Tuesday, May 7, 2013

10,000 Hours and the Pursuit of Subject Matter Mastery

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In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers the theme of becoming a subject matter expert, or master, was discussed at length. According to Gladwell, the time it takes to become a master: 10,000 hours. The number of hours was not really the point. The real focus was that it takes practice and lots of it – 10,000 hours to be exact. While some might find that daunting, it really isn’t when you break it down into realistic and measurable chunks. For example, many of us can achieve this status in just five years. In the bigger picture, that is really not a big deal. To get you started on your journey, here are 5 ways to help you get there.

1.   Focus:  To become a master, or a subject matter expert, you need to focus. Like my mother always told me: focus on what you want. You can be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.  While she didn’t coin that phrase, she got it.  So, select an area that you enjoy and that you want to focus on and become an expert or master.

2.   Find a Mentor:  Seek out someone you respect and like in your field of choice and look to that person as a mentor. If you follow the formal route of asking, be sure to do your homework about what such a relationship is like, what you can provide each other and what the expectations are for each of you.  Be up front about all of this and ensure that you are both on the same page about expectations and results. Know when its time to move to a new mentor. Mentors can also mentor by watching and learning what they do. Or, just asking advice on occasion. 

3.  Surround yourself with excellence:  Work in the best environment you can. If you can’t work where you want, volunteer! There are often tremendous opportunities to work with some of the best in the business in fundraisers, festivals, not-for-profits, etc. Never limit yourself. 

4.  Read and Research:  Don’t just execute, be sure to read and research about best practices and work in your area of interest in different industries, different regions and emerging trends.

5.  Don’t Stop:  Remember that reaching 10,000 hours is not the goal. It is about practicing your craft. Reaching 10,000 is a milestone and one to celebrate, but as practitioners, experts or masters, we have an obligation to continue our learnings and to practice, practice and practice. 

Finally, be willing to share your knowledge and mastery with others. For those seeking mentors, let’s be ready and willing.  If you were lucky enough to be mentored, it is an experience that you never forget. It is invaluable. Giving that experience to another is priceless. 

What are your thoughts on mastering a subject? Do have experiences that you can add? 

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