The Ridiculously Easy Way to Become a World Class Talent – (You may already be one and not know it!)

First up, this column is going to be short. Has to be, I promised it would be easy. Ridiculously easy, even.

Second of all, my inspiration was from this guy:

Scott Adams, "Dilbert" creator
Scott Adams, “Dilbert” creator

Here is his concept told in my own way, which I am sure he elaborates upon with much more eloquence in his new book:

So, here goes.

When I was a kid, I put posters up on my walls of people I thought were the best in the world. Mine were mostly guitarists. Maybe yours were sports stars, or super models.

I aspired to be the greatest, just like them. Maybe you did, too.

What happened? If you relentlessly ran after your dreams, and had enough genetic and environmental fortuitousness, you probably got pretty good at whatever that was. I believe I can say without too much boasting, I have become a world-class guitarist. But, greatest in the world? Ummm, no. Not by a long shot.

So, is that dream even still achievable? It is not completely impossible, but even if I were to muster up a 10-year dedication to 24/7 day-to-night boot camps of practicing scales, soloing, and other related skills; I would only reasonably expect to end up somewhere within the top 1,000 of guitar players worldwide when all was said and done. And, I’m guessing that if you started naming every guitar player you ever knew – including your weird uncle, and that guy from that band you used to go to school with – you’d be hard pressed to list even 100 guitar players without consulting the Google box.

Guitarists are...different
Guitarists are…different

So, am I saying dedication to becoming the best in the world at a skill is a waste of time? Of course not. But, what I am saying is that it is a very impractical way to develop marketable value.

For many skills, there isn’t even 100 people earning a living doing what they are the greatest in the world at. Take the chess world, for instance. Most people regard the study of chess as a noble pursuit, and consider top tier players to be walking geniuses. That skill does not equal automatic riches, however, unless you are playing for World Championships. This article lists potential earnings for chess players close to the bottom of the top-100 as potentially earning $50-70k annually, and then, only if they were to maximize their talent’s value in giving lessons, writing books, and hustling.

2016 World Chess Championship
2016 World Chess Championship

So, yeah, brevity. I need to get to the point.

The First Benchmark – Top 10% of the general population

It is insanely hard to become the best at anything. Conversely, it is insanely easy to be in the top 5%-10% of a skill compared to the general population. Quite often, simply habitually doing the skill will be enough. I will attempt to not bore you with statistics, but what percentage of the population do you believe routinely takes an easel out by the lake and paints landscapes? A tenth of one percent? Less?

Landscape G.O.A.T. Bob Ross
Landscape G.O.A.T. Bob Ross

Just purchasing the supplies needed to get started puts you reasonably close to the magical 10% mark! With even marginal intelligence and aptitude, you would sail into the upper-echelons of the general population within just a matter of weeks.

The problem begins when we stop comparing ourselves to the general population, and start comparing ourselves to the masters of our chosen field.

My wife and I threw a painting party for our kids. We built a couple dozen wooden easels, bought a crapload of paint and brushes, and let the kids go at it.

Bratton Family Painting Party setup, 2016
Bratton Family Painting Party setup, 2016

I can honestly say, I was super impressed with the group effort that came out of that experience. I thought the work was extremely talented. That being said, I do not paint professionally. I do recognize the fact that nothing looked quite as elaborate as Mr. Ross’ efforts seen above – but that didn’t make the kid’s paintings garbage. In fact, that one night of painting was probably enough to put them ahead of about 50-60% of the population who has never painted at all.

The Second Benchmark – Top 50% of skilled practitioners 

Reaching this second benchmark is also an achievable reality. You don’t need much but passion and determination. Reaching this second benchmark is even possible in sports if you are at a genetic disadvantage. This is the classic, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” scenario.

You should expect to only spend 6 months to a year to reach this milestone. You see, the skill level of people in your chosen field usually follows the classic bell curve.

Classic Bell Curve
Classic Bell Curve

The people you pass at the -2 and -1 deviations are not even actively pursuing the skill. You will pass them so fast, your head will spin. Most of the people that populate that 34% between the -1 deviation and your 50% milestone are completely stagnant in their education and advancement. You, on the other hand, are improving every day! Reaching the midpoint is simply a matter of will. Making further progress, however, is not an easy endeavor.

The Third Benchmark – World-Class (top 5-10% of skilled practitioners)

There is a multitude of material about this subject. In the interest of brevity again…

(Geez, I know, I know…)

It takes 10 years and/or 10,000 repetitions to become world-class

The classic belief is it takes at least 10 years and/or 10,000 repetitions to become world-class at any skill. If you want to go past that, and attempt to become the greatest in the world at that talent, well, good luck. But, this column is not about that. In fact, it is about how every one of us has the potential to become valuable in our own way, at this same world-class level.

The Talent Stack

Back to Scott Adams. He says there’s 2 ways to make yourself valuable. The first way is to be like Tiger Woods, and be the best in the world at something. That isn’t achievable for most of us. The second way is to develop a variety of skills that work well together. He calls this your “talent stack.”

Perhaps it would behoove you to start listing out your talent stack as it stands today?

Sweet skills.
Sweet skills.

I just finished recording my 3rd CD. I did each of these completely by myself. Without really thinking about it, I developed a complimentary talent stack in pursuit of this goal. I have educated myself on audio engineering. I have learned to play a variety of instruments other than the guitar. I have learned to sing. I studied songwriting and arranging. I learned enough about computers to build the machine I use to record. I watched some Photoshop tutorials so I could design my album covers. I worked enough with visuals to be able to create lyric videos for YouTube. And, I did just enough carpentry to be able to assemble a rudimentary work desk to hold it all together.

To market my music, I put together this basic website and started actively participating in social media. I even started writing a weekly blog post full of valuable info to lure people in.      ahem…

Now realize, I would consider NONE of these skills to be in the “world-class” category. Some barely pass the ‘greater than 90% of the population’ mark! Nevertheless, here I am with my 3rd completed project in hand.

What if I waited until I was world-class at each skill before attempting my first project?

Trick question. I don’t think it is even possible to become world-class at anything without exercising that skill in a real-world way. The short answer however would be, you’d still be waiting for project 1.

Most successful people you know are not the best in the world at any one thing. Some talents, like persuasion or charisma, are actually a collection of various social abilities and can be difficult to measure. For example, here is Mr. Adams’ take on our President-elect.

Trump's talent stack
Trump’s talent stack

I think Scott Adams may be short-changing Trump’s negotiating ability a bit. Very few people on this planet work out multi-million dollar deals with any sort of regularity. So, that may be at a world-class level, but the rest most certainly is not. No matter what you think of him, this humble talent stack (and a corrupt DNC) won him the most powerful office on Earth.

Your talent stack, when laid out on paper, is probably equally impressive to Mr. Trumps. It may even look much, much better. If it isn’t, we’ve already discovered it isn’t too difficult to improve your talent stacks with minimal effort. Get to it!

Final Thoughts

  • Your collection of abilities probably make you pretty uniquely valuable already.
  • I personally chased after skills in pursuit of a goal. Is there a skill set you could learn that would make a dream goal possible?
  • Could your skills work well together to create something useful?

Also, apparently I have some work to do on my talent for brevity… But, since you’re still here, you should…      (follow the instructions below the line)


Pre-order your copy of Gregory’s new CD, Almost Alive, on iTunes.

3 Reasons You Should Create Something Now, (Even if you aren’t creative!)

I am surrounded by amazing, talented, creative people. Being around amazing, talented, creative people is infectious.

City Church Savannah Logo
City Church Savannah Logo

Within the small community of City Church Savannah, I have been afforded the friendship of individuals who have worked on major Hollywood films, people who have taken creative jobs with Pixar and Disney, a young man who was mentored by John Legend, and a team of award-winning filmmakers. The bar is set high if you want to garner any praise or attention within my circle of friends. The entry level is literally, world-class. I am not certain how many places outside of Nashville or Hollywood can boast such a population glut of talent.

It was one of these talented people who led me to write this column. Dylan is a captivating soulful vocalist and an exceptionally smart guitarist. I knew these things. What I didn’t know was that he is also an avid doodler. With a wide-eyed excitement, he showed me a diverse cast of hand-drawn characters he has been creating over the last few days. Now keep in mind, one of Dylan’s roommates is a prestigous art college graduate with a major in animation. And while Dylan seems to possess a raw artistic ability, I believe he would be the first to admit he is still early on in his study of the craft.

Dylan Puckett
Dylan Puckett

The more I thought about Dylan’s doodle endeavors, the more mental health benefits I began to realize in the idea of seeking out these new sorts of creative outlets.

REASON 1: CREATIVITY IS GOOD FOR YOUR WELL BEING

Dylan, as I said before, is a proficient guitarist. It would be easy and natural for him to express himself creatively on this instrument. Many years of discipline and practice got him to that point. It would also be natural, however, to wonder how someone who has successfully “climbed that skill mountain” as a musician could take pleasure as a novice artist, especially while surrounded with people who are more talented and experienced than he is. It reminds me of a story from Robert Fulghum’s book, Uh-Oh: Some Observations From Both Sides of the Refrigerator Door.

Robert Fulghum
Robert Fulghum, Uh-oh… (1991)

Ask a kindergarten class, “How many of you can draw?” and all hands shoot up. Yes, of course we can draw—all of us. What can you draw? Anything! How about a dog eating a fire truck in a jungle? Sure! How big you want it?

How many of you can sing? All hands. Of course we sing! What can you sing? Anything! What if you don’t know the words? No problem, we make them up. Let’s sing! Now? Why not!

How many of you dance? Unanimous again. What kind of music do you like to dance to? Any kind! Let’s dance! Now? Sure, why not?

Do you like to act in plays? Yes! Do you play musical instruments? Yes! Do you write poetry? Yes! Can you read and write and count? Yes! We’re learning that stuff now.

Their answer is Yes! Over and over again, Yes! The children are confident in spirit, infinite in resources, and eager to learn. Everything is still possible.

Try those same questions on a college audience. A small percentage of the students will raise their hands when asked if they draw or dance or sing or paint or act or play an instrument. Not infrequently, those who do raise their hands will want to qualify their response with their limitations: “I only play piano, I only draw horses, I only dance to rock and roll, I only sing in the shower.”

When asked why the limitations, college students answer they do not have talent, are not majoring in the subject, or have not done any of these things since about third grade, or worse, that they are embarrassed for others to see them sing or dance or act. You can imagine the response to the same questions asked of an older audience. The answer: No, none of the above.

What went wrong between kindergarten and college?

What happened to YES! of course I can?

And who can forget the words of Jesus written in Matthew 18:3?

87c18b92e896ed930e4928b4f0855774

Maybe that seems like a turbulent segue to you, but it truly is not. For we were CREATED in the image of our CREATOR. (Genesis 1:27-28) Creativity is interwoven within your very DNA because you were made ‘reflecting God’s nature.’ I even suspect that you might not achieve everything you were appointed to accomplish in this life until you purpose to unlock your inner creative potential.

Your brain responds favorably to this exercise. A study from Missouri State University in 1999 concluded:

…Creative activity contributes to successful aging by fostering a sense of competence, purpose, and growth. Artistic creativity also facilitates successful aging by encouraging the development of problem-solving skills, motivation, and perceptions that translate into a practical creativity in the way these individuals manage their everyday lives.

Go, bears! ;)
Go, bears! 😉

So yeah, back to Dylan and I discussing cartooning. I shared with him that waaaaay back when I was in music college I farted around with making a comic strip revolving around the lives of eager, yet hapless kids trying to start a rock and roll band. It was perhaps a way to laugh off the daily struggles of managing crazy musician personalities.

Class, meet Ricky Rockstar. (that’s his stage name, of course)

This is embarrassing. :)
This is embarrassing. 🙂

I confessed to Dylan that I was never able to convincingly draw my characters when they turned their heads. This made character interaction seem unnatural, and this ‘skill hurdle’ grew from a pesky obstacle into a decades-long stop sign. Upon hearing my struggles, Dylan excitedly found a pen and a scrap of paper, and began frantically drawing a series of 3D cylinders with rotated guide lines and features. In about 30 seconds, Dylan showed me how I could have overcome my limitations. And that brings me to the 2nd reason to create.

 REASON 2: YOUR CREATIVITY CAN HELP OTHERS

You may have never stopped long enough to realize that practically every thing you experience each day was meticulously created for your consumption. You woke up in a bed that was designed for your maximum comfort. You took a shower thanks to a system of water treatment and distribution that didn’t ‘just happen.’ You brushed your teeth with a toothpaste that was specifically-formulated using ingredients from all over the planet to give you fresh breath. (at least I hope you did.) Then you put on clothes that may have went through a thousand tweaks and revisions during conceptualization. You may have taken a car or bus to work. That invention alone is a combination of a million ideas working in harmony to facilitate your safe arrival to your destination.

I could continue this, but I think you get it now. Your entire day is spent consuming the creativity of others. Even when we turn it all off and go enjoy nature, there is a supernatural hand at work. What I suggest, is for you take a break from consumption, and try a hand at production. Produce something. Make something out of nothing. There’s truly nothing like it.

Get creative!
Get creative!

I can hear you now. You’re never going to be able to learn to sing, play an instrument, write a novel, design a car… And even if you tried, no one would be blessed by it. My answer is simple. You are wrong. You may not have discovered it yet, but there are people desperate to consume what you are meant to produce. Finding out exactly what that looks like is one of the great mysteries and secrets of life.

Take my friend, Sarah, also originally from City Church. She is a top-notch vocalist – can harmonize on the fly, and leads worship with effortless command of the stage. But it was the blog she created that really blew me away. In it, she opens up about her struggles with bipolar disorder. Not just the sanitized Christiany parts we can all easily digest – but the real tortured struggle she fights each day.

Sarah Phillips
Sarah Phillips

That is such an inspiration to me. I am shamed by my struggles. I always attempt to project an image that I always have it together even when I do not. Sarah, on the other hand, is willing to open up about her private life for the betterment of others. And, that isn’t the only thing she writes about on her website. She also has recipes, detox, beauty tips, and a whole lot more! (check it out) She and her husband, Max, have created something capable of sharing her learned experiences with the entire world. This is valuable, and something worth emulating. And this leads us to the 3rd reason…

REASON 3: YOUR CREATIVITY IS VALUABLE

A funny thing happens when you become a producer. People start consuming your work. Some people may actually like it and begin seeking it out. This is wondrously fulfilling and presents opportunity for monetization. At this point, you should seek out a more business-minded person to maximize your earning potential. I am sadly not yet an expert in that field. 😉

That being said, it isn’t all sunshine and roses when you release your creation to the big, bad, ugly world. Be prepared for the haters. No matter what you make, some people won’t like it, get it, or want to be bothered by it. This is okay, and part of the process. Vincent van Gogh sold a grand total of 1 painting in his lifetime. Steven Spielberg was denied entry into USC’s film school twice. Dr. Suess’ first children’s book was rejected by 27 publishers.

How do you find the confidence and perseverance to mail out that 28th manuscript? I am not sure. I can tell you, as an artist, the compliments often mean little and the criticisms can hurt too much. It takes courage to create. This process makes you stronger. Strong people become leaders, and leaders are infinitely valuable – whether you get a paycheck for it or not. You can use this hard-earned personal value to greatly affect your world.

FINAL THOUGHT

When you become mindful of what it is like to be a producer, you take this unique worldview with you into your daily consumer life. Did you really like that book you read from that independent author? Send him an email and let him know.

Is there someone on your social media who always goes the extra mile to make you laugh? Don’t just “like” it. Express to them how their efforts make your world a little better place.

Has this column inspired you to flex your dormant creative muscles? Awesome! Maybe then, you could…


Pre-order your copy of Gregory’s new CD, Almost Alive, on iTunes.

A Non-Partisan Guide To Watching Election 2016

This is not a column for the people who live politics 24/7. This is a short, helpful primer to allow you to speak knowledgeably about the topic tomorrow as you watch the returns come in with your friends and family.

Clinton Vs. Trump, Decision 2016
Clinton Vs. Trump, Decision 2016

The Scoreboard

Candidates compete to win the popular vote in each state. Each state is allotted a number of electoral delegates based upon population. Larger states have more delegates. The margin of popular vote victory in each state is unimportant. A win of a single popular vote will award the entire slate of delegates to the victor. (Maine and Nebraska can split their vote.)

There is a grand total of 538 electoral votes in play. Winning 270 is necessary to become the next President of the United States.

The Starting Line

There are a number of states which reliably vote Democrat or Republican each election. These states will invariably be “called” immediately upon the closing of the polls. Because of the time zones, results will come in for the East Coast states first. If you want to have any idea who is going to win without having to stay up all night, analysis of a few key races here may be all you need.

Based upon latest polls as of November 7, 2016
Based upon latest polls as of November 7, 2016

The farther to the right or left the state is listed denotes the lead the candidate currently has in the state. For example, there is no one who reasonably predicts California to vote for Donald Trump, or for Alabama to back Secretary Clinton. In an effort to predict the winner, we can sort these expected outcomes into the columns above and reach a “Starting Line” score of 203-164 favoring Clinton, with 171 delegates remaining in the “toss up” category.

Swing States

This is where the election will be decided, and will monopolize television coverage throughout the night. The biggest prizes of Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio will be the focus. Since Hillary should have a significant lead, Trump can not afford to lose many of these states and be successful. Donald needs to win at least 106 out of the 171 toss up delegates to be victorious.

Early Indicators (How to look like an expert!)

The ginormous question mark this election cycle is about the accuracy of the polls.

Several recent worldwide polling efforts, including the Brexit vote, have proven to be wildly inaccurate. The East Coast returns will give us our first indication of what we can expect. Although Trump still trails in most polls, supporters argue that his popular support is weighted down due to under sampling and the Bradley effect. Under sampling refers to the ratio of Democrats to Republicans included in the poll results. These are often based upon the previous election voter turnout. Trump supporters believe that the Republican turnout will be greater than that of 2012. The Bradley effect is the belief that those who intend to vote for Mr. Trump are less inclined to admit it publicly for fear of being ridiculed, and are therefore under counted.

  • SOUTH CAROLINA, GEORGIA

These should be easy victories for Donald Trump. If these races are not called within a half hour or so of the 7pm poll closing times, it would signal the start of a long night for the Manhattan businessman.

  • NEW HAMPSHIRE

This is in the “toss up” category, but has voted Democrat 5 out of the last 6 cycles. If Trump can win here in deep blue New England, he may very well carry the Midwest “rust belt” state of Pennsylvania, almost insuring him the Presidency.

Final Conclusion

I believe early on it will be apparent if either candidate is outperforming their polling. If it is Hillary doing so, you can go to bed confident in knowing you will wake up with a female President-elect. Her lead is already substantial. If Trump is beating the polls, try to figure out by how much.

swing
Current lead in each swing state

Trump will need to overcome a 1 point margin to win Florida and its 29 electoral votes. The toughest challenge would be to win Virginia. He would need to outperform his polls by over 5%. Winning Virginia is not necessary for an overall Trump victory, however. If he can manage to get actual voters to turn out a single percentage point ahead of his current estimate, he would win Florida and New Hampshire out of Hillary’s column and eke out a narrow 270-268 victory.

map2016

So, as you can see, the margin is razor thin! It should be an exciting night, for sure. Be sure to get out and vote if you have an opinion. Treat each other with respect and dignity, no matter who they are pulling for. Remember we are all Americans out there and will have to live with each other when this whole thing is over!

Old Glory!
Old Glory!

Pre-order your copy of Gregory’s new CD, Almost Alive, on iTunes.