From Mastery to Artistry

Our world has an overwhelming obsession with mastery.

On some level, we’ve all subscribed to the idea that doing more of something will equate to more of everything. 

Revived and popularised by books like Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’, we’ve been told that anyone can master just about anything by applying enough effort over enough time (10,000 hours to be precise).

Maybe, but I’m not interested in challenging the length of time it takes to master something. I'd like to question whether we focus on mastery at all.

See mastery for all it’s confidence and charm has never been a guarantor of success. Being technically proficient or exhibiting unrivaled skill over an instrument is commendable but hardly memorable. 

There are countless talented and technically dexterous guitarists who can move effortlessly around the fretboard but there will only ever be one Jimi Hendrix. And he played it backwards and upside down. 

Despite his unorthodox style and somewhat unconventional approach there’s no denying he exudes complete mastery over his craft. But with something more, something else, something intangible and unique to him.

To stand out in todays competitive marketplace we must move from mastery to artistry.We must unlock and unleash our authentic expression if we are to stand any chance of cutting through. 

By no means am I advocating we throw away all we’ve learned, paint our faces and hold hands in our sales meetings. But stretching our attention beyond our technique, loosening our grip on protocol and focusing more on what it means to put more of us in our work is a great start.

When we dance in conversation with a prospect rather than running through the sales script. When we surrender to what’s emerging rather than fight for what should be happening, we go to places that neither of us have ever been. It’s intimate and addictive and unforgettable. 

When we trust what feels good over what worked before, when we build on ideas and reveal our weaknesses with conviction, we enter a new realm of risk and reward. A space that can only be occupied by ourselves that is as magnificent as it is magnetic. 

Take for example this clip of Kurt Elling performing with the SSO earlier this year at the Sydney Opera House. Every single one of the musicians on that stage is a master of their craft. They have all spent a stupid amount of time developing and refining their skills. They are all world class.

Now tell me who are the masters and who are the artists?

And as we barrel toward a new year, tell me this, for your customers, for your colleagues and for yourself, who would you rather be?