A Method For Learning & Productivity

By Dr Charles Margerison


I have reviewed the careers of over 500 amazing achievers to discover factors that enabled them to succeed. In particular, I have looked at key words and concepts that they chose to guide their efforts.

People often mention terms like ‘creativity’, ‘innovation’ and ‘enterprising’, as key focus points. In most cases, amazing achievers developed those abilities. However, one of the main factors amazing achievers used in order to progress was far more mundane. They used repetition. This is a factor upon which we can all focus.

Exemplars of Repetition

Henry Ford.

He is recognized for introducing the mass production of cars, that made ownership available to so many people. That was based on the system of work he introduced in 1913, called ‘the moving assembly line’. Each worker was responsible for adding just one or two parts to the car. That enabled Ford to reduce the time it took to build a car from 12 hours to just one hour and thirty-three minutes.

By repeating the same action, hundreds of times a day, employees became highly skilled and fast in their work, albeit it was no doubt boring. The simplification of work tasks enabled people to say that they helped to produce cars, even though they were not educated as engineers.  As a result, the Ford organization produced over 10,000 cars a day.

Florence Nightingale.

Despite opposition from her parents, Florence wanted to be a nurse. At that time, nursing was seen as a very low status job. Born in 1820, she grew up in a wealthy family. Florence observed that the lack of sanitary conditions caused the spread of disease in the cities, towns and on the battlefields.

Rather than just complain, Florence took action. In particular, she took nurses to the battlefields in the Crimean War, and later, she established training for nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital, London. Also, she wrote a book titled ‘Notes on Nursing.’

As a result, improved sanitary procedures were introduced and nurses had to comply with the standards of care and cleanliness. That involved a lot of repetitive behaviors. For example, Florence wrote – ‘Every nurse ought to be careful to wash her hands very frequently during the day’.

After the experience of the Covid virus, we have learned that repeatedly washing one’s hands is vital to minimizing infection.

Ray Kroc.

He was a salesman of milk shake machines. One of his clients sent an order for a large number. Kroc decided to find out why. He visited the company, which was owned by two brothers whose surname was MacDonald. They wanted the machines to meet the demand from people buying their fast food products. Being observant, Kroc noticed their service was based on simplifying the work. The production roles assigned to each worker involved repeating the same tasks.

Kroc saw the opportunity to repeat the formula in many towns and cities, and even in rural areas. The MacDonald brothers turned down his offer to develop a franchise system. So, in 1955, he bought them out and created what we know today as the worldwide MacDonald’s restaurant business, which is based on standardized meals and repetitive work tasks.

Work Requirements and Preferences

Repetitive work suits people whose preferred way of doing things includes having regular routines, as it gives a level of certainty in an uncertain world.

Many professions are based on following the rules and applying them strictly. For example, police officers have to know the law and apply it in a repetitive standardized way, without bias. Another example is the accounting profession. This has standard procedures to adhere to and accounting practices to follow, albeit there are varying interpretations.

I witnessed the importance of repetition when working as a psychology consultant for a major airline. My job was to help the pilots improve communication and teamwork. Flying in the cockpit, with the captain and first officer, showed me the way they repeatedly ‘followed the book’ in terms of checklists and procedures to ensure safety.

Personal Experience

When I attended school, I learned how to multiply by repeating the times table. Many educators now frown upon this approach. However, it suited my way of learning. I can still solve day to day issues in the shops and marketplace that require quick calculations, by remembering the times table.

When I was 34 years of age, I asked a local pianist to teach my children how to play the piano. I noticed that he gave them a series of repetitive exercises to play scales, arpeggios, and chords. I asked him if he would show me those exercises, so that I could help my children.

He told me that to become proficient I had to repeat the scales, the arpeggios and chords many times, until I was confident. I did so, and eventually was able to read music and play the piano in cafes, restaurants, hotels and in a casino. The secret was repetition, even though it was contrary to my normal innovative approach to work.

Persistent Practice Leads To Improvement

Repetition is a valuable process for learning, if we add and adapt from experience. Practicing the same process with slight changes can be annoying and boring. Many give up and do not develop their skills beyond a basic level.

Thomas Edison, the great inventor and innovator who registered over 2000 patents, said, ‘Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.’

That means repetition requires experimentation based on learning from experience. Persistent practice with constructive feedback leads to gradual improvement.

For both students and adults, improvement in any skill requires repetition, memorization and continued application.

My study of amazing people in science, music, medicine, engineering, business and many other areas of work shows that major achievements were made through repetition by applying lessons gained from feedback.

How can that principle be applied to the work you do, and to the way we educate students?