Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

How to Become an Expert

image_time-new-style-leadershipAlthough I focus mostly on business topics, I do read a good bit on the psychology of success and expert performance. Several years ago I read one particularly interesting book called, “The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance,” a 918-page book written by the world’s leading experts on how to become an expert! Since that time have read dozens more books on the topic from authors such as Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Matthew Syed and many other experts on expert performance, and after reading all of this material on becoming and expert, working with some of the top business leaders in the world and interacting with several elite athletes it has become clear to me that there does seem to be a “system” for achieving towering expertise in a given area. So, if you want to be in the top 10% in the world at what you do, here are some things you are going to have to focus on.

The 4 Ps

Passion: You will never become world-class at anything unless you truly love doing it. I’ve studied the lives of people who achieved at exceedingly high levels and to a person they were all deeply passionate about their area of expertise. It did not matter if they were in sports, music, chess, business…they all loved their craft, they enjoyed their work, they were passionate about pursuing excellence in their chosen field. It was FUN for them! (By the way, many of them did not have any special talents or unique abilities, they were NOT born to be great, but they were passionate about becoming great).

Persistence: There’s been so much research done on this, by so many very talented and serious researchers that it’s hard to dispute that it requires a minimum of 10 years or 10,000 hours to achieve expertise in a given area. Even when you talk about child prodigies such as Mozart, Tiger Woods or Bobby Fischer, a close examination of their life will show you that they indeed invested massive amounts of time from a very early age, allowing them to accumulate the necessary 10,000 hours much faster than those around them. But it isn’t just putting in the time; you have to do something very special during those 10,000 hours, which is…

Practice: People who achieve at a very high-level are extremely disciplined about putting in hours and hours and hours of practice. But the thing that separates them from other people is that they employ what I call purposeful practice, or what many researchers call deliberate practice, which is making sure that every single practice session focuses on improvement. They use coaches, mentors, trainers, peers and unflinching self-evaluation to push themselves to improve every single time they practice. They seek out critical feedback, they challenge themselves constantly, and they spend endless hours practicing for continuous improvement.

Pattern Recognition: After 10+ years of dedicated purposeful practice these experts achieve a level of knowledge and understanding about their chosen field that surpasses 99% of their counterparts. This is how a great athlete “sees” the entire field, how a virtuoso musician can look at a piece of sheet music and hear the composition in their head, or how a chess grandmaster can think hundreds or thousands of moves down board; they see a pattern that is unrecognizable to the non-expert. Let me use chess as an example, when an ordinary player looks at the board they see a jumble of pieces and open spaces, but when a chess grandmaster looks at the board they see a very clear and recognizable pattern that they comprehend as a single picture. Let me explain further, if I asked you to memorize 12 letters in three seconds you would probably have a hard time if they looked like this: LWCTRKMPDXUB. However, if they look like this: INTERMEDIATE – it is very easy. This is how experts see things differently than you and I, their deep knowledge and years of practice and experience allow them to quickly identify patterns that are invisible to us. The Wimbledon-level tennis player can tell by the angle of their opponent’s hips where they are likely to hit the ball and can then anticipate the shot and be ready for a superb return, before the shot is even taken. A world-class musician can hear a single off key note from an entire orchestra of players. A chess grandmaster can play 10 games simultaneously and determine within two seconds what move to make on each board. It is not that they are super human or have an IQ that is in the stratosphere, it’s because they have dedicated a decade or more of their life to passionate purposeful practice in order to achieve a level of understanding and mastery that transcends all others in their field.

So what does this mean to you and me? To me it says that if you put enough time, energy, focus, effort and deliberate practice into something that you love, you have the opportunity to achieve a high level of mastery.

I recently read a statistic that said if you read one hour a day on a specific topic, seven days a week, for seven years…at the end of those seven years you would be considered a national authority on the topic! That sounds crazy, but I’m a living example of it, I have read a minimum of 100 business books year since 1989, listened to thousands of hours of audio books, attended dozens of seminars, read thousands of articles and blogs on leadership, business strategy, business excellence…and have recently been named one of the top 100 business thought leaders in America and one of the top 500 leadership development experts in the world. This does not mean I am a genius, it simply means that I practiced the four Ps on the topic of business for 20+ years. Awesomely Simple, no?

One last note, I turned 50 this year and as I read through all of this material on becoming an expert, I realized I still have a chance to pursue expertise in several more areas before I’m too old. I figure I could probably pick two things and spend 10 years on each and at least become pretty good. So I decided to give something I’ve always wanted to do, but am terrible at, a decade of effort: painting. My wife and I have collected a lot of original art and a good number of them are landscapes, I love landscapes, I’ve always wanted to be able to paint one that was nice enough that I could give it away to a friend and they would actually want to receive it! So, starting this year I’m going to give it a decade of effort, lessons, practice and focus. I have absolutely no intention of trying to become an expert at painting, but if I practice the four Ps on landscape painting I should be able to produce something of decent quality by the time I’m 60. That sounds like fun! I’m not sure what the other topic will be, but I’m positive it will be fun too.

QUESTION: What do you want to spend the next decade of your life practicing the four Ps on? What would you love to be an expert at? What would add value to your life and the world if you chose to invest 10 years or 10,000 hours to become truly world-class at it?

I look forward to your reply – John

* 7 hours of reading a week x 7 years = 2,555 You can do that!!!!

John Spence Named a Top 100 Business Thought Leader


Trust Across America Names Top 100 Thought Leaders for 2013

Gainesville, FL – January 19, 2013 — John Spence has once again been recognized as one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. This year’s recipients hail from around the globe and include leaders from the public and private sectors as well as authors, consultants, researchers and academics. These people collectively represent an elite group that genuinely transforms the way organizations do business across the world.

According to Barbara Kimmel, the Executive Director of Trust Across America, “The honorees are inspiring organizations to look more closely at their higher purpose…to create greater value for, and trust from, all of their stakeholders. They understand that trust is an asset that can leverage real business gains. We congratulate all of these leaders whose work is shining a spotlight on the importance of trust and providing a roadmap for others to follow.”

JohnSpence with borderTrust Across America publicized and received hundreds of nominations from around the world. The list was narrowed through an extensive vetting and independent judging process. Other recipients of the 2013 Top Thought Leaders award include: Sir Richard Branson – CEO of the Virgin Group, Howard Schultz – CEO of Starbucks, Tony Hsieh – CEO of Zappos, acclaimed business consultant Ram Charan, internationally renowned author Thomas L. Friedman, and business authors Patrick Lencioni, Tom Peters, Rosabeth M. Kanter and Jim Kouzes.

“I am deeply honored to receive this wonderful distinction for two main reasons,” said John Spence. “First because this award is specifically for fostering trustworthy business behavior, something that has been a major focus of my career, and also because it is incredibly humbling when I look at the other individuals who were also selected as top thought leaders from all over the world.”

In part, Mr. Spence was chosen for this award for his work as an instructor at the highly prestigious Entrepreneurial Masters Program at MIT and his role in the Securities Industry Institute at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

“In the past year I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of executives in America, Asia-Pacific, Canada and the Caribbean on the importance of building organizations that are focused on honesty, integrity and trust,” said Spence. “It is a joy to spend my time helping develop winning organizational cultures that create engagement, loyalty and sustainable business success.”

John Spence is a business improvement expert based in Gainesville, Florida. He is the author of “Awesomely Simple – Essential Business Strategies for Turning Ideas Into Action” and “Excellence by Design: Leadership – The Six Key Characteristics of Outstanding Leaders. For the past 19 years, Mr. Spence has presented workshops, speeches and executive coaching to more than 300 organizations worldwide including; Microsoft, IBM, GE, Abbott, Merrill Lynch, AT&T, Verizon, Qualcomm, and dozens of private companies, associations and not-for-profits. This is the third time that Mr. Spence has been named a Top 100 Thought Leader and in 2011 Small Business Trends recognized him with an Honorable Mention as a leading Small Business Influencer in America along with Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin and Apple.


Press Release: John Spence Top 100 Thought Leader for Second Year

For Immediate Release


John Spence is named one of Top 100 Thought Leaders by Trust Across America


Gainesville, Florida – January 26, 2012

For the second year in a row, John Spence has been selected as one of Trust Across America’s “Top 100 Thought Leaders”. Trust Across America is dedicated to unraveling the complexities of trustworthy business behavior, and selects the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. The recipients collectively represent a group that is dedicated to transforming and reversing the cycle of mistrust in business.

According to Barbara Kimmel, Executive Director, “This year’s recipients include leaders from the public and private sectors as well as authors, consultants, researchers and academics. Each recipient has made extensive, positive contributions to building trust in business.” Some distinguished individuals in the company of John Spence include Indra Nooyi (Chairman/ CEO of PepsiCo) Tony Hsiesh (CEO Zappos), and Mark Parker (President/CEO of NIKE).

The Top 100 Thought Leaders represents the culmination of three years of research. Trust Across America sought the counsel of and requested nominations for this honor from over 150 professionals across the nation. The list was narrowed through an extensive vetting and independent judging process. According to Barbara Kimmel “The honorees are inspiring organizations to look more closely at their higher purpose…to create greater value for, and trust from, all of their stakeholders. The full list of honorees can be found at:

Top 100 Business Thought Leaders

John also recently received the 2011 Small Business Influencers –Honorable Mention. Small Business Influencer 2011 honors companies, organizations and people who have made a significant impact on the North American small business market. Although there were 520 nominees, the voting for the top 100 was so close that the Honorable Mention category was added to give recognition to those that were close, but did not make the list of champions. Other notable Honorable Mention recipients were Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin and Apple.


About John Spence LLC

John Spence has earned a reputation as a leading authority in the areas of Strategic Thinking, High-Performance Teams, Advanced Leadership Development, and Delivering Consistently Superior Customer Service, making him one of the most highly sought after executive educators and professional speakers in America. He is also the author of “Awesomely Simple – Essential Business Strategies for Turning Ideas into Action,” and Excellence By Design – The Six Key Characteristics of Outstanding Leaders.”