There are people who make a practice of not positioning themselves across from me at board meetings. That’s because I spend my time in those meetings drawing caricatures of everyone sitting around the conference table. Actually, I draw pictures of everyone except the people seated directly alongside me. That’s because I can’t really draw them without constantly turning my head and not paying attention to what’s going on in the meeting itself. Believe it or not, there are a number of people who don’t like having me draw them. I think it’s the fact that I don’t draw portraits but that I draw caricatures instead. As I understand it, good portraits are artistically realistic interpretations of the people showcased in the art whereas good caricatures are constructed by exaggerating and lampooning a subject’s most prominent features. That’s why people who actually look at the drawings I’ve done of them tend to say, “That’s funny. But my nose isn’t that big, is it?” Or “Cute. But I’m not that fat.” Or “Oh c’mon. I really have more hair than that, don’t I?”
Those are the comments of the people I’ve drawn. But the people who sit next to me and see what I’m doing during the meeting usually say something like, “I wish I could draw. But I’m not talented like that. You’re a natural.”
My answer is always the same: “Of course you can draw. All you have to do is draw… a lot.”
“Oh, you mean like practice?” they ask. “How much do you practice?”
“I don’t practice,” I answer. “But I do draw all the time. Come to think of it, I’ve been doing it every single day of my life since kindergarten.
In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell suggested that it requires roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery. A great example Gladwell used to make his point was the rise of The Beatles. From 1960 to 1962 the nascent ‘Fab Four’ played their hearts out in the basements of the Kaiserkeller and Indra clubs and other small venues throughout Hamburg, Germany. The band was so driven that they had played nearly 1,200 public performances before returning to England and becoming the most influential rock band in history. Those 1,200 gigs provided The Beatles with the 10,000 hours of practice Gladwell said mastery requires. In other words, The Beatles were an overnight success after years of hard work.
But it’s more than just the hours invested. What also matters is the way the practice is performed. As I see it, the key to developing and utilizing talent is not to just put the hours in but to make the participation a natural part of your life.
Sure, a musician has to practice the rudiments and learn their scales in every conceivable mode and key. Of course an artist needs to understand the opportunities and limits of various media and techniques they use. And yes, an athlete and a dancer must both practice their fundamentals time and time again until muscle memory takes over and their technique sets them free to accomplish great things. But there’s more to it than that.
Everyone’s heard Confucius’ expression, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” What I’ve discovered is that Confucius’ adage applies to talent, too. The real key to learning to draw — or to playing tennis or playing the clarinet or earning your black belt in judo or whatever — is to love doing it so much that you do it because you want to practice, not because you have to practice or need to practice.
Taken further, the key to mastery is to develop the various talents that are an intrinsic component of who you are so that not only isn’t practice something you HAVE to do or even something that you WANT to do, but something that you do without planning to do it or even think about doing it. You do it because it’s a part of who you are. The saying in Spanish is “eso le nace,” meaning it comes from within you or literally, “it’s born in you.”
Seen from a business angle, this also becomes a crucial part of developing and building your brand value. That’s because it’s what you’re about that sets you and and your company apart from your competition and lets your customers know what’s in it for them. As I’ve said so many times before in this blog, People don’t choose what you do. They choose who you are.
Knowing this — and knowing how to present it to your customers and potential customers — is the way to not only incorporate your intrinsic talents into your personal and professional lives but to get better and better at what you do and to enjoy it even more than you do already.