Becoming a Precisionist

By Dan Coughlin

In the midst of the media frenzy over our current economic condition, it recently dawned on me that those who are experts will no doubt survive any recession. People who become experts in their fields have harnessed the power of precision. And this is available to everyone, including executives, employees, and entrepreneurs alike. Achieving precision is the most effective way for any individual to succeed, especially during tough economic times.

The Noble Calling to Be a Precisionist

In Webster’s School & Office Dictionary, the word precision is defined as “the quality of demanding exactness.” A precisionist is a person who has mastered the art of demanding exactness. The precisionist operates among the very best performers in the world within a given area of focus and constantly works to improve his or her performance.

When customers and employers are hit hard in the wallet they become extraordinarily discerning about where they place their dollars. They become highly selective both in terms of what area they invest in and who they invest in. They develop a laser focus about only going after the type of people they absolutely need. This results in recruiters seeking out only the best of the best within that target.

If you want to fall into the extremely small slice of professionals that others will always seek out, then I challenge you to become a precisionist.

The Challenge We All Face

Finding examples of precisionists is not very hard to do. So why does becoming a precisionist remain such a great challenge? Well, we get a little busy with our lives and before we know it today is over with and we’re on to tomorrow. Needless to say, we haven’t exactly made very much progress in becoming more precise in what we’re doing. In other words, our high–paced agendas take over our best intentions.

I think it’s time, especially in such a tough economic period, for us to step off the train of constant activity and make real progress toward becoming true precisionists within one area of focu

The Process of Becoming a Precisionist

There are four steps to mastering the craft of precision:

Step One: Select an Umbrella

Your umbrella is the area of focus you’ve decided to achieve precision within. This is the area you’re committing to operate in over the long term.

Walt Disney was not a great golfer and Tiger Woods never made great family films. They each operated within their own umbrella: Disney in family entertainment and Woods in golf. However, within each umbrella there was plenty of room to maneuver and create.

Walt Disney made family films and television shows, he created theme parks, he licensed products, and he started amazingly popular communities like The Mickey Mouse Club. Tiger Woods plays in professional golf tournaments, he designs golf courses, he promotes golfing products, he hosts his own professional golf tournament, and he created a foundation that has introduced golf to millions of kids who otherwise may never have played the game. Having one area of focus isn’t a limiting factor; it’s actually a freeing factor. It allows you to operate with extraordinary freedom within a given umbrella and that enhances the synergy between everything you do.

What is your umbrella? What is the area of focus that you are going to consistently work within to become a true precisionist? Answer these questions carefully.

Step Two: Maintain a High Degree of Focus for at Least 15 Years

Tiger Woods played competitive golf at age seven and won his first Masters golf tournament at age 21.

Walt Disney started making animated shorts at age 19 and made his first full–length animated film at age 35.

Steve Martin did his first stand–up comedy routine at age 18 and began selling out major venues at age 33.

Harrison Ford set out at the age of 22 to become a great character actor. He received his first major part in 1977 at the age of 34 as Hans Solo in Star Wars. He became Indiana Jones in 1981 and now at the age of 65 he is starring in the fourth Indiana Jones movie. He’s a precisionist.

If you want to be a precisionist in any field, remain committed to constantly improving within your umbrella for at least 15 years. It doesn’t matter whether your focus is to be a great entrepreneur, singer, executive, leader, writer, or manager.

You might be wondering how pursuing precision can help you slice through a recession if it takes at least 15 years to become a precisionist. Here’s how it works. The moment you commit yourself to a specific umbrella, a specific area of focus, you begin to attract people and opportunities that help you hone your craft within that arena. In doing so, you become more attractive to people outside the field. They know what you are focused on and they admire you for pursuing excellence in that field. They may not say that to you, but that’s what happens. You probably won’t make a million dollars, at least not right away, and that’s ok. You are on your way to becoming a precisionist in a field that you have passion for and that sense of adventure is worth a great deal.

Step Three: Leverage Technology

I used to think that technology meant computers, software, and electronics. I wasn’t even close. In Webster’s School and Office Dictionary the definition of technology is “science used in a practical way.” The definition of science is “systemized knowledge obtained by study, observation, and experiment.” Consequently, technology means “systemized knowledge obtained by study, observation, and experiment that is used in a practical way.” I LOVE that definition. That’s exactly what precisionists do.

Tiger Woods is a student of golf: the history of golf, the great players from the past, and the different holes on the different courses. He experiments with different types of shots until he’s able to use them in a practical way during a professional golf tournament.

Walt Disney constantly observed people and experimented with different ways to tell entertaining stories in practical ways. He was one of the first to use color in films, he embraced television when others ran away from it, and he created the first ever theme park.

We all have the ability to leverage technology in order to increase the exactness with which we perform. The key is to constantly study, observe, and experiment within our selected umbrella, and then use what we have learned in practical ways that add value to other people.

Step Four: Embrace Simplicity

Over the past 11 years, I’ve noticed that highly paid, intelligent, and hard–working individuals often times subconsciously make their work infinitely more complicated than it needs to be. In order to justify their salary and prove their commitment to the organization, they put themselves through the ringer. They work 80 hours a week on ridiculously complicated processes that generate small increments of improvement.

If that statement applies to you, I have one piece of advice: stop doing that.

Instead, I encourage you to embrace simplicity. Hone your processes until they contain three to seven steps that you can execute within a reasonable number of hours a week. (And 40 hours a week is a good place to max out at.) And then be ok with achieving great results with simple processes. Don’t fall into the trap that says, “If this simple process generated great results, then a really complicated process would generate even better results.” It doesn’t work that way.

Last year I bought an $1,800 computer that required five steps to assemble. I also bought an $18 toy for my daughter that required assembling hundreds of pieces with dozens of steps. Which company do you think provided me with the most value?

Select your umbrella, maintain focus at learning and experimenting and observing and improving for at least 15 years, leverage your body of knowledge in practical ways, and embrace simple ways to deliver value to other people. With this method, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an expert – a true precisionist.

Dan Coughlin is a business keynote speaker, management consultant, and author of “Accelerate: 20 Practical Lessons to Boost Business Momentum”, which made it to #4 on the Barnes & Noble Business Bestseller List. He has been quoted in USA Today, the New York Times, and Investor’s Business Daily. Dan’s clients include Coca-Cola, Toyota, Boeing, Marriott, McDonald’s, AT&T, American Bar Association, the St. Louis Cardinals, and more than 100 other organizations in over thirty industries. He speaks on entrepreneurial habits, quality, leadership, branding, sales, and innovation

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4 thoughts on “Becoming a Precisionist

  1. Great post Eric! I also have found that those leaders that aren’t trying to prove something tend to really focus and keep things simple. One I spoke to recently was Professor Bob Garrett, internationally known for his work on corporate governance and strategy – a big believer in keeping things simple. Very refreshing! See http://justindavies.com.au/2008/03/19/the-fish-rots-from-the-head/ for more.

    Keep up the great posting, lots of good stuff in your blog…

    All the best

    Justin Davies

  2. Hey Justin, long time my friend! How are things Down Under? Good article — I like the title. I have often used that Chinese saying myself and only recently removed it from my Bio.

    Keep in touch and keep blogging!
    -Eric

  3. Excellent post! I also believe that being a precisionist is a good tool especially when dealing with clients. I find that my clients expect no hesitation and want thorough and exacting information not listen to my stumbling over issue that I did not take the time to focus on. Great Post!

  4. Judy, this is so true. I recently spoke with a client who needed to “vent” about a colleague. The complaint about the colleague was the delivering of slow and imprecise information. To make matters worse, the colleague kept blaming it on other situations, venders, and circumstances. The client did not want nor need to hear this — it was not their problem. This behavior was deemed very unprofessional and left a bad taste in the client’s mouth.

    When something is “not our fault” we want to shift blame. Forget playing the Blame Game and do what it takes to get things right. That is what the client cares about!

    Keep up the good dialog.

    Best, -Eric

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