The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Friday, February 12, 2016

Mastery the Hard Way

This post at The Modern Team was brought to my attention by Cameron Conaway, the Warrior Poet.

With all the talk of the 10,000 hours and what not, we sometimes lose sight of just plain hard work. 

At extract is below. The full post may be read here

When it comes to dedication to his craft, no one surpasses Jiro Ono. Out of a small shop in an underground Tokyo subway station, he runs the most renowned sushi restaurant in the world.

His path to the top came not through exposure, business model innovation, or riding trends.

He became renowned, and is able to charge the fees that he does, through total dedication to excellence. His singular guiding principle is the quality of outcome for his customers—how good his sushi tastes, and the pleasure of the tasting experience.

In Jiro’s mind, there are no shortcuts. There are no tricks. Mastery is reached the hard way—in such small increments that you don’t realize it’s happening.

For example, whereas many elite sushi chefs have a single supplier for everything they need at Tsukiji Fish Market, Jiro builds relationships with specialist suppliers who deal in only one of his ingredients. The result is that when Jiro gets an octopus, it’s from a supplier who has spent a lifetime developing mastery over how to select the best octopus for sushi.

Whereas many elite sushi chefs bring in new recruits and put them through rigorous training, an apprenticeship under Jiro is a 10-year journey.

He’s a perfect exemplar of how doing things the hard way can help you rise to the top. 


For starters, it’s about taking the time to do every step properly. It’s about becoming an expert at what you do so you can create a better product for your clients. It’s an embodiment of “measure twice, cut once.” By focusing on mastery of each step, we learn the repeatable patterns that can be improved upon with each iteration.

The “hard way” tends to get cast aside when one of its many forms is confused as its only form. It’s fair to be wary of work that comes with self-imposed challenges, arbitrary restrictions, or starting things from scratch. While making things more difficult for yourself in order to feel more reward can be admirable in recreation (e.g. “I’m going to swim solo across the Channel”) it’s not a valuable approach for a productive team.

It’s obvious but worth stating: those who spend extra time doing things right end up producing a better end product. Take custom carpentry’s go-to joining technique, the dovetail, for example. It’s considered a mark that a piece of furniture is well-built. And it’s one example where quality arises from the hard way. Kerry O’Brien for Sweeten.com puts it like this:

“Custom cabinetmakers will often use dovetail joints that interlock pieces of wood to distribute weight and stress more evenly, whereas stock nut, bolt, and nail methods isolate wear on a few points.”
 
Taking the hard way means laying out the steps. When you clear the cobwebs of an unknown process by learning from experts, you realize that mastery isn’t magic or even luck as popular myths try to make us believe. An apprentice under Jiro, for example, doesn’t just start learning to prepare the fish. They first have to develop mastery over how to welcome a customer into the restaurant. Then they graduate to developing mastery over how to create the perfect hot towel for a customer, then how to wash dishes, then how to prepare rice. It’s often months or years before they can even touch a fish.

It may be an extreme example, but this kind of repetition of each step in the process can allow you to isolate areas for improvement. Only when every step is done methodically can you understand the effect each has on the outcome. The only way Jiro knew to try massaging the octopus for 15 minutes longer was that every other step was followed rigorously and consistently. And he can taste the difference because he’s done it for years and because no other variables were changed.

Another popular example that dispels the “magic of mastery” myth is how Cristiano Ronaldo rose to the top. While he was developing his skills at Sporting Lisbon, he was seeded among a group of peers whose talents—according to the coaches—were on par with his own. But as Luis Lourenço, his compatriot, recalls in Sky Sports’ The Making of Cristiano Ronaldo:

“When he had nothing to do he would secretly go to the gym at night. He started doing things that we only did when we were with the team and the coaches. He’d get ready on his own and sneak off to the gym. He’d do leg and body exercises and that’s when he started to stand out. While we went to the gym to work out ahead of the next game, he was already working out ahead of his future.”

Ronaldo’s rise to the top is often attributed to devotion to self-improvement through practice and effort; notably, his talent comes second in his story.

A nice bonus of a methodical process is that you can give your consumers a taste of the effort put into your product. When people know what went into something, even though the product itself hasn’t changed, they may value it more. We see this with studio footage from musicians, weekly updates from agencies, and donation requests on popular blogs.

While extra time and effort might not be worth it if the outcome doesn’t budge, taking this kind of pride in your work can bring other benefits. For starters, it means that when the work is complete you’ll be more likely to feel a greater sense of accomplishment for achieving what you set out to do.

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