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Is social media a practice field?

North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith said Michael Jordan wasn’t the greatest natural athlete he’d ever coached. He said he was among the hardest working. Miles Davis regularly skipped classes at Julliard to practice his horn, eventually dropping out to play every day in the New York bebop scene. Musicians and artists spend almost all of their time practicing to get ready for small windows of execution.

It’s a simple concept: repeat as many skills within as many contexts as often as possible so when it comes time to execute, you aren’t thinking. You’re fully in service to the prime function of the enterprise and its mission.

It’s precisely the opposite in business. We’re executing all the time with hardly any practice. The results are obvious. Time and again we see gaffs far more destructive than an MJ missed dunk. And we blog about it and pass it around the social media sphere, fingers pointed.

As several recent blog posts have illustrated, discussions about your brand are prototypical examples of unpracticed behavior in the marcom discipline. @chrisbrogan has a nice post in response to Best Buy CMO Barry Judge (with a nice twist that looks at the back side of the issue). @stevetobak turns some problematic statements from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer into productive advice on how to speak about your competition.

(These are the positive examples. Big kudos to these two for providing us with something to learn instead of the too-typical banal jeer.)

For me, there’s always a little voice in the back of my brain telling me these folks know better. That it was poor execution. That maybe they just didn’t practice enough.

And that I need to find more practice fields so I don’t make the same mistakes. Or invent entirely new ones for people to blog about.

There are several leadership thinkers who have written about the concept of practice fields for leaders. Heifetz, Linsky, and Grashow come to mind. As does Kouzes’ advice for finding practice fields in everyday meetings. And the practice field experience is often cited as a key benefit by enterprises offering leadership training programs.

So where to find practice fields for branding and marketing folks?

At first glance, the repetitive nature of new and social media is numbing. How many times can we be expected to read a post about brand monitoring through social media? Sit through a video about search engine optimization? Hear advice about the still-illusive practice of viral campaigns?

I’m beginning to think that new/social media is my practice field. That maybe I can never read or view or hear this stuff enough. That I shouldn’t be so quick to skip a blog post or a snappy quote in my Twitter stream. Maybe the repetition in the new/social media domain is my practice field. Maybe this is where I can hear, again and again, best practices that will make my execution more effective.

And if I involve myself more in discussions instead of glossing over a topic I think I’ve heard before, my assumptions will be challenged. I’ll dig a little deeper. I’ll practice.

Another apropos @chrisbrogan blog post: Five Tasks in the Morning. Seems to me that he’s scheduled time for practice. And he does it every day.

From what little I know about him, he doesn’t miss many slam dunks.

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