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According to Dan Pink in his new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, a big part of “Motivation 3.0”, is the concept of Mastery. The argument goes something like this:
Only engagement can produce mastery – becoming better at something that matters. And the pursuit of mastery, an important but often dormant part of our third drive, has become essential to making one’s way in the economy. Mastery begins with “flow” – optimal experiences when the challenges we face are exquisitely matched to our abilities.
While I really like the concept I feel that the argument for this part of the AMP (Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose) in the book is not compelling as the other parts. One potential drawback that I see with the way Pink approaches the issue of mastery. He takes a too narrow approach to the way success, or better yet, excellence, is actually measured in our world. In his attempt to break some of the conventional wisdoms, Pink falls prays to others.
Let me explain by quoting a short part from the mastery chapter:
Mastery – of sports, music, business – requires effort (difficult, painful, excruciating, all consuming effort) over a long time (not a week or a month, but a decade). Sociologist Daniel Chambliss has referred to this as “the mundanity of excellence.” Like Ericsson, Chambliss found – in a three-year study of Olympic swimmers – that those who did the best typically spent the most time and effort on the mundane activities that readied them for races. It’s the same reason that, in another study, the west point grit researchers found that grittiness – rather than IQ or standardized test scores – is the most accurate predictor of college grades. As they explained, whereas the importance of working harder is easily apprehended, the importance of working longer without switching objectives may be less predictable… in every field, grit may be as essential as talent to high accomplishment”.
Am I the only one who is baffled here? Predictor of college grades? I am sorry, but since when college grades is a predictor of anything? As Seth Godin says in Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, the only thing that being good at school means is – that you are good at school (!):
You have been brainwashed by school and by the system into believing that your job is to do your job and follow instructions. It’s not, not anymore.
Following instructions with grittiness and determination might lead to successes. But it also might be exactly the kind of thinking that leads us to being cogs in the big factories of productivity. I am not sure that the success, as measured currently by society, is what we should all aspire for. I am not saying that effort or grittiness is not important. I actually believe that sometimes dying on the treadmill is all that matters. It is just that it is not the right fit for everybody. For some, mastery can be found not in grittiness, but in being impatient. Here is one example of a very successful man, from the freak factor blog:
My mantra, as well as my business plan, is ‘If you always do fun stuff, there will always be plenty of fun stuff to do.’ This works incredibly well for me, as I’m allergic to doing stuff that’s not fun. Consequently, I have the grooviest career, biz & life I can imagine as the Rock and Roll Guru.
Another significant ‘flaw’ is my attention span, or lack thereof. The strength here is that I’m working on so much cool stuff that I never get bored. There’s always another fun project to which I can turn my attention, however briefly. For example, I’m working on a series of themed Daffynitions books, including Biz, Parenting, Relationships & Self-help. Additionally, I’m writing the Rock & Roll Dictionary, which is based on the Daffynitions model.
Yes, in his own way, over a long haul of time, Joe Heuer shows grittiness. But it is not in the way Pink talks about. More importantly, Joe Heuer is a wonderful example of mastery leading to excellence.
I am not against mastery. I am all for it. I do believe in its power. We just need to remember that there are many ways to achieve mastery and that we need to be careful in the ways we measure success, as they might limit the ways we manage people. Mastery can be reached by working hard and not giving up. Mastery can also be achieved by letting go and trying many different things. And that is exactly the point. Differences should be embraced. Paths should be explored. Given the right support, people will find their way to excellence.