Scott H Young

Back to Basics


The success of any venture, be it a project, a goal or your entire life depends entirely on your ability to successfully execute the actions that will produce the result. Action will create success far more than planning, creativity or inspiration can even approach. A beautiful idea, strategy or goal is worth only as much as the action that can follow it. Complex plans are far more likely to fail than a simple strategy. Similarly, it is the most fundamental and basic tools and ideas that really affect the quality of our lives. Focusing on the improving the irrelevant minutia is not nearly as significant as improving the key things we do every day. Success, therefore, comes from mastery of the basics.

Reducing complexity and emphasizing a simple and easily executable strategy is the smartest way to operate. In all of the goals and trials I have conducted I can almost chart their success and failure based on this exact principle. Complexity has killed more of my goals than any other factor including fear, apathy or laziness combined. Plans are far easier to execute in the mind than in the real world.

Similarly to a simple strategy for success is mastering the basics that go into that strategy. Once your strategy is isolated down to a handful of continuously used and repeated skills, mastering those skills to a high degree makes your planning even more effective. Mastering all of the minor concepts in a very diverse and complicated strategy is almost impossible which makes pursuing those ideas even riskier.

Use a Simple Strategy

I can attest to the necessity of finding a simple strategy and mastering the basics involved. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am currently working on an interactive program for goal-setting. Although the program is almost at a release, it took far more effort and dead-ends to achieve even a very simplified version of what I had originally planned. Nearing the end, the program has worked out well, but there were a lot of stumbles because of a plan that was too complex.

Comparing that project to this blog and the difference is quite noticeable. With less focus and time, this blog has grown and shown more success. Although comparing two different mediums for rate of success has flaws, I believe that many of the differences lie in the completely different level of complexity. My strategy for this blog has been very simple and easily executable.

Although it has taken me a few bumps to learn this lesson, keeping things simple is critical to the success of any strategy. If complexity is unavoidable, it should be added incrementally. Starting off with a simple strategy and refining the details later will ensure that the execution is smooth. For example, if you wanted to start a new healthy diet and lifestyle, creating an elaborate and detailed diet and workout regimen might be too complex to start. Just working on exercising for a certain amount per week and limiting your diet to narrowed down categories is a more simplistic strategy. Worrying about particular vitamins and different workout patterns is likely to bog down your progress.

Master the Basics

Once you have a simple strategy for your success in any endeavor, you need to master the fundamental skills in executing this strategy. Mastering the basics can only come once your strategy is simplified heavily. It is impossible to master every skill in a complex plan, so your simplification must come first. With a basic strategy in hand, mastering the fundamental skills will ensure that the execution of that strategy is greatly improved.

The recent work of Dr. K. Anders Ericsson has shed some light on exactly how the process of mastery is achieved. By looking at Ericsson’s research and my own personal experience I believe there are four steps towards mastery. By utilizing these four steps in sequence you can begin to master any skill. As Ericsson’s research suggests, talents are often based far more on conscious practice than genetic or hereditary advantages. By utilizing these four steps with continuous practice you can rapidly improve your mastery of the basics.

The first step is to decide exactly what the basic skills are. Decision is a definite requirement to move forward. With your simple strategy in hand, you need to identify what key skills are necessary to its successful execution. For blogging you might decide that the key skills are writing and researching your subject. For running you could decide that pacing and posture are the key skills. For a new diet, you could identify preparing healthy foods as a key skill. Deciding what the key skills necessary for your success are will allow you to begin mastering those skills.

The second step is to practice constantly. As Ericsson’s research revealed, extremely talented people in any field often had no real distinguishing characteristics on a basic level. Chess Grand Masters were shown to have no higher level of IQ than regular chess players, and their ability was directly related to their high familiarity and experience with chess moves. By practicing those core skills repeatedly you can gain more experience.

The third step is to get immediate feedback. Although the first two steps may have been obvious, this is an important step most people miss. Immediate feedback is critical to improving any skill. This is the reason why most medical doctors who are general practitioners get worse the longer they have been away from their University training, even though surgeons get better. The general practitioner has to wait months before the effects of their diagnoses appear, where as the surgeon will know immediately whether the job has been done effectively or not.

If immediate feedback cannot be obtained, set up a method of achieving it. The example Ericsson provides for this practice is for general practitioners to study the documents of past patients and make diagnoses, and then immediately refer to the results to see if they were accurate. Immediate feedback is critical for practice to have any effect. If you don’t get immediate feedback naturally, invent a method to train with it.

The final step is to set small goals with each practice. Every practice session should have a very specific focus for what you are trying to improve. This is the method used by Toastmasters with their manual projects. The projects in the Toastmasters manual allow you to choose your own speech topic, but each place emphasis on a specific action of speaking, be it word usage, body language or confidence. By focusing on one area to practice you can rapidly improve in it.

With these four steps in hand you can master the basics which are essential to your strategy. By using a simplified strategy and mastering the basic skills related to it, success is far easier. Complex and involved plans often seem sexy and interesting, but they become ugly and painful in real life. By simplifying your own strategy for success to key elements and then mastering those elements, success has to come as a by-product. Leave complexity and diversification for the foolish and get back to basics.


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5 Responses to “Back to Basics”

  1. menace says:

    What if after deciding on your key skills, practicing constantly towards small goals, and seeking out large quantities of immediate feedback, you’re still not very good? How long should one persevere before sacking it in and abandoning oneself to a life of unrewarding drudgery interspersed with cheap and tawdry pleasures?

  2. […] Read it all here: Back to Basics […]

  3. Scott Young says:

    Thanks for the comments menace,

    I can’t give you a direct answer for that question. Bob Parsons, founder of GoDaddy.com is quoted on saying that, “The time you feel closest to giving up is when success breaks through.” I would say that incredible persistence is necessary for your goals, but that is far easier said than done.

    To answer your second question, never. Even if one particular goal or obstacle becomes intractable (although I highly doubt that is the case), persistence for life excellence must never give up ever. Never give up on your drive and faith to live each moment to the fullest.

  4. […] In summary, let the basics be your guide, both in business, and in life! It’s like focusing on your normal days as oppose to your “special days”. Let’s make our everyday activities fruitful and productive instead of focusing on the next salary increase, the coming bonus, the next rung in the corporate ladder, graduation day, wedding day etc. After all, normal days dominate most of your life compared to special days! […]

  5. […] Get back to basics. […]

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