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Respect The Craft: How I Learned The Blueprint For Niche Mastery From A 13-Time World Pizza Champion

Mitchell Wilson


Mitchell Wilson


Apr 3, 2023

Respect The Craft: How I Learned The Blueprint For Niche Mastery From A 13-Time World Pizza Champion

38 seconds flat.

I couldn’t believe it. That’s all it took to cook a world-class pizza. I was at a private Vegas party at a famous world pizza champion’s restaurant.

Right in front of me was an oven at 1000 degrees - slinging some of the best pizza in the world.

Written in huge font on the walls all around me: “Respect the craft.”

3 words that will forever symbolize this past week in my memory

Pizza As Art

You only achieve master status if you respect the art form.

This means emphasizing the importance of learning the nuances and taking the time & effort to understand deeply. There’s no shortcut to anything world-class, just a deliberate series of steps forward. A lack of respect for the craft will have you skipping steps, not catching on to the subtleties, and missing key first principles.

We all want to be great at something & we won’t get there by arrogance. Instead, by humility and devotion to something beyond ourselves.

There’s that old saying about how you gotta learn the rules so that you can break them later.

The most original people aren’t those that put their own spin on the art right out of the gate. No. They obsessed over the details, the history, & the established techniques. This is what it means to pour yourself into something and build a foundation. Then, and only then, do you have a sustainable way to take the craft in your own direction.

If you're like me, it doesn’t come natural to honor what came before. Instead, you want to do it all your own way. But there’s massive value in building a taller pile of ingredients you can uniquely remix from later.

 Tony Gemignani , the 13-time world pizza champion I mentioned before, has been working to perfect pizza since the 90s.

I have never seen anything like it. Even on his menus, he includes the type of flour used in the pizza, the regionally-specific oven used, and the oven temperatures. Everything matters to him. Like a writer including which size and style font they used to write their piece, the respect for the craft he has inspires me to the core. Sure, it may seem silly to be at the top of the pizza world, but every niche has its hierarchy. You have to give credit to those who’ve devoted their lives to reaching these types of achievements.

I’m not recommending you get into pizza. I’m recommending you see this as a blueprint for how to rise up in your own niche of interest and pursue mastery of it.

Seeing The Same World In A Different Way

There are new possibilities hiding in plain sight.

It’s the last place we think to look. We assume by default there’s no way great things could possibly be right around the corner. But, in fact, this is exactly how the world works. It’s just that our eyes may not be tuned to reading between the lines. As a friend recently told me, “Instead of ‘opportunity is nowhere’ it is ‘opportunity is now here’”.

Right now, right under your nose is some juicy rabbit hole waiting for you to deploy the blueprint from above. Or if you’re like me, you are already way deep in a particular rabbit hole & simply need to just keep going with this blueprint as fuel.

If you have trouble seeing it, start by  questioning your assumptions .

Even in our own mind we have the equivalent of mainstream media & popular opinion. Similar to those old ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ CDs of our childhood, we have those worn-out tracks of thought that we keep playing on repeat despite their fruitlessness. As Oscar Wilde said so precisely, “Everything popular is wrong”.

Dissatisfaction with your progress, efforts, and habits circling your craft ought to be a clear sign that something in your process needs to be changed, tuned, or tweaked.

Once your assumptions are questioned, go back to first principles.

For example, this writing thing I’ve got going on. I’m not too happy with my performance lately. Maybe it has shown, maybe not. But I’ve been slacking. I haven’t been as dedicated as I need, want, or ought to be.

That’s on me of course. It’s nothing I need to get worked up over, just get back to the basics: wake up early, read a bit, write a bit, and publish on Sundays.

Deeper than the basics, is the first principle, my Why: to formalize and clarify my thinking, my ideas, and what I’m learning as a way to inspire other like-minded seekers with insight. I’m certain I’m not alone in this foolishness. If you relate, join me in taking the time to consider what set you off with your craft in the first place. It’s all too easy to lose your way along the way, but syncing back up to center is totally possible.

It is a good thing to come back to your craft fresh and eager to push further down the path - it’s bound to lead somewhere.

Cause & Effect

You are on a trajectory regardless of who you are and what you’re up to. Craft or no craft.

It’s the simple law of causality. Do this, get that. What’s weird is when we start to reverse the arrow of causality so that instead of A causing B, B causes A. Let me explain.

You might initially think that only the master respects his craft. Or that Tony Gemignani respects the art of making pizzas because he’s a master at it. But as this past week sinks in, I’m starting to realize the opposite is true. The causality arrow flies the other way. The respect leads to the mastery.

This is a powerful thought exercise because it turns what you think you know upside down on its head and helps you rethink how to get what you’re after.

If you care about self-improvement and have had a pulse for the last few years, you’ve heard of James Clear and his book, Atomic Habits.

There’s a line in the book that sticks out more than any other and keeps me awake at night at least twice a month:

Winners and losers have the same goals.”

These 7 words mess me up in a good way. Like the causality shifting exercise, it points out a major flaw in my thinking.

The defining factor between winners and losers isn’t what they set out to achieve. It’s what they’re doing to get there that makes the difference in the outcome. It’s all about the process. The more focus, trust, and respect you can infuse into the process, the better off you’ll be in your pursuits.

The craft you want to master (if you’re fortunate enough to have found one) requires much more devotion than you may have thought possible.

Now that you know, what are you going to do about it?

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