Mastery: The Hidden Secret Behind The Best of the Best

One upon a time, a curious author by the name of Robert Maurer, saw an ad for Lexus automobiles…

The ad detailed the exceptional quality and the number of awards the vehicle had won over the previous decade, which drove Maurer’s curiosity even more.

He was determined to find out: “how is this Japanese car manufacturer able to manufacture such exceptional quality cars so consistently?”

As it turns out, in the 1940’s, American engineer and management consultant, Edwards Deming, went across seas to Japan to help them restructure their manufacturing facilities. Deming told the Japanese that if they were looking for improvement, they needed to ask themselves one specific thing every day:

“What extremely small step can I take to improve the process or product?”

The Japanese stuck with the philosophy ever since, and they even gave the practice a name – Kaizen.

The word Kaizen is a Japanese proverb derived from the two Japanese words “kai” and “zen”. Kai means “change” while zen means “good”.

As a concept, kaizen refers to “the practice of constant, never-ending improvement”.

It has also been referred to as “the practice of resisting plateau”. Plateau is always the enemy, no matter how far ahead of the competition you are.

As a business philosophy, kaizen can be described as improving all structures and systems from the CEO, to everybody else on the organization's payroll.

Moreover, it involves combining the collective talents of the entire organization and making them better to create a much higher-powered, well-oiled machine designed for improvement and high performance.

This could be developing better salesmen among your sales team, getting your marketing team to write better copy, and design ads more visually appealing to the audience, all the way to even getting the janitor to sweep the floors more efficiently and effectively.

Fundamentally, human beings are driven by this very process regardless; as such, it only makes sense for organizations to harness this principle to their advantage.

In the book Drive, Author Daniel Pink, states “human beings are motivated by purpose, autonomy, and a drive towards mastery,”. We all have a capacity to pursue mastery, better our skills, and to develop our knowledge & expertise in concentrations.

The Kiwi Kaizen philosophy refers to improving 100 things by 1%, by doing this you achieve marginal gains that collectively add up to a large sum. This leads to very incremental and cumulative advantages in both performance and results when done consistently over the long haul.

~100 things done 1% better~

If all 100 of your employees get just 1% better, how much better collectively does the company get?

(Hint: 1  x 100 = 100%) that means performance doubles, other factors aside.

The businesses who harness this principle, are the ones who stay in the game for the long haul. As more tech advancements are made, and your industry grows, you must grow as well.

Here’s the thing: we are always on some path of kaizen – just not at the same specific thing.

Yes, we’re getting better at sitting on the couch and figuring out how many Netflix shows we can devour in a week’s time. OR, we’re getting better at not watching Netflix and doing something else with our lives and growing in a different direction.

Kaizen is useless if it’s not applied with focus and strategy.

Your head chef at your restaurant getting better at bussing tables, doesn’t serve your organization too well.

You need to get better at what your job specifically is within the organization’s system. Stick to your level of genius, and do what you’re good at, so other people can do what they are good at.

This is where the process of kaizen specifically, is not what is most important but rather, the pursuit of mastery is.

Mastery, in essence, means gaining vast amounts of knowledge, expertise, and skill in a certain subject. In this context, mastery is not just a means of getting better, it’s a certain discipline that requires consistent effort over time.

Striving to become the very best in a subject, not just “slightly better” in many different categories. Mastery, is hard work; it’s not a simple “life-hack” nor is it a destination either.

It’s a practice, it’s a journey, and it’s one consisting of not big bodacious moves; but rather, smaller and yet, consistent ones sustained over time.

Most motivational speakers and big “pump you up” philosophies advocate taking these HUGE steps, and though this is great and exciting at first; the vast majority of people – including those in your organization - cannot sustain this and begin to level off.

Even worse, they may stop the whole pursuing mastery process all together.

It’s not a matter of “slow and steady wins the race” but rather consistency that determines excellence. If you can sprint over and over and over again, then by all means do that. As long as you stay consistent, and strategic.


Developing mastery

To develop mastery, it often requires the infamous “10,000-hour rule”, even possibly 20,000 hours and beyond that. This might even be the difference between being just a chess master and being the grandmaster.

However, many people fall victim to certain barriers such as fear, impatience, frustration, or maybe plain boredom when it comes to mastery. This does not mean you WON’T ever experience some of these symptoms at some point even if you love the work, of course you will.

Anyone spending 10,000+ hours at something will experience those symptoms from time to time. To persist past this is when you must either understand the payoffs, or have deep passion for the work or contributions you will make.

This is not to say that money, status, or fame, is never a consideration for those pursuing mastery. A lot of times these things can hold a high degree of importance, but it is most often not the primary motivator.

Rather, it is skill development, intrinsic motivation to continually grow as a person, to make things better, and to exceed expectations of the consumer. To get better and develop something nobody thought was ever possible as a result of the expertise gained.

If you’re not inspired in one way or another, you’re going to tune out. Conversely, If you’re excited to learn and you’re motivated, you’ll retain the material much better.

This is because actual learning (stuff you will retain, not stuff you will use for a test and then forget about) involves creativity and conceptual processing. Creativity allows learners to flexibly take information and regurgitate it in various ways, even if those ways don’t make any sense.

The importance is that this allows learners to retain the ideas better, invent new ones, and explore other ways of problem solving, in a sense they are “entertaining” the idea which is critical for retaining it. Conceptual processing is when you can grasp an idea or fact in a transferrable way, allowing you to apply it across real-world scenarios, including ones that don’t exist yet.

This is the most powerful form of learning, yet isn’t all that possible if you are extremely miserable in the learning process, or just flat out don’t give a damn about it.

Even if the work sucks tremendously though, if you are aware of the payoffs, you are able to tap into this process to further your own learning and mastery. That hit of dopamine you get when working towards your goal, even when the work sucks, can do wonders for you.

In an interview series by Jason Capital, called “constructing mastery”, Robert Greene, Author of 48 laws of power, and Mastery, discusses how he studied French in college and then went to Paris and couldn’t speak a single word of it. Then all of the sudden, he meets a French woman whom he was very interested in; resultingly, he says he learned more in two weeks than he did the previous two years at school.

Learning in this time was something he now really wanted to do, and something that was important to him due to his current situation.

When you’re motivated and your desire starts to kick in, when you know you MUST master something to get better personally, and better serve others in your industry, or your team, and that’s meaningful to you, you learn more.

So never approach mastery with a sense of insignificance, insecurity, or negative “this is boring” type of emotions. You completely put your own learning in a box and lock a lid on any of your creative capacity potential.

Conversely, If you are obsessive in the growth, it will show in the performance, and the details of your projects.

Steve Jobs for instance, was obsessed with creating the most perfect product that existed. Always asking, “How can I make this one better than the previous’?” Job’s always tried to exceed expectations, and it was never about how much money he could make, he had a personal commitment to constantly creating better and better products. The best of the best, and that’s what made Apple part of what it is today.

Kobe Bryant, was another notable individual, obsessed with getting better and better. In fact, his teammate Shaquille O’neal would often report getting to the arena for games early thinking he would be the first one, he never was first though.

This is because Kobe Bryant was there, sweating profusely, without even using a ball; focusing on all the footwork, the height on the jumper, the form, all of the details. He was obsessed with the details, and constant, never ending improvement.

The truth is, pursuing mastery sucks, but it’s what makes the difference. Experts even used to say, Allen Iverson loved to play when the lights turned on (“we talking about practice?”) Kobe loved to practice when nobody else was watching. One of them has 5 rings.

Muhammad Ali didn’t say the fight is won far away from the witnesses for no reason. Here’s a secret about mastery too, it’s not even about beating the competition, it’s about daily, little increments every day, competing against your highest potential every day, and always trying to beat that potential. Consistently getting better and more valuable in the process.

As the legend Jim Rohn once said…

“The level of success you experience will largely be determined by your personal value”

In essence... 

The more valuable you become, the more value you can serve others with.

The more you gain, the more you can give.

The more you learn, the more you can teach.

The list goes on…

Considered, If you just get 1% better each day - if you just lay down one brick each day, eventually you will have a skyscraper.

However, if you lay down a brick towards many different projects each day, you will never have a single skyscraper, you will have a bunch of small sheds’ for storage. This is the difference between kaizen, and mastery.

Mastery is what allows the best of the best to build empires, it’s what allows the best athletes to be so dominant.

For he who tries to master everything, becomes the master of none.

Which is why you must harness the power of commiting to one discipline, and putting skin in the game brick after brick after brick, and one day you will have a skyscraper of your own.

Stocks will rise and fall, public opinion may impact your stock value as well, despite how well your revenue is even doing! New employment laws, policy laws, etc. can change how you’re allowed to do things.

But at the end of the day, there is still one thing on the face of the universe that you can be certain on improving, and that one thing is yourself. Your commitment to mastery. You will always have control over how much you can invest into your own personal value and take time to grow internally, despite what is happening externally.

The bests believe that incremental increases over time, compound like interest in your bank account.

This is what separates those who commit to mastery, and those who kaizen.

This is how good becomes great, and great becomes unstoppable.

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