Thursday Thoughts: No Mystery to Mastery

Want to hear a secret that the world’s greatest business leaders, athletes and musicians all know and live by? Here it is: There is no mystery to mastery. Hard work and dedication are what distinguish the masters from the masses.

Notice anything missing there? What about talent?

In his bestselling book, “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell dives into this topic of mastering a skill. He says it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours for a musician to gain mastery over an instrument. In the book, the debate is over whether talent plays a role in mastery. Is there such a thing as innate talent?

Gladwell explains:

“Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.”

Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues conducted two studies to further explore this question of talent. One study compared star violinists with good violinists and those who were unlikely to ever play professionally. The violinists who ended up in the top tier were those who had increased their practice time and who, by the age of 20, had reached a total of 10,000 hours of practice.

In the second study, Ericsson compared amateur pianists with professional pianists. The amateurs never practiced more than three hours a week. The professionals, however, steadily increased their practice every year until the age of 20 and like the violinists, had reached 10,000 hours of practice by that age.

Here’s what Gladwell noted in “Outliers” about Ericsson’s studies:

“The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any ‘naturals,’ musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of time their peers did. Nor could they find any ‘grinds,’ people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks. Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.”

This appears to be the case with top athletes as well.

In his book, “The Score Takes Care of Itself,” legendary San Francisco 49er head coach Bill Walsh explains the reason behind the glorious success of Jerry Rice and Joe Montana, perhaps the greatest receiver and quarterback in NFL history:

“…they understood the absolute and direct connection between intelligently directed hard work and achieving your potential. We all do; you do; I do. Everyone who’s a serious player knows what it takes. The difference is how much you’re willing to give to get there.”

So does talent count? Sure. The point, though, is that talent is not whole game nor is it the deciding factor. And this is true not just in music or sports, but also in business.

There is no mystery to mastery. Most of us know what it is we have to do to win. It comes down to how much time you’re willing to put in to beat out the rest.