Originally published in: Forbes

My question was innocent: “How do you remember all your patients, doctor? What do you do to get better at treating your patients?”

I was genuinely curious. I was seeing my acupuncturist during my recent trip to South Korea. My back was hurting from all the traveling I’d been doing. I fly at least twice a month and sometimes twice in one week. I needed proper care so I could continue my intense travel schedule as a global workplace expert. Like me, my doctor was always busy. Every time I visited him, he had a long line of patients. Beyond the traditional records, I wondered how he remembered all of our unique needs and treatment plans?

He answered immediately with a truth that was so obvious and powerful that it stuck with me. “Of course, I should know all my patients and get better at what I do! If not, I’m a fake doctor! I still read a lot, attend training to improve my techniques and I practice a lot. I also take a lot of notes in my patients’ files so that I can remember their needs but also think holistically how their ankle pain, for instance, is related to their headache and wrist pain. See, here are the notes from your meeting and why I know your back and knees hurt from all the traveling.”

In South Korea, Eastern medicine is a highly respected and difficult profession to master, and it was a humbling answer to hear this from one of the most renowned doctors in Korea. Hearing that he never stops learning in order to maintain his mastery reminded me of why I was so mesmerized by both the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Robert Iger’s book The Ride of a Lifetime. Both focus on learning in order to perfect and master their craft. 

How many of us actually spend time mastering our craft? While we want and expect the best of the best as consumers, I don’t see a corresponding level of commitment to the mastering of our craft. 

Too many of us want the dream life without putting in the hard work. That speaker who presented with ease put in a lot of hard work. That amazing noodle soup was delicious because the chef put a lot of thought into the recipe. The practice is what makes it perfect — not simply hoping for it.

In this new decade, what will differentiate the thriving from the surviving is a commitment to mastery, especially in light of all the technology disruptions? The World Economic Forum predicts that more than 1 billion people, one-third of our workforce, will need to learn new skills by 2030 in order to meet the demands of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Furthermore, they predict that by 2022, 42% of the core skills required to perform existing jobs will change. With AI, we’ll also have to think about what we can do as humans that robots cannot.

In other words, students will have to prepare for professions that may not exist yet. Managers will have to re-skill new soft and technical skills if they want to thrive. Parents will need to rethink how to motivate and inspire their children for a future that will be vastly different. While they will face more opportunities, they will also likely experience more anxiety and complexity. Despite the uncertainty, our desire to achieve and to master our craft will not change.

So where do you start?

1. Be curious about what you care about.

You’ll naturally want to learn more about something you care about. As a speaker, you can focus on how you interact with your audience. As a marketer, you can focus on optimizing your process flow and test out what works best with different types of team members. Love binge-watching shows? Think about what stories you are attracted to and why certain characters intrigue you more than others. What would you have done differently if you were to write or direct that show? This curiosity will lead to mastery.

2. Remember who it is for.

Knowing your audience and what they need is a critical piece of crafting your mastery. Why would they use your sales software? Why would they buy a mattress from you? Why do you attract more families to your restaurant than individual guests? Having a deep understanding of who your audience is, why they are buying from you and what they need will help you ideate and improve what you offer.

3. Really know yourself.

Time is finite, so at the end of the day, you really need to understand what makes you, you. How do you learn? Do you like reading or watching videos? Attending events or spending time alone? Do you feel motivated or discouraged by competition? Knowing how you respond will help you not only be more intentional about how you hone your craft but also how you map out your mastery plan. You don’t need to follow what worked for your colleague or competitor because it most likely won’t work for you. And vice versa

As humans, we know exactly how this feels. At my last dental appointment, I was fidgeting and squealing in pain when the nurse did the check-up. She finally paused, gave me a look and said, “What do you want me to do about this? Stop doing the checkup?” The doctor stepped in and reassured me. While I continued to experience discomfort, I was relieved once the task was done.

At the end of the day, genuine, master-level care is what we want and why we will become — and create — loyal consumers.

About the Author

Picture of Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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