I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of hard work and on becoming an expert.
Unsurprisingly, there is a lot to it.
Last summer I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. A fascinating book for anyone to read. One of his points is that it usually takes us 10,000 hours to become an expert in a field. Whether a pianist, third-baseman, wine sommelier, or an expert in some area of SaaS, hard work is required. No substitutes.
It’s not just hard work. I can do the same thing over and over again, and not learn why something works the way it does. I may know how gravity works (things fall), but if I don’t understand why it works, then it makes it harder to make predictions for something new (like filling a balloon with helium). In the same way, focus is required. It’s not simply enough to expect after years of hard work that you will be recognized as an expert.
Without focus, the winds will blow you in many directions. Read Shane Parrish’s article on Understanding Speed and Velocity: Saying “NO” to the Non-Essential. Cut out non-essentials.
We’ve been told that learning to say “no” frees us up to do more. We’ve been told “less is more.” If you don’t learn to say no, then your thought leadership quality will be watered down. It’s not simply the 10,000 hours. It’s a ruthless pursuit of the goal. We can share all of the quotable lines from big names, but until we do this very simple thing, we won’t get far.
Develop it into a habit. Add it to your to do list (yes, right now). Review your project list and delete what doesn’t make sense. Then move everything you’d like to do to a “someday” or “back burner” list. Get it off your priority list — you’re only stressing yourself out.
Another word for focus is sacrifice. You must cut out things that you like for the things you love. Saying yes to everyone outside my house inevitable means no to my health, my rest, or my family — all of which should be at the top of the list, not the bottom. Learn to say no. Focus on what matters. It’s difficult for us to say no to coworkers, friends, and even ourselves. Saying “yes” to all these things means “no” to your dream.
You can be amazing at something but not be able to communicate well. Communication requires a significant investment in reflection.
“If a tree falls in a forest and no is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is an interesting philosophical question, and also insightful for the parallel of communication. If you work hard and are focused on the true results, will you be an expert in the field? Well, yes. Because you will be an expert in your field, but may not be recognized. This is where you make the choice. The answer isn’t simply “yes” to learning to communicate your thoughts. For instance, that can detract from a lot of research you’re doing — but it can also help frame concepts you’ve been thinking on, but couldn’t articulate till you put pen to paper. Even if you do that, there’s no reason it must be in a public forum rather than your private journal. Writing does not necessitate public discourse.
There are many avenues to becoming a thought leader. There’s the obvious ones — blogging, vlogging, podcasting, speaking, social media — and there are others that are not as obvious. Don’t allow the “sexy” methods to pull you from the effective ones. They are often mutually exclusive.
There are a lot of us who want to specialize, become experts, and contribute at a higher level. We don’t settle for mediocrity or simply copying content from others (besides the ethical reasons). All of these are worthy endeavors and ought to be pursued.
The next step is a tough one. It is this: to evaluate the merits of this list not because of who wrote it or was referenced in it, but on the ideas, the concept, and the truth. By shortcutting the process and evaluating it on any other measures (author recognition, friend’s reference, etc.) is merely proving you have a long way to go in being a leader in thought.
- Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- Essentialism by Greg Mckeown
- Understanding Speed and Velocity: Saying “NO” to the Non-Essential by Shane Parrish