Gosh, I like the Wall Street Journal a lot. I like this piece, too -
I like the whole piece, except I disagree with the conclusions.
You'd need a certain baseline to be able to do the kind of work or craft you want to do. Enough to understand the discipline. But that's not such a high bar.
If you can understand the discipline, then, is it possible to make incremental progress every single week? Could you tighten your fundamentals, study related disciplines for synergy and crossover, and experiment on the hardest problems every single week?
Really, why not?
Almost everyone sucks at almost everything when they first try it. But do they keep trying, and do they make focused effort at improvement?
If you wanted to be a writer, you could study some fundamental of writing every single week. You could study some related or unrelated field to see if there's some possible synergistic effects. And you could take a crack at doing something difficult in writing every single week.
For instance, you could re-read a part of Elements of Style or On Writing every week. Then you could go through and edit and re-write a piece that's already written to try to make it better using the newly learned rules you're adapting.
Then you could kind of scan around in related or unrelated fields. Personally, I was thinking of doing a sort of "DNA analysis" of successful writing. Have you heard of the Music Genome Project - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_Genome_Project? It powers Pandora.com.
So I was thinking, you could probably do something like that for writing, and then try to craft a written work with elements known to appeal to people. For instance, if you wished to write a best selling detective novel, you might do an analysis of when the antagonist(s) appear in the plot for the first time. You might find that 15% of bestsellers open with the primary antagonist committing their crime, 10% have the antagonist mixed in quickly into the plot, and 75% keep the primary antagonist a vague and shadowy figure until shortly before the climax.
I don't know if the pattern fits that - I don't read many detective novels - but it would be a bit of a surprise if it did. You might think, well, hey, I better either introduce the antagonist right away having them commit their crime, or keep him shadowy for a while.
Or, to use an easier example - perhaps you could wholesale adopt the use of engineering checklists into your chosen discipline? It seems to me like lots of fields don't use checklists that could benefit tremendously from them. I run this through my mind again and again - what kind of checklist could be built here? I first came across the concept of checklists being adopted in surgery from engineering, and then having surgical accidents and mistakes go way down.
And finally, can you try to do something hard in your field regularly? And ideally, complete and perhaps ship some version of it? I mean, why not?
Paint isn't so expensive.
Typing is basically free these days.
How much to do a rough recording of a piece of music nowadays? Like, close to nothing?
So you know, make a painting, or write something, or write and record a song every week. Or whatever your craft is. If you write 52 iPhone apps per year, I reckon one of them is going to be good. (Ideally more than one)
Or game designers who actually write and ship games regularly - one of them is going to be a winner eventually, no?
Well, I certainly think so. I'm working on doing important stuff. And I really think it does come down to -
1. Constantly improve fundamentals
2. Look for synergies in other fields
3. Regularly complete attempts to do significant work (and ideally ship them)
I think you do those three regularly, you're pretty likely to produce some genius quality work.