Average is Easy, Above Average is Hard

Wouldn’t it be great if experience alone counted towards the 10,000 hours needed to be an expert? A mere five years of showing up to a 40-hour per week job could get us there, and yet, as you may have noticed – we’re not surrounded by experts. Why is that? What separates Warren Buffett, Jimi Hendrix, and Tiger Woods from the rest of us? Why is it that even when we read the business books, spend time practicing, and have a computer analyze our swing, it’s still really hard to get very far above average?


John Maxwell was on James Altucher’s podcast to talk about his new book, Leadershift. He made the point that reflection is how we turn application into insight. Experience, according to Maxwell, is the common denominator for all things – because anyone can go out and put in their 40-hours a week at work, it’s what we do with that experience that makes all of the difference. Framed as a process, think: experience > reflection > application > insight. Let’s break them down.  


Experience includes picking a task and then actually doing it. Not just watching it on TV, not just reading about it – actually doing it. Buffett invests in and leads Berkshire Hathaway daily, Hendrix played guitar all of the time, and Tiger Woods plays a lot of golf. 


Reflection includes feedback. Internal and external, constant and correctable – reflection is how we consider how to tweak or change what we’re doing. Buffett writes about Berkshire’s successes and failures in detail in his annual letters, Hendrix would famously pay very close attention to the new music of his day, and Tiger has reconsidered his swing on more than one occasion.


Application is how we repeat the experience with the provided feedback. Think of it as informed experience. Buffett learned from Munger how to move passed “cigar butts” and focus on great companies at good prices, reshaping his investment style. Hendrix played “Sgt. Pepper” in front of the Beatles three days after the album came out. Tiger reassessed his swing after surgery and very publicly experimented with it. 


Insight is the observation that occurs when we notice the difference between our original attempt, the corrections we took when reflecting, and the applied iteration we tried. The insight comes from noting “that sucked” or “that’s better.” Buffett still talks about their investment in Sees Candy. Hendrix merged styles in a way no prior guitar player had. Tiger continues to work on his game, most recently rising from a #1199 rank back to #12 in the world. 


Leadershift focuses on how we think about our businesses in a world with a never-ending need to iterate. When we focus on experience > reflection > application > insight, we can build towards improvement much more effectively than if we just stumble through the world mistaking experience for progress. Anyone can be average, few can be experts. With Maxwell’s process, we, and our companies can take a conscious step in the right direction.   

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