to Engage Your Audience
The fourth P is performance. When it comes time to step up to the plate, all of that preparation and passion and practice need to actually pay off. You’ve done all of the basic work you need to do – now is the time to make it pay dividends. When your child falls out of a tree, your practiced instincts take over and you rush to help. When you step up to present your work, you bring forth that passion in your presentation and grab the audience. The big key is to not worry about yourself – just worry about relating the information that they need to know with a taste of the passion you have for it.
9. Polish: Making Your Performance Shine
The fifth P is polish. A good performance becomes great when you’ve smoothed away all of the rough edges. Sanborn offers several suggestions for this, but the best one is – in my opinion – paying careful attention to your mistakes. When you’re practicing, your mistakes teach you far more about your rough edges than your successes do, and they point you to where you need more work. Strive to smooth those rough edges by paying attention when you mess up and using what you learn from that as an indicator of the things to work on. Another good tactic: if you have mastery of what you’re talking about, do things a little different. Try doing a presentation without any text on the slides, for example, and hand out notes only after your talk. Better yet, cut out half your slides and just hammer hard on your main points.
10. Pitfalls: How to Keep from Stumbling
The sixth P is pitfalls, and most of them center around reasons why people slack off from practice and preparation. Procrastination. Fear. Lethargy. Complacency. These are your enemies. Those are the things that hold your good performances back from being exceptional ones. My suggestion? Start as early as you can. The more time you have, the more likely you are to get the meat of the work done early, giving you time to let the work rest, come back to it later, and add some polish.
11. How to Help Others Perform Remarkably
The book winds down with a focus on what you can do to help others achieve remarkable performance – mostly, encourage people to follow their passions and offer them as much quality constructive feedback as you can. The more actionable feedback you give a person (with a positive context, pointing out the things they did well, too), the more likely they are to take your advice, apply it to what they’re doing, and achieve something great.
12. From Remarkable Performer to Remarkable Person
A remarkable person is one who applies remarkable performances to every aspect of their life. They make sincere efforts to be an exceptional parent, an exceptional spouse, and so on. The basic ideas in this book – the six Ps – can push you to excel in every dimension of your life.
The Encore Effect got way better on the occasions where Sanborn got specific. The book really took off when he took a general concept (like one of the Ps) and hammered home how to really do it well in a specific field. Unfortunately, it felt like these little gems were scattered and were spread across too many fields to really click together well.
I agree strongly with Sanborn that constant practice and intense preparation is what sets apart (most) really great performers. I’m not talking about the once-in-a-generation people of the world that can get away with mind-blowing performances with little practice. Those people are riding on supreme talent and could be even greater with a truly strong work ethic. I’m talking instead about the people who seem to be showing effortless skill, but it’s actually built up with countless hours of practice – I think of Carlos Santana playing the guitar.
The Encore Effect is a good motivator, though. After reading it, I felt strongly motivated to go out and do something well. If that’s the sign of a good book, then The Encore Effect certainly did its job.
Is The Encore Effect Worth Reading?
The core idea of The Encore Effect is powerful: you have to bring some value to the table yourself in order to become more valuable to others. The advice on how to increase the value you bring – advice that works for all aspects of life – is solid, too. The “six Ps” make sense whether you’re talking about your work performance, your marriage performance, or your video game performance.
The problem, though, is that the advice the book offers is too general, taking things to the point of almost being like common sense. Yes, it’s always a good idea to find your passions and chase them, prepare well, practice what you’re doing, and then when the time comes, use that practice, preparation, and passion to knock people’s socks off. But that basic formula varies quite a bit based on what you’re passionate about. Once you know your passion, you’re far better off picking up a book that shows you how to prepare and excel in your area. You’re a programmer? Read strong books on programming practices. You’re a speaker? Read something like Presentation Zen.
The basic structure of The Encore Effect is loaded with good advice, but I think that a truly stellar book would take the general framework and apply it to a specific task, like presenting or parenting. Adding in concrete and specific examples would make a world of difference.
Still, underneath it all, The Encore Effect is an inspiring read. It’s a great one to pick up before you leave on a business trip, because it will inspire you, even if it’s light on specifics.