A Tip On Achieving Excellence

I’m hardwired as a disciplined learner.  It’s the way I was created.

As a result, I’ve been able to learn to do a number of different things competently, not because I’m naturally skilled at them but because I’ve ascertained the fundamentals then diligently practiced them.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, makes a compelling case for “The 10,000 Hour Rule,” in which he asserts if you practice anything for 10,000 hours you will become excellent, even if you are not naturally gifted for it.

Understanding the fundamentals of anything you want to do well is essential because the fundamentals represent the combined, accumulated knowledge of all those who have come before you in the craft and have learned by experience what works and what doesn’t.  The fundamentals are the “rules,” for want of a better word. The best athletic coaches, the best music teachers, the best teachers in any field teach fundamentals of their craft.

But to transcend competence, to reach the level of true creative genuis, one must be willing to sometimes let go of the rules.

As Mary Oliver said, “Invention hovers always a little above the rules.”   Fundamentals are like training wheels; they approximate excellence and hint at competence, but they don’t define them, and the masters of their field recognize when excellence suggests a departure from the rules.

In other words, one must master the rules but not be mastered by them. GS

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