Create mastery in a turbulent world

Go for mastery, not competence.

Think about it. The most successful people in any field never settle for competency; they go for mastery at something they love and which also has economic value. The result: they wind up spending more of their working hours doing what they love, dominating their profession, and making a hell of a lot of money.

It used to be easy to hide out as a white-collar slave and cubicle dweller in a Fortune 500 firm, secure in your job as “competent” software engineer, bean counter, call center manager. In today’s world economy, these white-collar jobs can be as competently performed by an employee sitting in Ghana, Pakistan, and South Korea as they can by someone sitting in Boston, Houston, or Silicon Valley.

Today and in the future, whether you work in a “White Collar Tower” or the “Free Agent Nation,” the only chance you have of being a sought after talent and pulling down the big bucks is being able to do something creative, innovative, and radical… and do it with mastery.

Today’s companies need to make the shift from a culture of “competency” to a culture of “mastery” if they are to succeed in the world economy.

One thing is certain, in a world where global competition increases every day, where no enterprise is insulated from the relentless forces of the marketplace, and where nano technology, bio-technology, and innovation promise to transform industries overnight, the culture of competence is not enough.

Company leaders are increasingly going to have to transform their culture and create a culture of mastery, while at the same time actively exploring creative, innovative, weird ways of doing things.

Today every company that we do coaching in has a list of so-called “competencies” that they expect individuals to match up with. And these competencies are supposedly linked to the strategy. The fact is, as good as this idea may seem, it is generally a lot of hokum. In most companies, if you ask the average chief executive, vice president, team leader, or computer person what the company competencies are, they will probably say they don’t remember.

In truth, these lists of skills and capabilities are not suited to the virtual economy of today, where only ten percent of all workers work in Fortune 500 companies. Dramatic change is the order of the day, and tinkering isn’t enough. Today we need a special kind of employee, people who can deliver something really extraordinary.

To achieve mastery, make your passion your work, doing everything with a 100% commitment to excellence, go for extraordinary results no matter what.

If you want a cream of the crop job in a big company, or if you want to have the real option to leave and go do something else, then make the decision right now to find out where your passions and talents lie and the work that you love to do, and make a decision to become master of the house.

Mastery means not only being excellent at what you do, but being able to jump into hot projects, set very high goals and standards, and crack wide-open surmounting problems that look difficult or impossible to the average Joe.

It means not only coming up with creative, innovative solutions but executing to the nth degree, paying attention to details others would ignore, and having the whole thing turn out exactly, perfectly, and aesthetically.

On The Path to Mastery

1. Stop genuflecting before corporate hierarchy by taking any job as long as it’s a step up the ladder.
Most traditional organizations are modeled after a Napoleonic hierarchy where people click their heels, salute, and take any job in order to go up another rung on the ladder. This tends to result in people ignoring their true passions, talents, gifts, and winding up in a career that is anything but extraordinary. Instead of thinking vertically, think horizontally in terms of specific skills or capabilities you would like to build your extraordinary career around.

2. Decide on an area where you want to achieve mastery based on the principle of ‘distinct or extinct.’
Launching an extraordinary career starts with figuring out what you can do with some degree of mastery that is powerful and distinct. Ask yourself: What are you passionate about at work? What powerful and distinct contribution can you make? What specific kinds of tasks can you honestly say you do with mastery or at least come close? How could you better leverage that into a brand new you and jump-start your career?

3. Set sky-high standards for yourself and others.
Every time we send a masterful coach out on assignment, it’s clear they are expected to perform with mastery, not competence. This allows us to distinguish our brand and really deliver for our clients. How about you, do you set high standards and expect masterful performance from yourself and others or merely that people deliver average results?

4. In mastering something, figure out where you are on the learning curve.
Think not about the strategy of your organization or the theory of work, but the actual work you want to be masterful at. Then figure out where you are in regard to the “six levels of mastery”: 1) mastery, 2) virtuoso, 3) competent, 4) advanced beginner, 5) beginner, and 6) bull in a china shop. Look at strengths and areas for development. It helps enormously if you have someone who is a role model whose skills, attitudes, and results you can benchmark.

5. Find a thinking partner who can help you take knotty problems and come up with solutions that are a masterstroke.
Taking on a big job or world-changing project can be an exciting experience at first. Then there is the inevitable crash when you discover, as Einstein said, the same level of thinking that got you into the problem will not be sufficient to get you out. Find a thinking partner who can help you come up with solutions that everyone will later say were a masterstroke. The role of the thinking partner: a) listen to understand the situation, b) ask probing and provocative questions that surface, challenge, shift paradigms, and c) brainstorm creative solutions.

6. Do everything with a commitment to excellence, paying 100% attention to detail.
Most people do 85% of a job with excellence and then do the other part with an attitude of it is “good enough.” Mastery is about doing the entire job with a commitment to excellence, paying attention to the last meaningful detail.

7. Drive for completion in the face of obstacles, hurdles, and roadblocks.
A person in a project I was coaching who was not completing projects and letting deadlines stretch out, responded when questioned, “It’s in process,” and then complained about all of the stumbling blocks. I said, “Look, when you are up to something big, what the hell do you expect beside stumbling blocks?” Mastery does not mean sitting down on the side of the road when you hit a road block. It means driving the project to completion, as well as engaging in a rigorous active inquiry into a breakthrough solution what will make the stumbling blocks disappear.

8. The acid test of mastery is producing an extraordinary result, no matter what, and doing it with aesthetics.
The sometimes weird people who create, innovate, and bring about irreversible change, don’t just do live projects or solve massive engineering problems, they do it with the skill of a creative artist and a total appreciation of the aesthetics involved. The aesthetics not only pertain to the technical aspect of the job and the design of the package, but the human process by which you negotiate the chessboard. Make whatever you do (human or technical) beautiful, something you can stand back and admire for its aesthetics.

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One Response to Create an Extraordinary Career in a Turbulent World

  1. creatives says:

    Aw, this was a really nice post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to produce a superb article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a
    lot and don’t seem to get anything done.

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