In blog #254 I talked about building a great team. In this blog I want to talk about how to be the expert in your field.
It’s funny, when you are in it, you don’t always see it. I learned so much at Nordstrom from 1989 to 2000. I have re-occurring dreams about my Nordstrom experiences many times and do not have them for anywhere else I’ve worked. I attribute this to how it has influenced my life. In many ways it shaped me into who I am today. At the time, I didn’t realize how important the things I was learning from many amazing mentors I had were to my growth. Each of them taught me different things and being the sponge I am, I soaked it all in and made it work for me in my own way. One particular lesson, and I honestly can’t remember who said this was, “Be the expert in your field”. Simple right? But how do you get to be an expert?
As Malcolm Gladwell discussed in his bestseller, “Outliers“, to become an expert it takes 10,000 hours (or approximately 10 years) of deliberate practice. To be considered deliberate practice, the individual should be engaging in full concentration, authorities and coaches are giving feedback, the individual is analyzing the feedback, and then the individual repeats the skill and practice over and over. During the repetition, the individual is making refinements to what they need to correct, according to their feedback. Someone could drive a car for 10 years and still be a horrible driver, this is the difference.
When my son was a young boy, he was participating in many sports. Football, Baseball, Wrestling to name a few. He would get frustrated early on because he wasn’t the best person on the team. Before I even read “Outliers” I knew that practice is what it takes. We would go out on my days off and throw the ball to practice fielding and techniques, but he would soon get distracted. Each sport he’d do for a few years then try a different one not doing any extra practice other than what the team would do. Sometimes he’d really do well but other times he wouldn’t and this frustrated him.
Many years later he started going to the gym frequently and got in with a group of people who liked powerlifting. He soon became passionate about the sport and was in the gym practicing techniques. At home he’d read about it and looked online for more tutorials on the subject. In a few short years he became quite good. It wasn’t ten years of practice but nor was he an expert yet. He was still quite good. I went to a meet with him and he was to perform bench press and deadlift. He had the techniques down to excel. He did his first few lifts with ease, then he had to deadlift 619 lbs. Did it. Next lift was for the state record 239, went up half way but couldn’t take it home. I was really proud of him for the effort. 619 lbs! damn!
Breaking it down he listened to his coaches, analyzed the feedback, repeated the lifts and made refinements along the way. He was on his way to being an expert.
My dad loved to grill. As a young boy we would often have grilled chicken, steaks, ribs you name it. He had a passion for it. When I left home, one of the things I bought first, was a Weber bbq. I figured I didn’t really know how to cook in the kitchen but I knew enough about grilling to survive. I grilled for years and became pretty good at it. It wasn’t until my 50’s though when I began to use the tool of deliberate practice. I started reading up on grill times and how to cook different types of meat. How the thickness plays a part in it. You Tube videos, Tik Tok were my friends.
After a while I decided to invest in better equipment. I would talk to my dad and uncle who were my idols at the grill. I learned something new each time I had a conversation. I tried different techniques and tweaked them a little to suit my style of grilling. Then one day I realized “I was pretty consistent now”. I analyzed the why.
Grilling Korean short ribs, I learned “slow and steady”. I marinate the ribs the night before so the sauce would cause flare ups. If the grill isn’t so hot, less flare ups. I recognized the hot spots of the grill, every grill has them. I would compensate for the hot spots by moving the meat around to suit them. On my steaks I learned keeping a thickness as a constant was key. Usually 1” – 1 ½” works best for me. Watching You Tube videos, I adapted a technique I use all the time now. Sear each side of the steak for a minute or two first at extreme high heat then move over to medium heat. 5 minutes first side, then 4 minutes the second side usually gives you medium rare to medium consistently. Key thing here too was I was passionate about it.
Being in the footwear business for 42 years should make me an expert right? There are so many different areas though, it depends on what your focus is. In 2004 I was asked to head up a Private label division that was struggling. I knew very little about this area of the footwear industry. So what did I do? I read up on manufacturing, called my friends in the business to take me on factory tours. Learned about the process and why different lasts can affect the fit. It was a lot. I looked at the branded side and figured out the steps of making a brand marketable. Details, as Rob Shields use to say. What kind of box are they going is? Tissue paper, leather components. I remember Harry Holmes who was a big influence of the success Nordstrom had in their Private label program. He would always say we want to make the best 70 dollar shoe a customer could buy without over charging them. Quality… I took on that practice too. After a few seasons I knew the process, the components and how important it was when the customer opened the box, what they would experience. All this because I bought into deliberate practice.
Breaking it down, I listened to people who were in the business doing it for years, analyzed the feedback, repeated the wins in popular lasts and made refinements along the way. I was on my way to being an expert in manufacturing private label product in 4 short years. We increased our Private label business from 1% of the companies volume to 8%. Out of the 10 brands we created 3 that were in the top 10 from a pool of thousands of brands and the others were creeping up to top 30 status.
My wife Linda was a professional figure skater as teenager. There are a few things she has said over the years that have stuck out to me. These are lessons she learned from coaches who helped her get to Ice Capades. When you fall, get back up. When she was nervous about a jump her coach would tell her “you already made the jump, focus on entertaining the crowd”. I find that profound. Too many times we psych ourselves out whether it’s talking to a large group or performing a triple axle. You already made the jump, entertain…you can argue being a professional figure skater is the definition of what deliberate practice is all about, it has all the elements there. But when you think about the simple phrase “entertain them” it puts everything in perspective.
From Figure skating she went into Interior design. She got her degree with an emphasis on lighting design. With the 10,000 hours rule she definitely qualifies as an expert but it’s more than that. She is passionate about her work. She delights in the fact that she changes peoples lives with her design. She takes it personal, but in a good way. She puts her heart and soul into each project. I know, because for the last 14 years I’ve been with her ,I’ve seen it first-hand. The projects I’ve seen her create are something short of breathtaking. They are simply amazing. One project more beautiful than the next and all different. She has done mid-century modern, themed projects, beach inspired, modern and my favorite resort style living with a Zen twist. I am in awe of how she does it. It goes to show you if you practice your craft, and make adjustments or improvements each time, you will truly be an expert and maybe just maybe, be passionate about your work in the process.
SIZES... SIZES... SIZES... SIZES...
…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career.
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