I recently finished watching the HBO documentary The Defiant Ones.
It tells the story of legendary music producer and businessman Jimmy Iovine and equally legendary hip-hop mogul Dr. Dre and their long shared personal and business relationship (which culminated in their selling Beats to Apple in 2014 for three billion dollars).
I grew up liking some of Dre’s music, and I remember seeing Iovine for the first time during episodes of American Idol more than a decade ago, but I never knew much about their upbringing or how they made it big (or why everyone in the music industry practically gets on their knees and bows when they hear the name, Jimmy Iovine).
Long story short, if you care at all to learn about what it takes to make it in something (anything, really, because the lessons are universal) or want to learn more about potential, realizing a dream, hard work and dedication, or process, The Defiant Ones is one of the single greatest things you’ll ever watch.
You don’t have to care at all about the music. Really, it’s that good. And that powerful.
After watching it, I wrote a few notes, the things that really stuck out at me. The most powerful of those notes was probably this one:
You have to be ferociously dedicated to your craft and your vision. Don’t just work, work with purpose. Don’t let others deter you, more forward deliberately knowing where you’re going and what you’re doing.
The entire documentary — both of their lives — screamed a chorus of relentless dedication, intentional effort, and white-hot passion.
And, within that, what stuck out to me the most was one theme: deliberate practice. That, more than anything, was the reason for their success. And, it turns out, so many others great ones.
Deliberate Practice: One Principle That All Great Ones Use to Succeed
The principle of deliberate practice is a simple one: you choose your task, remove all other distractions, set a goal, and work to perfect what you do.
However, I’ve found that most people don’t realize how hard you have to work to make something happen and how the “great ones” got there, only ever seeing the victory lap after years of hard work and dedication.
Or, if they do realize how hard they worked, they think that’s it. End of story. However, the deliberate part of that phrase is just as important as the practice part.
To better illustrate this point, below are a few stories, both from the documentary and not.
Here’s an eye into what it takes to be great and the role that deliberate practice, not just hard work, plays in realizing that greatness.
Jimmy Iovine: On the phone, in the toilet, never giving up
I always felt that I had to work harder than the next guy, just to do as well as the next guy.
– Jimmy Iovine
At one point in the documentary, Jimmy Iovine talks about when he discovered Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails.
Trent was already signed to a label, however, everyone in the industry knew he hated his label and wanted to get out. The only problem? The owner of his record label was a bit of hard ass who had no intentions of letting go of him without a fight.
Fortunately, Iovine was a fighter as tough as they came.
As his ex-wife describes, Iovine proceeded to lock himself in the restroom first thing in the morning every single day, getting on the phone from 8:00 A.M. until several hours later, working with the label execs, the owner, his own label Interscope, Trent, and everyone else involved to pull off what everyone else thought at the time was going to be impossible.
But Iovine had a goal. He didn’t just work hard, harder than anyone else, he had a deliberate focus each day he sat down on the toilet and picked up that phone. And he wouldn’t accept anything else but success.
It took an entire year but Iovine was successful in getting Reznor and Nine Inch Nails over the Interscope and won the fight that no one else even dared to attempt. He wasn’t even originally a businessman, he was a music producer, but he dedicated himself to the practice of his craft and became the best there’s ever been.
Dr. Dre: The search for the perfect sound
I just make the music feel the way I want it to feel, and I don’t put it out until I’m totally happy with it.
– Dr. Dre
Most people who aren’t close to the music know Dr. Dre as a rapper.
However, his true talent, dedication, and passion is in creating the music that other rappers and singers perform to as a music producer.
He has no desire to be in the limelight or to be a big time rap star, he just wants to sit behind his production table, create music, and tinker with it until he gets it absolutely perfect. And I mean perfect. He’s such a perfectionist that, at times, it even gets in the way of his very process and rubs others the wrong way.
But the point to take from this is that he’s intentional in his work.
He sits down and works on a song over days, or even weeks until he makes it what he considers to be a masterpiece. And, especially when you hear his friends, colleagues, and other renowned artists describe what he creates, you can see that his work has paid off.
Dr. Dre is considered a wizard, a master among producing greats, and he got there with a fervent passion for music, falling asleep on his bed each night with headphones in his ears when he was a boy. It feels an understatement to say that he carefully, intentionally dedicates himself to his process.
He doesn’t care about rapping. That’s just something he’s done occasionally. He doesn’t care about business. He turns down one-hundred endorsement and other deals before ever even blinking at one. And, even then, he still typically turns them all down.
Beats was the one exception because he saw it as an extension of his own passion to find and present the perfect sound on a record by providing the most perfect sound any headphone has ever offered.
He’s an artist, he knows it and sticks to what he’s passionate about no matter what. And that intentional focus is a big part of what has made Dre so successful.
Kobe Bryant: 800 jump shots
I’m reflective only in the sense that I learn to move forward. I reflect with a purpose.
– Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest NBA basketball players of all time, has always been known for his insane work ethic. You can’t go that far in professional sports without it.
However, I was blown away by a story I read on James Clear’s blog, which was originally published on Reddit but which has since been removed, about Kobe’s deliberate work ethic while training for the 2012 London Olympic games.
Robert, a physical trainer for Team USA at the time, was invited to Las Vegas to help the team train before heading off to London.
As he tells the story, he was falling fast asleep in his hotel room after a late night practice with the team when he got a call from Kobe.
He wanted help with some conditioning work. It was 4:15 A.M.
After a long workout, Robert went back to his hotel room for some sleep before that morning’s practice and Kobe stayed to get some shots in
Hours later, groggy and not nearly rested enough, Robert made his way down for practice.
Kobe was there, so Rob asked him how long it took him to get his shots in:
So when did you finish?
Getting your shots up. What time did you leave the facility?
Oh, just now. I wanted 800 makes. So yeah, just now.
Kobe had stayed there since Rob left, continuing to make shots until 11:00 A.M.
But he didn’t just decide to practice for X number of hours, or take X number of shots, his intention was to make eight-hundred baskets before he was done practicing. Deliberate practice at its finest.
Applying deliberate practice in your own life
Each of these stories is a bit different, however, they all tell very much the same story: of someone dedicating themselves to their craft and doing so in a very focused, deliberate way so that they become the best in the world at what they do.
Not three different things, not a collection of skills, just one and being the best they could be at it.
If you’re like most people, there are a ton of different things you’d like to do with your life. And, sure, you might be able to do or experience all of them in your lifetime at least once.
However, you can, and should, only focus on one and make that your life’s work if you hope to achieve greatness.
And you need to concentrate on becoming the best you can be at that craft, working in an intentional manner to get better at what you’re doing each day as opposed to simply working hard.