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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Book Review: Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fullfillment

Summary: Mastery is one of the best self-help books I've read in a long time.

Mastery is a unique book among self-help books. Most books in this category promise immediate results. Titles like Learn X in 2 weeks are more common than flies. Mastery is the exact anti-thesis of these books. Mastery focusses on the long term. The core idea in the book is that it takes a very long time to get any good at any skill. Instead of getting frustrated at not seeing the goal, Mastery tells us to enjoy the journey, continuously striving to improve, and one day, a few decades down the road you will be a true master of the skill.

Learning any skill occurs in spurts. Between spurts are plateaus, where in spite of a lot of effort, there seems to be no progress. Then a spurt again, followed by a longer plateau. These plateaus frustrate most of us when learning a skill. There is nothing more discouraging than working and seeing no progress. But accordng to Mastery, there is progress, although we cannot see it. Most of us quit when we reach such a plateau, thinking that we cannot make it. But that is a mistake, because if we persevere, there will eventually be another spurt of progress.

In order to stay on the plateau, Mastery promotes the idea of 'goalless practise'. The idea is to practise, not for any particular goal, but because you enjoy doing the skill. If you can enjoy practise, then you need no additional motivation to continue going when you are on the plateau.

And practise is the key. If there is one thing that differentiates Masters from Amateurs, it is a dedication to practise. So, if you want to become a Master, you will need to practise, not for a couple of days or weeks, but for tens of years.

There is a lot more in the book, including steps to keep you on the path to Mastery. Written by an ex-fighter pilot and aikido master, it contains a lot of zen like philosophy including a focus on long term results and goalless practise.

This is an excellent book. Buy it and read it.

Update: Reading this book reminded me of a similar article by Peter Norvig titled Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years, where he says

Researchers have shown it takes about ten years to develop expertise in any of a wide variety of areas, including chess playing, music composition, painting, piano playing, swimming, tennis, and research in neuropsychology and topology. There appear to be no real shortcuts: even Mozart, who was a musical prodigy at age 4, took 13 more years before he began to produce world-class music.



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1 comment:

Shourya said...

This book goes on my ToBuy list. The author has a background in Aikido -- interesting -- for Aikido is one of the martial arts which kind of forbades even "talking" about it before 8 years of practice.

In the context of the Barcamp mailing list discussion, I was wondering... In disciplines like, say guitar playing, you can setup artifical targets for practice, such as 'I will practice till I can play this jazz piece well, or I will practice until I can play scales at 152 bpm'. But in programming what are the targets. There seems to be none. (SCJP does not qualify :) And it seems, to me that programming is a beautiful domain to exercise this concept of goalless practice.