The Patriots and the Red Sox are at the top of their respective sports. How did they get there? Practice, practice, practice makes champions and championship teams. Do you ever practice or are you so good at what you do, you don’t need to practice? Tom Brady may be the best quarterback in the world, yet he continues to practice. That’s how he got to be the best and how he stays there. Are you better at what you do than Tom Brady is at what he does? If so, I’d really like to meet you. Why not join the Patriots and Red Sox in the winner’s circle? You don’t play football? It’s not a problem; you can become a winner at whatever you do. All it takes is a little practice, practice, practice. And if you enjoy what you do, it’s fun. All too often, we’re so busy doing our jobs we don’t have time to practice the skills that could really make a difference in our careers. We work hard, but we don’t seem to get anywhere because we’re doing what everybody else does. When we differentiate ourselves a bit, things begin to change. For instance, what about your writing skills? Do you have to send e-mails or write letters or reports? Writing skills have become so generally poor, many companies now have writing tests as part of their interview processes. You don’t have to write like Hemingway, but it helps. Has anyone ever told you your reports are interesting and a pleasure to read? I can remember a CEO, who was a bit difficult to get along with, telling me she groaned when she saw the length of an e-mail, but it was easy to read and enjoyable, so she read all of it. I was grateful for the compliment, but there was a clear message there. Had I not written as well, she wouldn’t have bothered. Is anyone reading that report you work so hard to prepare? Have you ever had anyone call for information you had explained in your last e-mail? You may have responded with, “Didn’t you get my e-mail?,” and they said, “Yes, but please tell me again.” Guess what? It’s unfortunate, perhaps even unfair, but people won’t read our stuff unless we can make it fun to read. It’s a career-limiting problem, but it doesn’t have to be. Writing is a learned skill; everybody has to learn. There are courses to be sure, but there are alternatives as well. I just participated in a weeklong on-line forum on “Truth: Benefits, Rights, Responsibilities,” sponsored by The Simple Society Alliance for Human Empowerment in Nashua (simsoc.org). I was the only one on the panel that had neither an M.D. nor a Ph.D., so I learned a few things. People participated from Pennsylvania, California and as far away as British Columbia (a delightful place). Even more, I got a chance to practice, practice, practice. When you’re trying to present logical arguments to people you’ve never met, and all you can do is write them out, it sharpens your skills. Even better, writing forces you to rethink some of your assumptions. Everything was done via e-mail. We each contributed opening statements and responded to what struck our fancies. Believe it or not, everyone didn’t always agree with me, so I had to try harder, and I’m still not sure I converted anyone, but it was fun to try. The Internet is loaded with forums such as these, and you can easily find one on a topic that interests you. I regularly participate in the Precision Owners Group to collaborate with people who have the same type of sailboat as I do. I learn a lot and contribute a bit. Regardless of your working skills, there’s a way to sharpen them. I have a cousin who is a finish carpenter. You should see the cradle he made for his new daughter. When people admire it, he says it was good practice. When using your skills for free (outside of work), you get a chance to experiment. The risks are not so high, and you can consider things you would never try under pressure. That dramatically improves your learning curve. I’m not sure what you do for a living, but isn’t it competitive? What can you practice - and get better at — to give yourself an edge? Ronald J. Bourque is a consultant and speaker from Windham. He has had engagements throughout the United States as well as in 12 nations in Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 898-1871; fax 894-6539; firstname.lastname@example.org; bourqueai.com.