Author: Robert Greene
Publisher: Viking Adult, 2012; 352 pages; $28.95
The topic of mastery, which Merriam-Webster.com defines as "a highly developed skill in or knowledge of something," has been a hot one since Malcolm Gladwell declared in his 2008 book "Outliers" that the recipe to mastering a subject was to practice it, with dedication, for 10,000 hours.
Of course, that same declaration also rendered the development of mastery a daunting personal pursuit for some.
Others see it as an endeavor to be opened up wide, explored, hacked, gamed, shortcut and fast-tracked by any means necessary, to shorten up that time frame (which many estimate as taking 10 years for the average person to get a devoted 10,000 hours of practice in) and get on with mastering stuff.
Enter, onto the mastery-mastering scene, Robert Greene, the prolific author of deep-diving, meticulously researched, story-and-strategy-laden titles like "The 48 Laws of Power," "The Art of Seduction" and "The 33 Laws of War" with his latest book titled, simply: "Mastery."
Greene aptly calls out that mastery is "the ultimate form of power," and profiles historical masters who have wielded it to influence history and change the world as we know it. "Mastery" is devoted to cracking open and distilling the elements of a single, clear path and process to first mastering a subject, then deploying that mastery into power.
Unlike the scads of writers and bloggers who have focused on short-circuiting the mastery process Gladwell first laid out, Greene’s "Mastery" seeks to expose a deeper flavor of mastery. Greene’s "Mastery" starts with illuminating how masters like Benjamin Franklin, Frank Lloyd Wright and Carl Jung obtained the subject matter knowledge and expertise that was the endgame of Gladwell’s mastery, through devotion, apprenticeship and, eventually, surpassing their mentors.
Then, he surfaces insights into how each of nine modern day masters took that expertise and married it with social intelligence, expertise in related subjects and, ultimately, intuition, deploying what Greene estimates to be more like 20,000 hours of devotion to change their entire fields and the course of history.
"Mastery" is broken into six sections, each of which corresponds with one transformational stage of the path to becoming a true master as demonstrated by the historical story of one of many diverse masters Greene references (showing that mastery transcends all demographics), from African-American novelist Zora Neale Hurston to Buckminster Fuller.
Each section introduces the transformation and bio that demonstrates it, provides Greene’s Keys to Mastery at that stage and a set of strategic action points for that point on the timeline of developing mastery. Each section closes out with what Greene calls a "reversal" — a super-short story and set of actions for those who lack the resources or minimums most of us start out with in the stage being discussed, showing and proving Greene’s deep belief that mastery truly is — or can be — for everyone.
The six sections are all both sprawling and deep, engrossing more than entertaining, latent as they are with the promise of inspiring and instructing every reader to become a master, too. Here are the six overarching developmental phases of becoming an uber-master, in Greene’s "Mastery":
1. Discover your calling. Greene launches the book by attempting (successfully, it would seem) to ignite the passion that he says we all have within. The objective? Cultivating clarity about what we’ve each been placed on this planet to do, the subject we should aim to master. Greene powerfully proclaims that "it’s never too late" to course correct to and master our individual, cosmically proper career paths.
2. Submit to reality. Greene writes, "Before it is too late you must learn the lessons and follow the path established by the greatest masters, past and present, a kind of ideal apprenticeship that transcends all fields. In the process you will master the necessary skills, discipline your mind, and transform yourself into an independent thinking, prepared for the creative challenges on the way to mastery."
3. Absorb the master’s power. "Choose the mentor who best fits your needs and connects to your life’s task. Once you have internalized their knowledge, you must move on and never remain in their shadow. Your goal is always to surpass your mentors in mastery and brilliance," instructs Greene.
4. See people as they are. "Often the greatest obstacle to our pursuit of mastery comes from the emotional drain we experience in dealing with the resistance and manipulations of the people around us … Social intelligence is the ability to see people in the most realistic light possible. Navigating smoothly through the social environment, we have more time and energy to focus on learning and acquiring skills. Success attained without this intelligence is not true mastery, and will not last."
5. Awaken the dimensional mind. Once you’ve reached a certain level of success at mastering your field, Greene explains, "Instead of feeling complacent about what you know, you must expand your knowledge to related fields, giving your mind fuel to make new associations between different ideas. In the end, you will turn against the very rules you have internalized, shaping and reforming them to suit your spirit." Greene then declares, without hesitation: "Such originality will bring you to the heights of power."
6. Fuse the intuitive with the rational. Greene believes that the logic and intuition are not only not mutually exclusive, but that they work together in the minds of true masters. He explains that "all of us have access to a higher form of intelligence, one that can allow us to see more of the world, to anticipate trends, to respond with speed and accuracy to any circumstance … This power is what our brains were designed to attain, and we will be naturally led to this type of intelligence if we follow our inclinations to their ultimate ends."
This book reflects Greene’s own mastery of this unique hybrid genre, something you might call historical biographical personal development. As the holidays and New Year’s approach, with all the opportunities for reflection and repositioning they entail, "Mastery" is a wonderful investment of time for those who want to end next year at a different level than this one.