While I was studying jazz composition and performance at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, a weathered professor taught me a valuable lesson.  With the wisdom of a Tibetan monk, this sage jazz cat whispered to me with understated confidence, "What you learn today, you'll play in six months."

He was referring to an idea gestation period, a natural timeframe to go from initial learning to muscle memory. I may have understood the scale, riff, or chord he happened to be teaching that day, but it took a good six months to internalize it and make it my own. If I wanted to perform something fresh, new, and bold, I needed to begin the learning process six months prior.

As his purposeful words have echoed in my mind over the past 25 years, I've realized that this concept covers far more ground than just jazz guitar licks. The six-month rule applies to numerous aspects of business and life: What you learn today, you can fully apply in six months.

Think of health and fitness. For most people, six months of healthy eating and exercise will enable a stunning transformation in both looks and well-being. The decision to get in shape takes six months to manifest.  If you want to become reasonably knowledgeable in Asian currency fluctuations, salmon fisheries, or assembly line logistics, a solid six months of study will bring you to point where you can hold a thoughtful conversation. 

Six months of focused energy can transform broken relationships, reinvent sales and marketing practices, or establish lifetime habits. While it doesn't work for everything (brain surgery takes more time to master, learning to make a grilled cheese sandwich takes less), the six-month rule applies to thousands of cases in our lives.

In just six months, you can achieve remarkable progress with this powerful framework. What you first learn today, you can internalize and master in just 180 days with consistent follow-though.

Unfortunately, this simple law gets undermined all too often in our quest for instant gratification. We want the results immediately, without putting in the work, sacrifice, and patience required to bring seeds of ideas to maturity. Farmers fully understand the gestation period between the planting and harvest of their crops; we need to do the same for our own progress.

Think of the person you want to be six months from now. The skills you want to posses, the knowledge you want to command. Think, too, of the business you want six months out. The clients. The deals. The team members. With this new six-month vision, reverse-engineer what you need to learn today in order to enable your vision to materialize.  Six months at a time, you'll consistently marshal yourself and your company to your own field of dreams--fully ready for harvest.

Decide what you want today, and enjoy the win six months out.  Music to my ears.

Published on: Mar 23, 2015