Mastery is not perfection, but rather a journey, and the true master must be willing to try and fail and try again. – George Leonard
If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all. – Michaelangelo
Mastery is great, but even that is not enough. You have to be able to change course without a bead of sweat, or remorse. – Tom Peters
Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably. – Juro Ono
In her book The Shift – the Future of Work is Already Here Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, identifies Mastery as one way to futureproof yourself in your career.
What is mastery? And how do you become a master of something?
The simple answer is to become better and better at whatever it is you choose. From baking bread, playing a sport or musical instrument to leading a team or project management. And the way to do so is through practice – over and over again.
Watch a baby learn how to walk. First he starts to move, awkwardly at first, then with more skill. He starts to crawl, then pulls himself up on furniture or attempts to stand then walk while holding onto your hands. Gradually, with much determination and practice, he ends up on his feet propelling himself forward, with everyone smiling and encouraging him to do so.
No matter how many times he falls over in the process, through trial and error he keeps going until he succeeds – and then goes on to become a master at walking. So it is with babies and all the skills they acquire.
Learning any new skill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, each of which is followed by a slight decline to a plateau, a bit higher than the previous one.
“To take the master’s journey, you have to practice diligently, striving to hone your skills, to attain new levels of competence. But while doing so – and this is the inexorable fact of the journey – you also have to be willing to spend most of your time on a plateau, to keep practicing even when you seem to be getting nowhere,” says George Leonard in his book Mastery.
What helps us along the way and especially to persevere whilst on the plateau is to develop a beginner’s mind, a concept which comes from Zen philosophy.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few” says Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki. A beginner has an attitude of openness, eagerness and a lack of preconceptions when studying a subject even at an advanced level.
Professor Gratton suggests two ways of developing mastery in your work:
- identify jobs which interest you and take action to be able to do them.
- invest thousands of hours in developing mastery in a specific sphere of your work.
Her research shows that in China the one-child family has focused on education, with Chinese families spending their disposable income on education. She suggests saying no to the Prada handbag or Rolex Submariner. But instead to use your disposable income to fund your path to mastery. However, with so many books and CDs available, and free resources available on the internet, maybe it’s not an either/or choice.
Your employer may be willing to support your development, especially if the skill you want to develop is in short supply and/or they are keen to retain you. It’s certainly worth asking – if you don’t ask, the answer is always no!
Start the mastery journey now. Choose an area of your work to develop mastery in – something you enjoy doing and would be happy to spend thousands of hours developing further whilst still keeping a beginner’s mind.
What will that be?