In his book Outliers The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell makes the assertion that you need about 10,000 hours to become masterful at anything. To be truly expert does requires an enormous amount of time. Gladwell cites studies done by neurologist Daniel Levitin who examined the time required to reach this level of mastery in many disparate fields—chess players, fiction writers, concert pianists, etc. Ten thousand hours seems to be the magic number, the threshold between good and great. Practice is what made them great—they didn’t start out this way.
Knowing this, I often marvel when I give training presentations and those in attendance feel that they are not able to do something as easily or at the same level that I can. One example that pops to mind is the ability to ask well constructed questions. I think what they don’t realize is that I’ve have put in my 10,000 hours. I’ve researched, practiced and practiced again to reach this level of expertise.
It seems that some people view developing a skill with repeating the same actions over and over. You can’t expect to develop a skill if you continue to do it the same way you have always done it. Just because you’ve been in sales for 10 years doesn’t mean that you are expert in it. Especially if you have been just coasting by, not trying to hone your skills. To truly excel at something, you need to spend time and effort improving it.
How do you become expert? Just repeating the same actions over and over again won’t do it. What that accomplishes is the development of a routine, a habit, something that a person does without thinking about it. If you want to develop your expertise, you need to educate yourself and invest the time to improve. Focus on learning what the experts are saying, ask others for their opinions of how you are doing, and continue to strive to do better.
One secret is to write down the skill you want to improve. Take the example of asking questions. Even though I will verbalize my questions, I find the process of putting pen to paper helps my thought processes. I think more clearly if I have to write it. Then I examine what I wrote. Invariably, the first time is not good enough. Almost always there is room for improvement.
How often do you write something and that becomes the final product without revision? It is the same when you verbalize your sales conversation. When you see something in writing, you may look at it differently. Think… does what you have written actually covey what you intend to say? Is there a better way to say this? Under what circumstances would this be an appropriate question? All of these factor into deciding how to ask a question—which is one of the most powerful tools available to sales people.
So practice is required. And 10,000 hours may seem like a lot. But if you truly want to become expert, there is no shortcut to learning more, practicing, and building on what you have learned. You don’t need to become the world’s expert—but you do need the mindset that nothing is easy when you first start to learn it. And the only way to get better is to work at it.