What does it take to achieve mastery? And why is that important anyway?
Mastery sounds glorified and out of reach, but can actually pretty straight-forward. The way I like to think of mastery is simple: Mastery means that you understand something well enough to use it to your strategic advantage.
So, I’m not really talking about Bruce Lee levels of mastery. Let’s call what I’m talking about “practical mastery.” Which is probably more useful and important to you right now.
Practical mastery helps you to achieve superior results because, with it, you have things in your domain under control.
Too Many Mysteries Can Hurt You
Many times you might be tempted to deal with something via inputs and outputs. You know what things tend to happen when you do things a certain way.
This can be a really helpful model for being effective in the workplace, or anywhere else. And it is a natural way that humans learn. We notice things, detect patterns, and use those patterns to inform our future behavior.
That will get you really far. But a dose of practical mastery will get you further.
Think about it this way. You can memorize all the potential questions and answers and get an A on the test. Or you can study the principles so that you can analyze questions and construct answers on your own.
That will also get you an A on the test. But it will also help you to anticipate and respond to future questions and contemplate more possible answers. And more creative strategies.
Studying principles is always more powerful.
While it’s great to understand what goes and and what comes out of the “black box,” it is better to understand how the black box works. That way it’s not really a black box anymore, but a set of machinery that you can learn to understand. And then master.
Study the process as much as the inputs and outputs.
If you submit your proposal and the client rejects it, you will learn more if you work to understand why it was rejected.
Also, you will learn even more if you take the time to understand why your proposal was accepted instead of just moving on to the next step. Question success as much as failure.
Work to understand the big picture of your environment too.
Seek to understand the financial model of your organization, why it is set up that way, and how it supports or impedes certain types of progress.
Mastery of the Mundane
If you take the time to run some of your functional responsibilities with a sense of mastery, you will gain a huge advantage.
When your mundane stuff is well-organized rather than scatter-shot, you stand to gain a lot.
Take for example a regular report that you write. If you dash off this routine missive with little thought because it is so routine, you might be missing an opportunity.
You might be missing an opportunity to stop and review and give some deeper thought to something. You might be missing an opportunity to analyze and accumulate knowledge in a way that can take your decision-making or strategic insight to a new level.
You might be missing an opportunity to gain clarity on something so obvious it is hard to see.
Big ideas are great, but often the magic is in the details. If you stop to study them just a little more carefully.
Plus, there is a sense of calm and control when basic matters are well-tended.
Going Deeper…One Step at a Time
Going to deeper levels of understanding is always worthwhile. Because when we seek to understand things well enough to gain some level of mastery, we gain insights that can be applied to other areas.
What we learn from one domain can be applied to another domain, often with surprising results. The more you know about sales, for example, the better you will be at influencing outcomes at internal projects. And vice versa.
But maybe more importantly, the more practical mastery you have over the “simple” things, the better off you will be, both logistically and strategically.
It’s these things that we like to overlook.
Oh that’s simple, and it doesn’t matter much.
I can do that in my sleep.
It’s not worth paying attention to.
I need my energy for the real work.
Hmmmm…. Or maybe there is some real value to having simple things incredibly well-organized. Maybe there is some value in understanding them more deeply. Maybe there is a way to achieve a sense of control that can be a great touchstone to have when you go off to do the “real” work.
Just go one step at a time.
There is no need to gain mastery overnight. Chipping away slowly and steadily over time will get you there. First in one area, then in another. Until you are master of your domain.