I recently read several excellent books on how to increase your learning ability and become an expert in your field of study. The first two books were, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” and “Deep Work” by Cal Newport. In these books he studies a number of people who have achieved the pinnacle of excellence and their careers, from musicians to chess grandmasters to financial experts and surf board makers. To summarize his key points here is what I took away from his thoughtful and very intense scrutiny of how these people became the best of the best.
- The 10 years or 10,000 hour rule definitely applies, all of these high achievers spent years and years studying, honing and perfecting their craft.
- Practicing in your area of expertise is not enough, you must do what is called “deliberate practice.” This sort of practice entails using mentors, coaches, colleagues and other people to push you for continuous improvement. It also means that when you practice alone you must push yourself to the very limit of your skills so that you are constantly increasing your expertise.
- To do work at this level you need do what Cal calls “deep work.” Essentially this means that you must create chunks of time, a few hours to several days or weeks, where you do nothing but focus intensely on learning and improving your skills. It is this undistracted time that allows for finding connections, patterns and reaching a level of understanding that few people in your field can attain.
- The guiding principle for being among the best in the world at what you do is based on a Steve Martin quote. When he was a struggling comedian and his audiences were having difficulty grasping the sort of comedy he wanted to do, he decided that the best way forward was, “To be so good they can’t ignore you.” Obviously this mantra work exceedingly well for Steve Martin, and I would suggest that it will work well for you too.
In his riveting new book, The Art of Learning, Waitzkin tells his remarkable story of personal achievement and shares the principles of learning and performance that have propelled him to the top–twice.
Josh Waitzkin knows what it means to be at the top of his game. A public figure since winning his first National Chess Championship at the age of nine, Waitzkin was catapulted into a media whirlwind as a teenager when his father’s book “ Searching for Bobby Fischer” was made into a major motion picture. After dominating the scholastic chess world for ten years, Waitzkin expanded his horizons, taking on the martial art Tai Chi Chuan and ultimately earning the title of World Champion. How was he able to reach the pinnacle of two disciplines that on the surface seem so different? “I’ve come to realize that what I am best at is not Tai Chi, and it is not chess,” he says. “What I am best at is the art of learning.”
What I gleaned from Josh and many of the ideas that Cal described in his books, was that to become the best in the world at what you do takes time, a massive amount of deliberate practice and an intense focus on the subject you wish to master.
Since I have been named among the top 100 in the world at what I do, I can tell you from experience that these two brilliant gentlemen are absolutely correct in their findings and advice. I have never met anyone who was truly spectacular in their craft who did not devote many years of work, focus, effort, and training in their relentless drive to the the best. However, you’ll notice that I did not say “hard work” because another factor that strongly impacts the ability to succeed at a high level is: Passion. When you are deeply passionate about the area of your study, pushing yourself unceasingly in an effort for countless improvement does not feel like work, it is pure joy. Many people ask me how I can possibly read more than 100 business books a year and the answer is very clear; it’s a ton of fun for me. I love to read and learn about business because I’ve dedicated my life to helping businesses and people around the world be more successful. So every hour I am hunched over a book or my iPad, taking notes and trying desperately to learn new ideas that will assist me in my quest, is truly one of the most enjoyable parts of my life.
Therefore, if you aspire to be among the best in the world at what you do here is a formula that might help you do just that:
Passion + Persistence + Deep Work X Deliberate Practice = World-Class
I very much look forward to your comments – John