This year we’ve spent a lot of time trying new activities: different sports, some drawing/art and musical instruments. All of these items are not “important” in the sense that they are all hobbies and won’t make or break the bank any time soon. Oddly enough, since we’re trying to learn wide range of random skills at a “mediocre” level, we’ve noticed a nice pattern. Even though we aren’t good at any of the new activities, we can easily spot someone who learned correctly from someone who “winged” it.
At Zero? Focus on the Fundamentals: The first thing we notice is many people jump into the fire immediately. While this is good in some cases (particularly when you’re young), it is unlikely a good decision later in life. Later in life, you want to find ways to essentially “catch up” and that is only accomplished through some basic research. Two easy ways to “catch up” are 1) hiring a professional to help you learn the ropes and 2) reading high quality books on the topic you’re trying to learn.
When you’re trying something brand new and you’re under the age of 15, jumping in feet first is probably the easiest solution (everyone in your bracket is a beginner). If you’re older than 25, you’ll want to follow the prior paragraph. If someone is between 16 and 24 years of age, make a judgement call. Since the majority of our readers are over 25, we’ll walk through the fundamental approach in basic steps. Luckily it is quite easy to do and less than 5% of people will even think about it like this.
Step 1): if you intend on investing more than a couple of years into the hobby you’ll want to hire a legitimate “coach” in the field. Notice, this works for everything except business since no smart/successful business person is going to use his valuable time giving away his bread and butter. For all hobbies/skills you would like to learn, we’d hire a high quality coach first. Step 2) for hobbies you’re going to read 3 books on the topic written by successful people on the field. Throw all books written by “nobodies’ into the garbage. This may cause you to miss a few good books. But. The return on your time is just too low. Also. If you’re going to try a new business venture: online sales, switching careers, brick and mortar purchases, real estate etc… your best bet is once again the library. Always read 3 books on any topic you plan on becoming proficient in. Step 3) fundamental execution *not* results. This typically separates mediocre people from exceptional people. Exceptional people recognize that mastering fundamentals is more important than near term results. Lets say you have a better golf swing by having an award stance. This needs to be fixed today. Fix the stance because you’re limiting your long-term skills by developing bad habits. For the older readers, this may be surprising since we’re a results oriented blog. But. If you’re new, the results are meaningless because incorrect approaches will be difficult to fix many years down the line. Like replacing the foundation for a home. Step 4) find visual proof of progress. This is easier with a physical activity but can be applied to any activity. Once you believe you have the fundamentals locked in, you’ll want to put yourself into a situation where you must perform (no practicing anymore). This will result in immediate feedback (if your fundamentals break down under pressure) and in an online sales example if your A vs. B testing gives you the expected result (your revisions improve conversion rates).
Fundamentals Mastered… Increase Competition: Competition is one of those all encompassing words. Average people who have failed at everything will still compete aggressively if their “social status” is at risk. Elite people only compete with one another and ignore average people because they are too far off the radar (booing from the cheap seats because they’ll never make it on stage). Naturally? The objective is to distance yourself from the pack to the point that you know the names of your real competition.
How do you do this? You do it with the two steps rule of thumb. If you’re trying to improve, you’re not going to get any better competing against the elite people. Why? They will be *too far ahead*. Unless you’re incredibly talented, when you compete with people who are far superior in the activity, you won’t learn much. Instead you’ll focus on putting yourself in a situation where you’re in the “third quartile”. If there are 12 people in a room you want to be the number 7/8 guy. This means you’re close to being average but not quite and you’re not dead last unable to breathe.
An interesting note here. Most people think it is best to only hang around the top people. It doesn’t work though. If you have a team sport for example and one guy is world class, he’s going to essentially do all of the work (inefficient to do anything else). The idea of grabbing the best people at all times only works at the elite level. At the intermediate level what you’re looking for is more time to improve your skills in an environment that gets more and more difficult over time. If you eventually reach “elite” level, then you’ll know and change your strategy. This is also why rich people have friends that are also in the same general zip code (otherwise they end up falling into the acquaintance basket).
Find the Repeat Mistakes: At this point you should be chugging along just fine. You have a solid understanding of the fundamentals (don’t make basic mistakes) and you’re ramping up the competitive environment. Now its time for some self assessment. This is where (our opinion) you separate average people from successful/aware people.
Pausing for a second. The main issue with the average individual is he believes he’s always the best. At everything. In fact we have no doubt average people think we have no ability to see our own flaws (we do)! This is some sort of strange human condition. In fact, we’ve written several posts on things we are not good at, yet everyone gets the same vibe from each other “he/she thinks he’s so skilled”. So. Based on this background we’ve noticed that successful people avoid things they are not good at and are much better at determining why they are good/bad at something.
Back to the topic. Since you’re going to increase competition at this point: for sports changing the people you play against and for business you’d try and encroach and gain more market share from bigger players… it’s time to improve. You’re now forced to look at all the information and figure out how you’re being beaten. Video clips work well for all physical activities from sports to musical instruments (you can see every time you make a mistake and why it happened to see if it repeats). Also. From a business standpoint, if you’re unable to gain market share you are going to see why. Is it due to your brand image, the ads, the margins? Unlike physical activities the feedback on the business side is much more in your face since it shows a nice red negative number to represent a failed attempt.
Our guess is that you’ll find at least 3-5 repeat mistakes that break some combination of a fundamental error and a skill error (execution). The lines get blurry here since basic concepts will be running smoothly but mis-execution could cause prior fundamentals to break down a bit. Think about modifying an ad or website only to have this negatively impact another fundamental item (the layout or the context). Instead of trying to solve all of the problems at once (multi-tasking is talked about but never efficient) focus on one issue and make sure there is no performance decrease in the other repeating errors. Essentially, when you solve one problem (problem A) you should still have a few other ones, but they have not gotten worse after fixing problem A.
After doing this a few times you should see a large improvement and we’d consider this stage “intermediate/excellent”. When you only see one error here and there (no one is perfect) you’re now in the near exceptional category. Getting into exceptional categories requires the most underestimated and hated word in the world: Talent.
Begin Creating New Processes: When any new game/market/industry opens up, people are always playing incorrectly. Think of any sport or industry that looks the same now as it did 10-20 years ago. You’re unlikely to see any. We’re sure there are a few exceptions. But. If we go back and look at footage that is 10 years old (certainly 20 years old) you’ll see that there is someone pushing the boundaries or “rules”. This is where you get to step in!
Take a look at the common “rules” that are followed to succeed. See fundamental mastery. And. Begin breaking these rules based on your gut feel/instinct. If you have a good gut/feel/instinct for the activity you’ll surpass people by breaking rules previously thought of as “unbreakable”. Over time if something is consistently successful for you, then you end up being copied. This is why they say “copying is the biggest form of flattery”. Essentially, you’ve created something new that is so successful/accurate that you force your competition to do the same thing.
For those of you that work in affiliate marketing you’re well aware of how quickly things change. One person makes one edit (a big name) and suddenly everyone is doing the exact same thing. Markets are efficient. If it relates to making money, make sure you try to protect the intellectual property if possible. Ideally, you’ll break a few rules that go under the radar for a long period of time.
Expert Level: At this point, if you’re successfully competing against people who are already talented and consistently come up with new ways to “stay ahead” or “get an edge” so to speak, you’re largely an expert. This is where we would then focus on results. While many will disagree, we don’t think anyone can be an expert if they don’t have any results. So take a look at the people in the top (of any activity you’re pursuing) and you’ll notice that they consistently push the boundaries in some way. To make a public example, Amazon is a clear one where they solve difficult problems on a yearly basis and announce solutions from time to time. Betting against them from a technology standpoint over the last several years hasn’t paid off (many believe they couldn’t solve so many problems).
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