Ignition – how to get more of this crucial ingredient for progress

One of my favourite books is the magnificent The Talent Code, in which Daniel Coyle demonstrates how the best of the best in a variety of fields develop such impressive skill. He describes his visits to a range of ‘talent hotbeds’, from a tennis academy near Moscow to a music school in Texas.

Coyle explores how those who develop advanced skill levels do not merely practice more, but they practice in a certain way, that is, they engage in ‘deep practice’.

The major challenge with deep practice is that to most of us it feels too hard to sustain. It takes more effort to practice in this way, to ‘stretch’ on the outer edges of what feels comfortable, which is why most people don’t do it very often.

Coyle was fascinated by how those he visited were able to willingly sustain this high quality …He wanted to know what creates a burning passion in someone so strong that they’re willing to keep plugging away learning and practising their craft at this deeper level.

The answer, he discovered, is IGNITION. A moment that sparked the desire…Coyle even states that in some cases it is possible to pinpoint the exact moment when that passion ignited.

For South Korea’s golfers, it was on 18th May 1998, when a twenty-year-old named Se Ri Pak won the Macdonald’s LPGA Championship. She became a national icon. ‘Before her, no South Korean had succeeded in golf. Flash-forward to ten years later, and Pak’s countrywomen had essentially colonized the LPGA Tour, with forty-five players who collectively won about one-third of the events.’

Another example started in May 1954, when Roger Bannister became the first person in history to run a mile in less than four minutes. A few weeks later an Australian runner, John Landy also broke the four-minute barrier. Within just three years, seventeen different runners had managed this same feat, something that had eluded athletes around the world until Bannister had made people believe it was possible.

How does ignition work?

A South Korean-American golfer, Christina Kim, said ‘I remember watching (Pak) on TV. She wasn’t blond or blue-eyed, and we were of the same blood…You say to yourself, ‘If she can do it, why can’t I?’

Coyle writes ‘Ignition and deep practice work together to produce skill in exactly the same way that a gas tank combines with an engine to produce velocity in an automobile. Ignition supplies the energy, while over time deep practice translates that energy into forward progress…’

How do you build an igloo?

In an earlier blog about the extraordinary power of The Compound Effect in fundraising, I described what happened when, on a snowy day earlier this year, my family and I attempted to build an igloo in the garden. Once the walls were up, my co-builders wanted to stop the over-ambitious plan of an igloo (‘…but Daddy, how are we going to make the snow roof stay up?’. I felt it was worth giving the roof a try. In the end we succeeded. How did I know it was worth persevering, even when the going got hard? Because I had IGNITION, sparked by a vague memory from when I was five years old and my mum had helped my siblings and I build an igloo in our garden. Knowing that it’s possible to build an igloo in your garden is what made all the difference to my ability to persevere.

This is why at my Bright Spot LIVE events, the one day conferences I run twice a year for members of the Bright Spot Members Club, as well as sharing lots of powerful new strategies, we make time for participants to talk about the progress they’ve been making since joining the Club. At the last one, we heard about recent progress achieved by attendees on the Corporate Mastery Programme. For instance, Sue Piper from Scouts celebrated the huge progress of her two colleagues Anna and Matt, including a brand new partnership worth around half a million pounds with a bank; and Dan McNally, formerly of British Heart Foundation and now at Sue Ryder explained how within 6 weeks of applying the Win that Pitch strategies, three of his BHF colleagues had won partnerships worth over £10,000.

I’ve found that nothing ignites a spark quite like hearing one of your peers, sat next to you, share an example of the progress they’ve recently made.

The importance of ignition also shapes the design of the Corporate Partnerships Mastery and Major Gifts Mastery Programmes; though there are many new tactics covered in every training day and coaching call, we always make time for participants to share their breakthroughs. Some of these are large (eg Heather Bush from Ipswich School recently talked about the three gifts she had secured, including two gifts of £10,000) and some are small (like managing to book a first meeting with a Dream 10 potential partner or win over a non-fundraising colleague to what is needed for a donor).

As a participant there is some clear benefit in the group noticing / celebrating your own hard-earned progress. But the much bigger reason we include this activity is that repeatedly hearing from all around you that success is possible, strengthens your belief that extra effort pays off. It keeps your passion to practice and hone your craft ignited. And with this fuel, it becomes so much easier to continually improve the way you do your fundraising.

And of course, this deeper level of effort brings increased skill, results and well-earned confidence.

How could you cultivate more IGNITION?

Find some references to help you BELIEVE that success is possible.

Obviously, the Mastery Programmes and the Members Club we run at Bright Spot are one option, but there are plenty of others – some need no budget at all:

If you can, join (or form) a group of fundraisers (ideally external to your charity) and meet up; go to conferences; read blogs and books which talk about fundraising successes; join the IOF Special Interest Groups; rack your brains and those of your colleagues for someone who you or they know who might agree to be your mentor; follow on social media the fundraisers with reputations and results you admire.

I hope you found this blog helpful. If so, please share it.