REVISED ::: I ran this post last week and many people contributed with their thoughts/additions. I’ve been looking for a way to have tweets and comments flow directly into a post so that you can read the post more as a conversation and less as a disjointed, “Here’s my big thought” and then a bunch of disconnected thoughts below it, which is how blogs run today. So I grabbed the additions through Twitter and the comments and put them in the right context in the post. It was a fun exercise but hopefully I can figure out a way to make it more automatic in the future. You’ll see the additions below in italics.
The Harvard Business Review has an article entitled, Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything. I actually haven’t read it yet, or at least at the point of writing this post I hadn’t. I saw the title and thought that I’d like to read it, but then I thought it would be an interesting exercise if I would come up with my six keys, then compare them to the ones that HBR had.
So here are MY six keys to being excellent at anything:
1) You have to be passionate about it. It takes so much to be excellent at anything that if you don’t enjoy the experience, the hard work, the dedication it will take to get there, there’s very little chance you’ll ever get there.
Addition by @Rebecca_Jarrett – I’m a big fan of #1. I don’t think anyone ever became an expert at something they were only moderately interested in, passion is a must.
2) Experience is mandatory. This may be obvious, but its critical. In the immortal words of Allen Iverson, “Practice?!?”. That’s right, practice. If Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell taught me anything, it takes 10,000 hours to be great at something.
3) Be willing to learn. What experience can’t teach you, books can. Or classes. Or mentors. The list goes on and on, but you have to be willing to educate yourself constantly if you want to be excellent at anything.
Addition by @ktmel – I think humbly asking for advice is so important. No one is perfect and we can learn something from each and every person in our lives. Continual growth!
4) Singular focus. This one might be a little controversial, but my experience tells me if you want to be excellent at something, it almost has to be your single driving force. Want to be excellent at a sport? You can’t play other sports in the offseason. You have to practice the sport you want to be excellent at no matter the season. Very few have been able to be excellent at more than one thing at a time.
Addition by K Keller – One comment that supports “Singular Focus”: It’s very important to know what you’re not…to know what not to do. That might sound like a trivial distinction, but it can be very helpful in selecting and prioritizing your activities. Some of the best strategy statements clearly express what to do and what not to do.
5) Work harder than everyone else. And want it more than anyone else. Michael Jordan. Jerry Rice. Both considered by many to be the greatest to ever play their sport. Both were known to be the most competitive freaks to suit up. And probably most important, both were known to work harder than anyone else. And say what you will about Tiger Woods, but he does this same thing. No one puts in more time on the course than Tiger.
6) Believe in yourself. Take two people with the exact same skill in something. One has confidence in themselves. One doesn’t. Who do you think’s going to be excellent?
7) Addition by @t0mharris – Get good at failing. On the way to excellence, your results may often fall short of your expectations. If you get hung up on perfection, you’ll slow yourself down. Getting better means failing quickly and often.
8) Addition by @jayjhun – Problem solving is an art/skill that I fear may get lost in the shuffle but one other key to success that i’d humbly submit.
9) Addition by @MargaretJWarner – Don’t fret or change strategy when being excellent leads you off the beaten path.
10) Addition by @webiegal – Live it. Breathe it. Be it.
11) Addition by @fmccaul – I’d add “be flexible” in there.
Ok, so those are my six keys. Looking at what the HBR article has…
1 – Pursue what you love. Perfect, same as my first one.
2 – Do the hardest work first. Interesting, I didn’t consider that. Could debate it.
3 – Practice intensely. Yep, have that one.
4 – Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses. Man, I was so close to having this one. I almost made one of mine, “Be humble and ask for advice.” But then I changed it at the last minute to “Believe in yourself”. I almost put the caveat that although you need to believe in yourself, you also have to be humble enough to ask for advice. But I could easily say its part of my “Be willing to learn” as I mention the need for mentors. So close :)
5 – Take regular renewal breaks. Like it but didn’t think of it.
6 – Ritualize practice. Ok, I get it, but seems similar to #3 on the list or at least could have been combined with it.
Seems HBR and I were on a similar tact with this. Anyone else have some additions they’d like to make?