More snap needed in too P.C. guide to perfection

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 10:26am

Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better
by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway & Katie Yezzi

David Wilson Comedian Chris Rock is just naturally funny, right? Wrong. In fact, to convey a sense of spontaneous wit, Rock rehearses relentlessly, according to the foreword for this new self-improvement guide.

In preparing for a tour, Rock made up to 50 appearances at a small New Jersey club, reports cultural commentator Dan Heath. "He'd show up, carrying a yellow legal pad with his ideas scribbled on it, and start experimenting with new bits," Heath reports. Rock scrutinised the audience, noticing nodding heads, shifting body language, and attentive pauses - clues as to where good ideas might lie. During the 45-minute sets, most of Rock's jokes flopped. "But with time," Heath writes, "the jokes get sharper and the transitions get tighter and the delivery gets smoother."

That glimpse into the star comedian's machinations is a highlight of the guide to perfection. In Heath's wake, three educational analysts try to define 42 self-betterment secrets, including unlocking creativity with repetition, making new skills stick, measuring success and praising effort.

The key to becoming a champion, they argue, is not trial-run "scrimmaging" but diligent drills. Actually practise practising, the authors say - a bold principle.

Still, the 288-page text could itself use more polish.
Practice Perfect is laboriously politically correct. The way the authors insist on switching the general pronoun between "he" and "she" and dutifully highlight women in non-traditional roles grows wearing.

Practice Perfect picks up when the authors stop fussing - often, this is when they tackle extramural subjects such as the strategy taken by soccer club FC Barcelona.

While some youth academies worry about winning, the supreme Spanish team fret about education, midfielder Xavi Hernandez is quoted as saying. In step with the authors' belief in zealous preparation, Hernandez champions a piggy-in-the-middle drill called a

Rondo, rondo, rondo. Every. Single. Day. It's the best exercise there is. You learn responsibility and not to lose the ball. If you lose the ball, you go in the middle," Hernandez says.

Another incisive observation comes in an appendix where the authors assess the benefits of "quiet power" and explain how to wield it.

"Drop your voice. Make students strain to listen. Exude poise and calm," they advise.

If only the meat of their guide were so punchy - invested with a fraction of the snap of a Rock routine or Barcelona attack. Their guide is hard going - too far from perfect.