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Virtuosity in ERP: Taking Cues from Crossfit and Malcolm Gladwell

In gymnastics, the term “virtuosity” refers to the degree of rhythm and harmony displayed when a movement is executed to its maximum in terms of style and elegance. Generally, the more gracefully flowing and seamless a series of skills appears to be, the greater the virtuosity and the higher the score.

Virtuosity has also been expressed as “performing the common uncommonly well.” It is elusive, but it is always the mark of true mastery (and of genius and beauty in the case of gymnastics, at least).

There is a compulsion among individuals developing any skill or art, whether it is learning to play violin, write software programs, or compete in gymnastics, to quickly move past the fundamentals and on to more elaborate, and sophisticated movements, skills, or techniques. Greg Glassman, gymnastics coach and founder of the Crossfit movement, labeled this compulsion “the novice’s curse.”

Glassman explains that the novice’s curse is typified by “excessive adornment, silly creativity, weak fundamentals and, ultimately, a marked lack of virtuosity and delayed mastery.” He asks that we think about times where we were taught by the very best in any field, to recall that the instruction was likely simple, fundamental, and repetitive.

I would argue that this is no different for ERP and CRM. To become excellent at using these systems, organizations must embrace and perfect the fundamentals.

Stakeholders may need to be organizational gymnasts to survive software and consultant evaluations, funding implementations and initiating projects, but these challenges just prepare you for your first real lesson. A lack of commitment to fundamentals will inevitably doom an ERP or CRM implementation program and dilute a consultant’s efficacy. We see this increasingly in both the installed base of NAV and CRM-user organizations, and in the practices of consulting firms supporting them. In their fervor to become lean, efficient and agile in the market, implementation teams can be tempted to deploy advanced functionality, over-customize, overwhelm users, and try to future-proof against tomorrow’s needs. As consultants it’s too easy to play into our clients’ perceptions of their uniqueness and drive up implementation budgets with customizations rather than pushing to keep focused on basics that don’t vary much between organizations and industries. This is not to say that different industries and companies need vastly different capabilities, but rather that they all share certain fundamentals. In fact, just about any field where there is specialization, there is a common foundation of knowledge and practices.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell focused on people who do not fit into our normal understanding of achievement – exceptional people, especially those who operate at the extreme outer edge of what is statistically plausible. Throughout the publication, Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule,” claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing for a total of around 10,000 hours. I bring this up simply to highlight another perspective on Novice’s Curse – performing at your best requires a steady, long-term commitment to achieving one’s full potential.

Glassman warns coaches and trainers, “It is natural to want to teach people advanced and fancy movements. The urge to quickly move away from the basics and toward advanced movements arises out of the natural desire to entertain your client and impress him with your skills and knowledge. But make no mistake: it is a sucker’s move.”

Focusing on job costing where there is not yet an efficient financial accounting and period closings, or focusing on marketing automation where there is not effective contact management, would be a colossal mistake. This rush to advancement can blunt the likelihood of realizing desired improvements, overwhelming users who may resort to workarounds, tap out the organization’s wherewithal and commitment, and may stigmatize the software itself.

By insisting on basics — really insisting on them — consultants will distinguish themselves through true mastery and clients will quickly recognize the potency of fundamentals. Client organizations will also advance in every measurable way past their competitors that advocated for quick and dirty implementations or tried to skip ahead to advanced usage scenarios. Competition for business in the marketplace is every bit as challenging as competing in the gymnasium, the track or the golf course. Start small, anticipate progress, and strive for virtuosity. If you want to perform at your best, remember that everyone has to start somewhere.

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