3 min read

16. You’ve come a long way, baby

Reflective practice, guidance, and… fruit
person holding white and blue ball
Pottery is a craft skill that doesn’t have shortcuts. Image by Mokotoni Hon on Unsplash

I’ve just finished Mastery by Robert Greene. It explains how people who achieve true innovation—Mozart, Einstein, Proust—do it as a culmination of experiences. It’s not just the 10,000 hours of practice as name-dropped from Malcolm Gladwell, but more like 20,000 hours, even more than 30,000. This extra time gives them the ‘unconscious competence’ that can only be achieved over time. Beyond that, they often combine deliberate practice (John Coltrane and Mozart soaking up different musical styles), astute self-reflection (Benjamin Franklin getting over his unworldliness and thus propensity to be ripped off by observation and understanding people’s motivations) and seeking and then if needed discarding mentors (Michael Faraday impressing and learning from the chemist Humphry Davy before finally going his own way). More than anything, there’s a sense of meandering but also being prepared to go one’s own way rather than follow the crowd. Some of the stories show resilience against either racism (Zora Neale Hurston) or classism (John Keats), but above all, perseverance.

It’s vindicated some of my feelings about craft—as the old adage goes, ‘you can’t make a baby with 9 women and 1 month’—but makes me wonder how I proceed, particularly as a mentor and manager. How to explain to, say, an ambitious 20-something, that as much as they want to rush into leadership that it may give them problems with their practice later? How do we talk about the arcs of peoples careers?

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Until next time,