There is an Eastern tradition that states, “A cup that is full, cannot be further filled. You must empty your cup.” The essential idea is that when the mind gets full of knowledge and experiences, one can often get locked into traditional thinking or rely too heavily on those past experiences. An expert mindset is prone to becoming rigid, inflexible and closed off to new ideas.
Information and learning today move at speeds never seen in human history and as a result also have a shorter shelf-life than ever before. What you learn today is relevant for about 18 months by some estimates and your entire knowledge set is only about 15% relevant after five years. Scary stuff for those who have that full cup and rely on experiences from fifteen years ago. For many professionals and organizations, this became a stark reality during the economic crisis beginning in 2008-09 as they faced what is no less than “Economic Extinction”.
As children, human beings are full of curiosity and without preconceived notions of the world. They ask questions, are open to new ideas and eager to engage with the world around them in creative ways. They take risks but remain close to home. As an adult, it is possible to wed this sense of curiosity with the common sense wisdom that experience teaches. It is often referred to as “Beginner’s Mind”.
The phrase “Life Long Learning” gets overused and can end up with a narrow connotation. Continuous learning is important but it can easily become too focused solely on a person’s circle of interests. If a person is a sports enthusiast for example and all they engage in is learning more about sports, then they never push outside the boundaries of their comfort zones. Beginner’s mind is like that first year of college where one is forced to engage in a variety of topics and stretch that mindset beyond that comfort zone. This leads to creativity, new ideas and new ways of thinking. It can also lead to new professional opportunity…so, are you embracing a beginner’s mind?
It takes at least 45 days of deliberate and focused repetition to create a new habit. Mastery of a skill, on the other hand, requires a set of fundamental habits that relate directly to said skill. Those habits must be refined and developed over time, some estimate at least 10,000 hours but much of that will depend on the person and the quality of practice.
Sustaining Excellence is a strategy that incorporates all of this on a larger scale. It can have several categories including Mental, Physical, Skills, Group or Institutionalized Excellence. The guiding principle is that Habit, Mastery and Sustained Excellence are all cyclical in nature. It’s neither journey nor destination but continual process.
“When I was a little boy my grand mother told me the story of the wisdom of Solomon. After she had finished, I was so enthralled by the story that in the late of night I asked God to make me wise like the great king. Had I known then that the price of wisdom came by way of experience, earned only through many mistakes, it’s likely I would have just asked for a Porsche .” -Bryan Nann
The concept of mass misinformation and false propaganda likely goes back as far as the ability to read and write. Some historians speculate that ancient Egyptian narratives, depicted in hieroglyphics on many monuments are embellished and in some cases inaccurate.
Terms like “Snake Oil Salesman“ has come to be synonymous with any practice intended to deceive the general public. It’s origins date back to the 19th Century in the United States during the Chinese migrations and the building of the Transcontinental Railroads. There was in fact a real product called snake oil but it ultimately became one of the best known examples of false advertising on the American Frontier.
Two centuries earlier, in feudal Japan, the nonconformist samurai Miyamoto Musashi touched on the need to be critical in judgement, analysis and weary of false information. As part of the nine rules laid out in The Book of Five Rings, Musashi states simply to “Learn to judge the quality of each thing“.
In today’s language one would speak of critical analysis, scientific method or a healthy dose of skepticism. The recent US presidential election and subsequent studies like the one discussed in the Wall StreetJournal below are potent reminders that the need to judge the quality of things is greater today than ever. Fortunately these are skills that can be taught and cultivated.
Are you practicing critical analysis daily? Or are you getting fooled by the snake oil salesmen?
A study of middle-school to college-age students found most absorb social media news without considering the source. How parents can teach research skills and skepticism.
Recently Business Insiderpublished a post on the value of being an early riser from the perspective of two former Navy Seals (see below). Back in 2011, I had published a similar post as part of the Circle ofPhysical Excellence strategy (see also below). The idea of “early to bed, early to rise” is not new, in fact the idea goes farther back than that famous phrase written by Benjamin Franklin in the 18th Century.
Additionally, there are many common denominators of excellence, across many fields and professions though out human history. The Habits of Highly Effective People are far more extensive than the Seven that the late Stephen Covey wrote about. Studying, adopting and revisiting these habits are the key to sustaining excellence.
Author and speaker, Brian Tracy, has often written that:
“Most people are just one new skill away from doubling their income”
In other words, a new skill can open a new world of opportunity or experience, both personally and professionally.
Legendary samurai, Miyamoto Musashi wrote:
“You must train in the way and practice daily”
Part of that “way” being the practice of developing new skills and staying the course with said skills practice.
Current science and medicine is finding compelling evidence that engaging in new activities, particularly later in life stimulates the brain and actually improves mental capacity, sometimes even physical vitality. It has been suggested this can combat Alzheimer’s and even improve mental alertness, contrary to conventional wisdom.
It’s also been proven that new skills can be effectively developed, regardless of natural ability, measured IQ or perceived physical limitations.
Much of what we do is simply skill development, here are some examples
From Aristotle to Lao Tzu and throughout the world there are examples of what is referred to as “Wisdom Literature”. These are historical texts that offer common sense maxims and guidance for everyday life. Most of them have recurring themes that revolve around the power of focus, habit, character and the principles that govern the consequences of our actions.
Perhaps one of the most relevant books of the last decade. In an age of information overload, connected devices and unprecedented technological change, there gives rise to whole new series of potential habits. This book provides sound evidence to the personal, economic and social implications that these new habits bring.
This book also provides scientific evidence to what I call, “Personal Gravity“; Developing habits of mental excellence leads to new habits of physical excellence, which leads to habits of skills excellence, which leads to habits of excellence at the team and organizational level. That’s the core of the ENMEI Formula.
In The Book of Five Rings, legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi writes that, “The warriors way is the two-fold way of pen and sword”. Much of his meaning behind that expression resides in the idea that the subtle movements of the hand, in wielding the pen or specifically the calligraphy brush, can help hone the finer movements of the hand with a samurai sword.
There is, however, a deeper meaning that goes beyond swordsmanship, one that was visible throughout Musashi’s life. It was the idea that to be truly effective and complete in the samurai profession, one must develop both the technical as well as the creative skill sets. In Musashi’s terms, the science of swordsmanship and the art of calligraphy or painting, together, developed a well-balanced warrior.
In 20th Century Western terms, this sort of developmental activity has often been associated with Lateralization of Brain Function or oversimplified as “Right vs. Left” brain activity. Current science has punched holes in much of this theory but there is still evidence to suggest that creative combined with analytical learning taps into something within the human psyche. It has a developmental multiplier effect greater than each learning path on its own. Intuitively, Musashi knew in 1645 what we’ve summarized for decades in the phrase;
“All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.”
But in an age of analytics, Big Data, Lean Logic and vocation specific education, the synergy between the so-called left and right brain can get lost. With so much focus on efficiencies and doing more with less over the last decade, the left-brain has dominated much of the professional landscape. In fact, in many institutions of higher learning, liberal arts education is facing extinction as a relic of an impractical past. As a result, many extremely well-trained professionals struggle in moving their careers forward due to a lack of the often intangible, ‘Right Brain’ skill sets.
Not long ago, this concept came full circle personally and caused me to revisit what Musashi had written almost four centuries ago. It was over dinner with a business acquaintance who had apparently researched my LinkedIn profile extensively. He stated that he found my background very interesting and was intrigued by what I meant with my title phrase,
“Digging for Excellence and Developing Artists.”
Frankly, I was caught a little off guard. No one had ever done his or her homework in such detail, let alone question me on the title phrase of my professional network. Needless to say, my explanation was not very articulate and underwhelming at best.
So putting poetic license aside, it can be summarized as a balanced approach to professional development. “Digging for Excellence” is the science, the tangibles, the continuous improvement, the things often associated with driving individual and organizational productivity. It is all of the “left brain” activity ranging from root cause analysis to action plans that drive KPIs. It is also developing the technical, the mechanical skills of one’s profession. It’s more than just drilling on the fundamentals of one’s trade, it’s expanding the skill sets and tool sets that drive professional mastery.
Somewhat more elusive and often difficult to cultivate is the intangible flip side to the science of “Digging for excellence”. This is stuff of the “Right Brain” and examples would include creativity, empathy, the ability to listen or communicate effectively, etc.
To be effective in selling themselves, for example, professionals must be able to deploy all of the aforementioned skills. Creativity, communication, empathetic listening and so forth must all work in concert with technical prowess, empirical evidence or other tangibles. In other words, the science must work in concert with the artistry.
After all, what is customer service but selling yourself and the experience? What is marketing but selling yourself and the value of the product or service? What is employee development but selling yourself, your leadership and the long-term value for the employee?
So what is professional mastery in the digital age? It is the two-fold way of digging for excellence and developing artistry. One must cultivate tangible and intangible skill sets and mind sets both inside as well as outside their profession. To be an effective leader, one must understand that this symbiosis is at the heart of developing the people that they lead. They must also have the courage to evangelize this concept in an increasingly data driven, left brain world. In his book, A Whole New Mind, author Daniel Pink brings this concept of science and artistry further to life. Using scientific analysis and data, he stresses the relevance and need for right brain learning in the 21st Century. Well worth the read.
Centuries before the digital age and the idea of creating a personal brand, Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi branded a paradigm for strategy that has guided both business and culture in Japan ever since.
In his book below, William de Lange gives a humanistic and insightful perspective on the man behind the strategy.