Written by Derek Loudermilk
Our ability to quickly learn complex skills, use new computer programs, become comfortable in new environments, build a base of knowledge to access creativity, understand cutting-edge ideas, identify patterns, and continue the progression of our learning and understanding, is one of the best ways to stay valuable in a changing workforce.
When new technology becomes available that enables us to become more effective in our work, the faster you can adopt and utilize this technology, the more impact and value you create. The more trends you can be an early adopter, the more “waves” you can surf to career achievement. For example, if a doctor can take advantage of robotics and A.I. diagnostics, he could vastly improve patient outcomes compared to another doctor who is unable to understand the new tools.
What happens with most people when they approach learning a skill is that they practice enough to get to a level of competence that they find acceptable, and then stop progressing.
You might have heard the expression growing up like I did that, “practice makes perfect.” There is more to mastery than simply practicing because, for example, we all have lots of experience driving cars, but we are not all world-class drivers. We instead want the right type of practice that lets us continue to improve.
When I was a cycling coach, I created daily workouts designed to match and slightly exceed the athlete’s current skill level. If we did the same workout two weeks later, the body would have adapted and the workout would be too easy and progress would begin to slow down. Having an expert teacher means you can design your practice efforts to match your skill level and progression, which is why so many executives have a coach.
To learn any skill fast, we need to have a learning strategy. To do this, we need to take Tim Ferriss’ advice from his book The Four Hour Chef. He suggests first deconstructing the skill you want to learn and then deciding on the optimum sequence for learning. The idea with deconstruction is to understand all the single unit building blocks of individual skills that make up a complex skill. “What are the minimal learnable units, the LEGO blocks, I should be starting with?” asks Ferriss.
As you train and rehearse your chosen skill, you are going to want to set some measurable milestones so you know you are progressing. I love when I have a deadline approaching in my business because it brings out my competitive spirit and forces me to bring together my best effort for my current skill level. If you can socialize and involve other people in this process, the greater stake you will have. Likewise, make sure you have a strong emotional reason for developing a skill, otherwise, when your practice gets challenging, you might be tempted to give up.
When you are doing something that pushes you past your current abilities, you will be reforming the neurons in your brain, making new connections – the beauty of neuroplasticity. The actually feeling of this might even be painful, in part because you are changing the homeostasis of your body. In The War of Art, Author Stephen Pressfield calls this feeling “The Resistance,” and suggests we use its presence as a sign that we are working on something meaningful.
As you approach higher levels of mastery in a particular area you will want to start teaching what you know. The act of recall during teaching cements neural pathways pertaining to a particular skill, and forces to you to distill down what you know and explain things simply.
As you near world-class expertise, you will be on the cutting edge. This is where you get to create and start coming up with new techniques and new knowledge. In what author Robert Green calls the ‘active mode’ of mastery, this is where you get to be playful with your skill and test the limits of your ability, like when surfers first used jet skis to tow them into 50-foot waves.
And if this all sounds daunting, it might be helpful to know that people who end up most passionate and fulfilled in their career are the ones who continue learning new things, challenging themselves, and creating more control and freedom through their expertise.
Superconductors: Revolutionize your Career and Make Big Things Happen by Derek Loudermilk is published on 3 July 2018 by Kogan Page, priced £14.99.