Anyone can do some things well, but to become a master at a skill is quite different.
There have been entire books and coaching courses devoted to mastery. Think of Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book, Outliers, where among other factors, he essentially credits mastery to the 10,000 hour rule (essentially that after that many hours of practice, mastery is achieved and success is the result).
There are many theories and suggestions for mastering skills, but my experience has always been the simple three-step process outlined here. Remember, simple doesn’t mean it’s easy or fast. Simple only means that it’s the most straightforward approach to mastery.
Here are the three steps to master any skill.
1. Watch. If you want to learn how to do something, you need a teacher. Whether it’s a formal education or a mentor, you need somebody to show you how it’s done first.
As Pablo Picasso said, “learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
Questions are a very good thing at this early stage in the mastery game. So is constant exposure to what you’re trying to master.
People trying to learn a new language have to learn the basics of sentence structure, tenses and building blocks or words, sounds and letters before they can start trying to speak. Builders have to apprentice, business leaders need to first intern and so on. If you want to learn how to do it, you will need to find a great teacher to show you.
2. Do. With the tools of observation and a steady, constant exposure to the skill you desire to obtain, the next step is to try it on your own with your mentor or teacher as a guide.
If you’re a builder, draw up your first framework for inspection. If you’re a leader, take charge of a project or task.
This step is crucial. No language was ever learned without speaking. No success was ever built without risk and the willingness to fail. Failure does not mean defeat unless you stop trying, and it’s in this crucial “do” stage of mastery that you must muster all your courage and be willing to stumble, fall and fail, only to stand up and try again with your mentor or teacher’s help.
Mastery comes from failing, risk and being willing to be taught as you continue to try and learn how to do it better, faster and simpler. Until that one day when you “get it.”
3. Teach. Just when you believe you’ve achieved mastery, there’s one more step. In my experience this is where so many who are close to mastery lose their footing and end up falling behind.
If you truly are good enough at your desired skill to be trusted to perform the task at hand, it’s time for you to cement your mastery by teaching. If you ever want to see how smart you really are, try to teach someone else.
Teaching ends up really teaching yourself. It teaches you adaptability, patience and to see problems and solutions in totally new ways because your students and mentees will undoubtedly ask you some questions you don’t know the answers to at first.
How can that be? You are the master of this skill, after all? Suddenly you realize we all have to keep learning and adapting to achieve mastery on an ongoing basis. Teaching is the crucial third step that will ensure you achieve and maintain mastery.