Can Everyone Really Become A Master?

Even though I’m an avid reader, I don’t make a dent in my reading backlog because new books arrive faster than I can read existing ones.  I often ask people for recommendations or informal reviews when trying to decide what to read next. For that reason, I’ve never read ‘Mastery‘ by Robert Greene – too many reviews were decidedly mixed. Here’s one example:

the dense 360-page result, with its vast quantities of research and effort much in evidence, makes one yearn for something snappier and less labored.

‘Mastery’ might have never made it to the top of my reading list if it hadn’t been spotted in my office by a candidate I interviewed last week. She wondered what I thought about Greene’s claim that failure toughens a person up and therefore it is bad luck to have never failed. No doubt she was trying to impress me by showing she had read my post on encouraging failure – and I was pleasantly surprised.

I admitted I had not yet read the book and later found the passage she was referring to:

There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done. In fact, it is a curse to have everything go right on your first attempt. You will fail to question the element of luck, making you think that you have the golden touch. When you do inevitably fail, it will confuse and demoralize you past the point of learning.

I couldn’t agree more.

Encouraged by her recommendation and fortified by this passage, I read ‘Mastery’ – or rather, I skimmed it. Greene claims everyone can become a master at something. The key is to figure out what you truly love doing, and practice it over and over (think Gladwell’s Outliers). You must embrace criticism in order to improve – just not from those who don’t know what they are talking about. It’s a guaranteed roadmap to success.

While the book is entertaining, I’m not convinced of the basic premise – we all can’t be masters. That feels a bit like the ‘everyone gets a trophy’ philosophy. And there definitely isn’t a guaranteed roadmap for success.

What do you think: Can everyone really become a master?

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5 Responses to Can Everyone Really Become A Master?

  1. Allen September 13, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    I agree that everyone can’t become masters, even if you follow Gladwell’s Outlier premise of 10,000 hours of practice.

    In my mind, the question becomes how can I better analyze my probability of success without wasting hours on something that I’m predisposed to not be good at? That depends on how you personally define your “predisposition”, but a quick fix for me is focusing on something I enjoy because that lowers the amount of frustration when I don’t succeed since I’m still enjoying the journey.

    In the words of Tyler Durden, “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” But maybe you actually don’t have the abilities to become a rockstar, movie god, or millionaire, and you’re highest probability of success is in something like writing code code,cooking food, coaching soccer etc. I guess that’s what we all have to figure out for ourselves.

  2. paulo vallejo September 14, 2015 at 7:44 am #

    Agreed. We can’t all be masters. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be world champions, best in class, or quadrant leaders. There are a few individuals/organizations that not only have the dna of masters but have also used it to their advantage, to get to that master level. We can have however find ways to work smarter rather than harder and still be at the top of our game, however we want to define that point of greatness.

  3. Peter September 14, 2015 at 9:08 am #

    Maybe it depends on your definition of ‘Master’ Originally that meant teacher, and if I think of it that way – I want everyone in my team to think that they can become a teacher. I don’t want to anyone to feel ‘entitled’ and I am pretty sure that they don’t. But I do want them to feel that they have more potential and to know how to work towards it.

    Maybe another view would be to look at this from Dr. C Dweck’s perspective – I am thinking of her book: Mindset. The difference would be that we all have both Mindset models all the time, we just bias towards one or the other. I recruit for people who have the growth mindset most of the time. They are people who tend to want to grow whether I focus on it with them or not. I value that, but more important I think that almost everyone has that tendency at least a little of the time.

    Learning to teach is a way of expressing that. Encouraging all of my team to become masters/teachers is a way that I ask them to stretch. Being open to being taught is one way that I ask myself to stretch.

    This may have no value for anyone else, but it is how I operate these days. Thank you for the posting, and for opportunity for me to prompt my thinking.

  4. TRedd September 15, 2015 at 7:03 am #

    From my experience with failure and masterly – it is true. Anyone can become a Master, but it can dent the ego and you need a good sense of humor to deal with the process. From my failures in business to my mastery of the gigs to my major failure in off road motorcycle sider to my mastery of scream up mountain trails – it can be done and practice is the key. Practice can get expensive in some areas, and man, learning to ride hard and fast does hurt. Getting tossed off on a new trail at 45mph kinda hurts.
    Mastery takes guts. Got the guts then DO IT!

    da Rider Dude


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