10,000 Hours To Mastery — Or A Good Start

I’m a real fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. One of the most impactful parts of the book is the discussion around what it takes to achieve real mastery of something. Whether you are an orchestral musician, a world class athlete, a high performing doctor, or a sales professional—it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to achieve mastery.

Give me a number, it’s something I have to achieve. It’s like quota, I immediately thought, “Have I achieved mastery yet?” Where am I on the 10,000 hour scale? How much longer do I have to go?

Quickly, I pulled out a calculator. I do lots of things, but I estimated, in general, I am working on selling at least 6 hours a day—so I’ll use that as the number. Let’s see, 10,000 divided by 6, that’s 1667 days to achieve mastery. Hmm, that’s not so much. OK, I work roughly 220 days a year, so it should take me about 7 years and 7 months to achieve mastery.

Wow! I must be there! Actually, I’ve been selling for about 30 years, so I must have achieved some kind of 6th degree black belt in Sales Mastery!

After I finished patting myself on the back, reality came crashing in. First, I thought, why do I still struggle with prospecting calls? Why do I still get outsold?

On further reflection, I realize, buyers have changed! How we engage them and win business has changed profoundly in the past 30 years. Competition has changed, there’s much more and different types of competitors. Technology and tools have changed how we sell.

More has changed in professional selling in the past 5 years than in the cumulative history of selling.

So what’s this mean to my mastery and 10000 hours? It seems as though I have to start the clock all over again. I’ve got to forget a bunch of old stuff, learn and master a whole bunch of new stuff. It seems I have a long way to go to achieve mastery!

I went back to re-read Blink and some related books on Mastery. It turns out 10,000 hours is the starting point. It makes sense. I recently had dinner with a professional musician. He played in one of the world’s top symphony orchestra. He had a number of solo or small group albums out. He was renowned for his “mastery” of his craft.

Yet in talking to him, all he focused on was what he didn’t know, the things he hadn’t mastered. He wasn’t focused on where he had come from. He wasn’t paying attention to his current level of mastery. He was focused on the things he needed to master. The things he needed to learn and how he needed to improve.

I asked him where he was on the 10,000 hour scale. He thought, then said he “I think it’s approaching 17,000 hours.

It’s interesting, talk to anyone at the top of their profession. Most are well over 10,000 hours. Many would acknowledge they are very good—perhaps among the best in their fields, but few call themselves “masters.”

Most of these view mastery as a frame of mind, an attitude, and ongoing journey. All are driven by constantly improving. They are the tops in their fields, they outperform peers by far, yet they are not satisfied. There are the things they haven’t mastered. There are the things that have changed and caused them to shift course, mastering new things.

Are you committed to 10,000 hours of focused practice in sales execution? Are you committed to the next 10,000 hours? If you aren’t you will be passed by. If you rest on whatever you have learned, you will become an antique.

10,000 hours is just the starting point!

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