Perhaps there is no bigger feat than taking on Mount Everest.
The early pioneers like Sir Edmund Hilary have been recognised–and knighted–for conquering the highest peak in the world. 
Peak performance is greatly admired. But I would argue that there are another group of people who deserves better recognition. They are not peak performers. In fact, what they do is considered ‘typical’.
Before we look at who are these under-recognised group of typical performers, let’s play around with a true/false question:
“Your outcomes with one of your clients says how effective you are as a therapist.“
True or False?
Psychotherapy as Peak Performance or Typical Performance?
One of the reasons the practice of psychotherapy is not like sports or music is because the measure of our success is not based on our peak performance but on our typical performance.
(The other reason psychotherapy is not like golf or chess is elaborated in this blogpost about kind vs wicked environments)
This is why in our last book, Better Results: Using Deliberate Practice to Improve Therapeutic Effectiveness, we use the example of MacDonald’s.
From our current vantage point, it can be hard to appreciate the revolutionary changes put into place by the McDonald brothers. While burger joints were, like now, ubiquitous across the American landscape, the quality of the product and service varied considerably one to the next, and even day-to-day at the same location. Whatever one’s tastes may be when it comes to a hamburger, it’s difficult to dispute the uniform quality and service of McDonald’s — a standard now reflected and expected throughout the fast food industry.
Though I’m personally not a fan, the point we were making wasn’t about the value judgement of the quality of food, but it was about what the brothers Mac and Dick McDonald aimed at reliable and consistent hamburgers.
A pro runner trains for a particular competition and is pushed to deliver their peak performance. Similar to a stand-up comedian, their measure of success is based on the peak result that they can deliver in that event.
A teacher, by contrast, is measured by how well they perform on a daily basis. The classroom is the stage. Their measure of success is how engaged the students are and how much they’ve learned. Tough audience.
When I think about the idea of typical performance, the similarities are striking for a teacher and a therapist.
It is one thing to say that you did some great therapeutic work with a client, versus saying that you reliably deliver above average outcomes for most people in your practice.
As it just occurred to me, perhaps the best everyday example of a typical performance that matters is parenting (see my other blog site Full Circles on Parenting is…). By contrast, a peak performing parent who shows up on rare occasions to do something extraordinary is unlikely to earn trust from their child if they haven’t been consistent in their life.
Answer to the Quiz
Back to the quiz mentioned at the beginning.
The answer is false. Your outcomes with a single client does not indicate how effective you are as a therapist.
You could be a highly effective therapist and still have a poor outcome (i.e., an above average therapist might have more than 74% of clients reaching reliable improvement). And you could be a below average therapist that have a few cases that did really well.
The real test of your ability is, how do you help people on a reliable basis?
This is why it’s so important to develop your own baseline performance. Your baseline performance is an individualised aggregated data of where you are at.
The second reason why developing your own baseline is vital is because once you figure out where you are at, you can figure out where need to go.
Developing your own baseline is perhaps the biggest hurdle that we continuously witness practitioners get stumped. Others by-pass this stage of the develop and only find themselves walking in professional development circles without really getting anywhere.
The use of deliberate practice is to improve your typical performance and not just “peak” perform on a few cases.
So what are the implications of this distinction between peak and typical performance? 
- Consistency matters.
- Structures to support your daily efforts matter.
- Making conscious what you do at a tacit level matters. This helps to counteract automaticity to overcome plateau, and then cycle back to being unconscious about it again.
But there is one other deeper implication: The practice of psychotherapy is a demanding sport. To do it well, this requires the characterlogical formation of flexibility, conscientiousness, emotional sensitivity and openness to experience, dedication, reflectiveness and contemplation… and even moral development within this healing art form.
To improve our typical performance is no small feat. Neither is it simply just about developing skills; it is developing a scaffold to support you to build and shape your endeavor to touch, move and inspire each individual that comes through your door.
So who are these group of people who are way more impressive mountaineers than those who made it to the history books by conquering Mount Everest? It is those who do it regularly as their jobs.
The Sherpa people are a Tibetan ethnic group native to the most mountainous regions of Nepal in the Himalayas. Sherpas are often regarded as a guide to climbers who want to take on this once in a life time expedition. Sherpas typically climb the perilous journey from 8 to 24 times–with the world record being twice in a week. 
The Sherpas are the true elite performers. They lacked the so-called peak performance that many foreign climbers were rewarded and admired for their bravery and resilience. But their typical performance, expedition after expedition is what makes it possible for the other mountaineers able to succeed.
We have alot to learn from the Sherpas.
 The Sherpa documentary highlighted a point that I wasn’t previously aware of. Why wasn’t Tenzing Norgay who accompanied Ed Hilary knighted as well?
 Actually, many great reformist of education are compelling society to carefully rethink our aims for formal education. It’s shouldn’t just be about learning new knowledge, but also how to learn better, how to solve interesting problems, how to develop better questions… and why not also how to become better people?
 This blogpost was directly inspired by listening to a public dialogue between 2 of my favorite modern day writers Adam Grant and Malcolm Gladwell. To listen, Taken for Granted: Malcolm Gladwell Questions Everything.
Photo by Guillaume de Germain