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Belief in Your Organizational Skills

I think organization is a skill.

Some people may need to sharpen their organizational skills or learn them from the ground up.

The easy part is learning those skills.

The hard part is believing that we are even capable of learning them.

No Smarter Than You

Steve Jobs was a visionary. A man seemingly ahead of his time.

I celebrate him for his quote that changed my life.

I love quotes and collect them and re-read them constantly. They are a constant source of motivation for me.

Very few change my life though. This one did:

When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.
I remember when I first read that quote it changed how I thought about the world. I started thinking maybe he is right, maybe I can make a difference.

Marathon Man

I heard the comedian and film maker Mike Birbiglia on a podcast once talk about seeing successful comedians and feeling like all of them were on mile 24 of a marathon and he was just getting to mile 3 or 4.

What that Jobs quote made me realize and what I should have thought when I heard that Birbiglia comment, was this. Sure, people may seem further along than me, but they had to start somewhere too. Once, they were just like me. In this place and with these fears.

Suddenly, instead of thinking if I could do something, I started thinking if somebody has already done it, there is no reason I can’t.

What this shift in mindset does is you start to see amazing accomplishments as fuel to drive your own quest and not as fear to make you stop.

The Knowledge

For instance, William Poundstone writes in Head in the Cloud:

A case in point is the Knowledge, the notoriously difficult test required of London taxi drivers. As the guidebook for applicants explains: To achieve the required standard to be licensed as an “All London” taxi driver you will need a thorough knowledge, primarily, of the area within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. You will need to know: all the streets; housing estates; parks and open spaces; government offices and departments; financial and commercial centres; diplomatic premises; town halls; registry offices; hospitals; places of worship; sports stadiums and leisure centres; airline offices; stations; hotels; clubs; theatres; cinemas; museums; art galleries; schools; colleges and universities; police stations and headquarters buildings; civil, criminal and coroner’s courts; prisons; and places of interest to tourists. In fact, anywhere a taxi passenger might ask to be taken. There are twenty-five thousand streets to be learned within this six-mile radius. Not only that, the London taxi driver is also expected to be a living GPS, capable of promptly describing an efficient route between any two named points.

Can you imagine that? Could you memorize all those routes and landmarks and streets?

I truly believe if you or I wanted to – and I mean really wanted to – we could.

But we just don’t believe that, do we?

We might shake our head and say yes, I know that. But deep down inside, we don’t we have that little voice that reminds us of all the reasons we couldn’t possibly do that.

But what if it was just a matter of training and not genes or some gift from the gods?

Perfect Pitch

Anders Ericsson has done amazing research on expertise. In his latest book, Peak, he tells a story about perfect pitch that encapsulates the switch all of us need to make in how we think about experts and our ability to join their ranks.

From Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise:

The technical term is “absolute pitch,” although it is better known as “perfect pitch,” and it is exceptionally rare—only about one in every ten thousand people has it. It is much less rare among world-class musicians than among the rest of us, but even among virtuosos it is far from normal: Beethoven is thought to have had it; Brahms did not. Vladimir Horowitz had it; Igor Stravinsky did not. Frank Sinatra had it; Miles Davis did not.

What if you didn’t have to be a prodigy or icon like Beethoven, Horowitz or Sinatra?

Perfect Pitch: Nature or Nuture?

Again from Peak:

The true character of perfect pitch was revealed in 2014, thanks to a beautiful experiment carried out at the Ichionkai Music School in Tokyo and reported in the scientific journal Psychology of Music. The Japanese psychologist Ayako Sakakibara recruited twenty-four children between the ages of two and six and put them through a months-long training course designed to teach them to identify, simply by their sound, various chords played on the piano. The chords were all major chords with three notes, such as a C-major chord with middle C and the E and G notes immediately above middle C. The children were given four or five short training sessions per day, each lasting just a few minutes, and each child continued training until he or she could identify all fourteen of the target chords that Sakakibara had selected. Some of the children completed the training in less than a year, while others took as long as a year and a half. Then, once a child had learned to identify the fourteen chords, Sakakibara tested that child to see if he or she could correctly name individual notes. After completing training every one of the children in the study had developed perfect pitch and could identify individual notes played on the piano. This is an astonishing result. While in normal circumstances only one in every ten thousand people develops perfect pitch, every single one of Sakakibara’s students did. The clear implication is that perfect pitch, far from being a gift bestowed upon only a lucky few, is an ability that pretty much anyone can develop with the right exposure and training. The study has completely rewritten our understanding of perfect pitch.

Anders goes on to sum it up beautifully:

In short, perfect pitch is not the gift, but, rather, the ability to develop perfect pitch is the gift—and, as nearly as we can tell, pretty much everyone is born with that gift.


Remember three things:

One, people no smarter than us made everything around us. If they could do it, so can we.

Two, we might not be close to finishing the race or reaching the peak, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue on. Before we know it, we could be the person people look at and say, “Wow, how did he get to where he is today.”

Three, whether we want to memorize every street in London, develop perfect pitch or sharpen our organizational skills, we could if we wanted to. Are we willing to put in the time and make the sacrifice?

The gift we all have is the gift of being able to learn anything we put our mind to.

Anyone of us can do that.

Once we realize that and internalize it, a whole new world of possibilities opens up to us.

As Thomas Edison once said, “If we did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”

How about more astounding ourselves and less thinking of every reason why we can’t do something.

That is the life we need to not only aspire to, but live on a daily basis.

Published in Monthly Experiment Organization

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