The Making of an Expert

“There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.” – Zig Ziglar

The future of human potential has no bounds. In these times of great change, we’re seeing a spectrum of technological and scientific breakthroughs, at a scale we never have before.

Only in recent months, we have witnessed the first self-driving vehicle come to market; genetically engineered immune cells designed to fight off cancer; the first DNA App Store, which puts personal genetic data about health risks and predispositions right at your fingertips; and robots that teach each other how to solve problems faster (Source: MIT Technology Review 2016).

None of these breakthroughs happened by taking shortcuts. They took perseverance in the face of failure, the continuous pursuit of knowledge, and a relentless passion for solving big problems. This is what defines excellence.

In the technology industry, we see the evidence of this pursuit of excellence in the work of digital technology leaders every day, though it’s behind the scenes more often than not. I am extremely proud of the technology rock stars of our industry, who have tackled big-business and public-sector problems and set the gold standard for technology mastery and leadership. These are the men and women who are breaking new ground and improving our business experience, the customer experience and the human experience. These are the “digital masters” who built the network that powers the Internet, stock exchanges around the globe, aviation systems that track millions of aircraft in the air at the same time, and healthcare systems that can reach patients in underserved communities and geographies.

While these experts can share firsthand accounts of their rigorous journeys to reach such achievements and to earn the highest technology certification in the industry, they will also tell you that it is the application of their expertise to real-life and business problems that is the real return on investment.

Ask any of these technology experts how they reached the top, and they will seldom tell you it was easy, or that they got there without a few trials and tribulations along the way. The best of the best don’t cut corners, and they certainly didn’t bypass or hotwire critical learning, principles, or laboratory exercises on their journey to the highest level of professional certification.

The net-net is this: There isn’t a cheat sheet to excellence or to becoming an expert. You have to do the work to reap the rewards.

Experts Are Made, Not Born

The journey to excellence is neither for the faint of heart, nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires tenacity, sacrifice, honest self-assessment, and true expert mentorship. While a theory popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers claimed that 10,000 hours of practice can turn anyone into an expert, other scientists and social psychologists have debunked such findings more recently (such as in a study by a group of psychologists from five universities that rebuffs Gladwell's wisdom).

It is my belief that it is less about the time per se, and more about the quality of a continuous and meaningful practice. While you do need to be in it for the long haul, you also need to be in it for the love of the craft and for the contribution you can make to something far bigger than obtaining a prestigious award or professional certification.

All this is easier said than done, some will say. Again, there’s no denying that you will need to invest a lot of time to become an expert. However, the secret that the experts have come to realize is that you need to invest this time wisely. But “how?” you ask–with all your other commitments–both professional and personal?

Stay tuned for my next blog in this “Future Leaders Series”, where I address this question in detail and explode three common myths about the road to excellence and becoming an “expert” in your field.

The real question you must ask yourself is this: Are you committed to a lifelong expedition and exploration of knowledge?

Certainly, working toward professional credentials is an instrumental part of the journey to becoming an expert in your chosen field–whether through an MBA, Ph.D., or technology certification. However, the pursuit of excellence only begins there. You must see your new credentials as the foundation of your commitment to lifelong learning and continuous pursuit of knowledge.

Above all, if you want to achieve the highest level of performance as a leader in your field, you’ve got to forget the conventional wisdom about what it means to be a “genius.” The old-fashioned notion about born geniuses falsely inspires the belief that one cannot take a methodical and proactive approach to developing expertise and reaching the top. Have faith in your ability to continuously learn and evolve your craft and commit to it.

As Thomas Edison said, “genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”

I truly believe we are all capable of great things and that if you pledge yourself to a journey of continuous learning, you can do anything you set your mind to do. With the right plan of attack for your own personal journey to expert, and the right support system of learning resources, mentors, and training, YOU can exceed even your own expectations.

For more on how to forge your own career path to mastery, I encourage you to check out my new book I’m the Boss of Me.

There has never been a more exciting time to be at the forefront of technology and solving some of the world’s biggest challenges. True experts revel in their “knowledge expedition.” They would never have made it any other way.

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.