The Making of a Master

michael jordan final shot

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” — Michael Jordan

Gary Player, one of the greatest golfers in the history, famously commented “the harder I practice, the luckier I get.” This tongue-in-cheek statement underscores a subtle point: professionals are rarely born with superior talent, rather they become successful through struggle, sacrifice, and honest (often painful) self-assessment [1]. In fact, research has shown that almost all of experts surveyed in fields as diverse as darts to surgery share the following three traits: they have practice intensively, studied with devoted teachers, and have been supported enthusiastically by their families throughout their developing years [3].

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is widely recognized as being among the greatest composers in Western history [2]. However, fewer people are aware of is that Mozart had an vast headstart over his contemporaries: he was tutored since he was four years old by his father—a skilled composer in his own right—who also happened to be a famous music teacher and who had written one of the first books on violin instruction [1]. Young Mozart, though undoubtedly gifted, in many ways was destined to become a great composer not solely because of his talent, but rather as a result of the intense amount of time he (and his father) had invested in developing his skill as a composer.

Becoming a professional in your field requires what is best termed ‘deliberate practice’. According to Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, a leading theoretical and experimental expert on expertise, “deliberate practice entails more than simply repeating a task—playing a C-minor scale 100 times, for instance, or hitting tennis serves until your shoulder pops out of its socket. Rather, it involves setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome” [3]: Success is the result of committing to the fundamentals over and over again. Michael Jordan famously said: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”


[1] Ericsson, K. A., Prietula, M. J., & Cokely, E. T. (2007, July-August). The Making of an
Expert. Harvard Business Review.

[2] Sadie, S. (2015, April 30) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Austrian composer. Britannica.

[3] Dubner, S. J., & Levitt, S. D. (2006, May 7). A Star Is Made. The New York Times Magazine.

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