Mastery is a complicated and difficult goal. What does it mean to master your craft and “be your best?” How do we get there? Research shows it is a 10,000 hour commitment, whether you’re learning to play piano, speak French, or become a brain surgeon. Let me put this in perspective. If you dedicate yourself to improving your craft with 5 hours of concentrated effort each week, that equals 260 hours a year. At that rate, you’ll be a master in 38.5 years. Ouch.
Dr. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist from Florida State University, came up with this 10,000 hour concept after studying leaders in music, sports, and academia. Malcolm Gladwell included it in his book Outliers. A couple of points:
- You might assume that practice makes perfect. And you would be wrong. Talent + practice + feedback to correct mistakes – adjusting as you learn – makes perfect. Practice is only a portion of the 10,000 hour formula. It also involves a constant process of customized tweaking. What worked, what didn’t, and why? What strength can you leverage to achieve the next rung on the ladder? That’s why hiring a coach for your high-school child to take the ACT college acceptance test is a good idea. Your child might get a little better at it each time they prep for it and take the ACT, but the success curve is much steeper with instruction from an expert. That’s why all of us need coaching and feedback from someone who can see what’s wrong, in the moment, with your specific set of skills, experiences, and strengths.
- Guess how far into that 10,000 hour commitment most people quit the refinement process? 50 hours. At that point, they feel they’ve made enough progress to be “good enough.” “Good enough” works in some circumstances. Achieving mastery is not one of them. The real rock stars rise above the masses of mediocrity by looking for creative ways to improve, and by accepting feedback (there is nothing more frustrating than a talented individual who will not accept coaching.) Masters do not flick a “good enough” switch and hope to coast to success some 10,000 hours later.
What is mastery for you?
My mastery goal consists of a) identifying and leveraging individual and team talents to help them self-lead, and discover what they do better than anyone else in the world, and b) writing and teaching others about it. As a success architect, that’s my value proposition to the universe. It’s my secret sauce. I haven’t much else to offer!
When I study the relationship between strengths, self-leadership and success, the world stands still. I lose track of time, I have a sense of bliss, and I can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned. I’m not a master yet, but my mind returns to this topic in nearly every conversation I have, no matter where I am, in every character I see on a TV show, or interview I read. I’m practicing my craft even when it’s not the front and center part of my role. If I’m working with a human being, then I’m watching that person for strengths, self-leadership, and success. If I’m alone, I’m thinking about the topic.
Side Note: If this feels a little overwhelming, I understand. I face the same struggles in this process as you do. I didn’t want to write this blog. I’m tired. I had a long day yesterday and a busy morning today. It will be a busy week. I’d like nothing better than to crawl up on my couch with a bowl of popcorn and watch an old black and white movie. Then, while channel surfing, I saw an interview (see below), and my mind engaged. I realized that I wanted to write about Mastery today, and that I needed to do it now.
Side Note 2: Guess who benefits from my blog posts the most? Me. Every time I write to you and converse in the comments, I am practicing my craft. It’s another chunk out of that 10,000 hour commitment.
This afternoon, I watched an interview with former sports great, Johnny Bench. He was a baseball player when I was young and baseball was one of the interests my father and I shared. I have great memories of Mr. Bench. In this interview, he reflected on what he did that made him a hall of famer. A few key points:
- He practiced whilst constantly finding ways to improve. Mr. Bench moved from throwing a baseball hard to throwing a baseball hard, with accuracy. Speed is nice. Speed with accuracy is a differentiator – it requires mastery. He cut a hole in the side of his father’s shed and placed a coffee can in the hole. He then threw baseballs at that target for hours at a time. Success was throwing the ball into the can. Anything else didn’t count.
- Mastery is a powerful force of nature. Mr. Bench said that great talent manifests itself by “being better than the situation.” In other words, mastery (talent + practice + coaching) = overcoming the odds. By age 14, he was playing with the 18 year olds. He was Rookie of the Year in 1968, and in 1970, he was the league’s Most Valuable Player – at 22 years old.
Each of us will demonstrate mastery in different ways – mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual, with an equal amount of variety in our accomplishments.
My questions for you:
A) Do you have a mastery goal? What do you want more than anything else in the world?
B) Are you practicing smart? Are you developing your strengths versus trying to fix weaknesses? Do you have a success architect and/or feedback mechanisms?
C) What obstacles or challenges could you overcome if you focused on developing your natural greatness?
D) How can you increase your time investment to achieve mastery?
I know – it’s a lot to think about on a Sunday. But, if not now, when? The Mastery Clock is ticking… Let’s work on it together!