To truly realize your potential, study your craft relentlessly and don’t avoid uncomfortable situations
Author Malcolm Gladwell is a pretty smart guy. He writes for The New Yorker and has also written seven books to date. In his 2008 bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success, he introduced the “10,000-Hour Rule,” which suggests that expertise in a particular skill area requires 10,000 of intense, focused work or practice in that specific area.
Certainly, people like Aaron Rodgers, Warren Buffett, Yo-Yo Ma, and Marie Curie didn’t become the best at what they do by accident. Their success required countless hours of focused work and intense practice. (Well, maybe not “countless” since Gladwell actually counted them for us, but you know what I mean.)
The multifaceted expert
Over a 30-year career, the typical business executive will develop multiple skills. Using Gladwell’s paradigm and assuming a full-time work year of 2,000 hours, it takes about five years to become an expert in a specific area. I suggest that by constantly challenging ourselves with new and different experiences, over the course of the typical 30-year career, we can become experts six times over.
We spend a great deal of time and focus at SynFiny on expanding our areas of expertise and challenging ourselves to constantly be in learning mode. We have more than 250 advisors with over 12.5 million hours of experience, which translates to a team of 1,250 experts. And we’re adding more all the time.
So, an attitude of constant learning and improvement is key to how we become experts in a variety of categories. More than that, though, I found it to be absolutely critical in my role as CEO of a global startup. The wide variety of skills and specialized knowledge which that role requires can seem thoroughly intimidating. When I considered, however, that my 25 years of professional experience had already given me expertise in five relevant areas, it didn’t seem nearly as daunting.
Successful people seek the uncomfortable
It’s easy to fall into a comfortable routine, to find the things we like to work on and stick with them. That might be enjoyable but it’s also limiting. It restricts our opportunities for learning and additional expertise. So, do the opposite. Seek out what may be uncomfortable and challenging and dive in. Then keep at it and at it–for 10,000 hours if need be–until you’re an expert. And new expertise is like money in the bank in today’s constantly changing business climate. I like to think of it as a savings account of expertise that you can repeatedly tap into over the course of your career that will pay dividends throughout your life.
A key factor here is long-term focus. Too often, I’ve found, the short term completely dictates the work choices we make every day. There’s that comfortable routine again. Don’t do it.
Obviously, I’m not saying you should slack on your day-to-day responsibilities, but I am suggesting a long-term focus on learning new skills, or perhaps better and more efficient ways to do your day-to-day tasks. So, shift your paradigm to a long-term focus on constant learning, challenging yourself and adding to your expertise. And turn the next five years into 10,000 rewarding hours. Keep adding to your savings account of expertise and eventually you too may be ready to be CEO of a global startup.
JEFF S. WUEST, CEO OF SYNFINY ADVISORS