The key to being fantastic at your chosen field is to reach what Charlie Munger called “testable fluency” in the basics so that you are able to perform the higher ideas like a meastro.
This concept is simple: Mozart was able to compose so brilliantly because he could play almost anything by sight or ear. Likewise, Charles Dickens wouldn’t have been able to write Oliver Twist had he not had a firm grasp of the English language. Higher levels of performance are only available to those who have testable fluency in the basics. Say it over and over to yourself: Testable fluency in the basics.
I’m often asked how I can write so frequently on this site and on my About.com site despite having a full time career. The reason is – you guessed it – I’ve reached testable fluency in the basics:
- I type somewhere between 120 and 132 words per minute with 98% to 99.5% accuracy.
- I have a tremendous grasp of the basics of English, meaning I often think and write in completed sentences and paragraphs.
The result is that when I want to communicate an idea to you, the audience, I can sit down to a machine and start talking as if we were at a coffee shop together. I’m not fumbling with a computer system trying to figure out how it works or pecking at keys. The testable fluency I reached with the basics allows me to cut to the chase and focus on my goal not on the mechanics of achieving it. The typing, the structure, become nothing more than means to an end with the end being communicating an idea or concept.
If you really want to excel, you cannot be fumbling with the basics. Learn the basics over and over, deconstruct and reconstruct them, scrap them, reassemble them. Turn them, shake them, process them, and then try to explain what you’ve learned to an audience, forcing you to communicate clearly and solidify your knowledge.
It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about construction or finance, music or literature, architecture or fashion. You must reach testable fluency in the basics. Just because exceptions to the rule exist (e.g., Pavarotti not being able to read sheet music) doesn’t mean you should ignore this fundamental principal of success. Life is hard enough; why stack the odds against yourself? You should be lining up for every advantage you can get!
Say it again: Testable fluency of the basics.