Christmas Morning


Here it is. Big Christmas morning, and I am at my computer typing away.

What gives?

Well, I was lying in bed thinking up all sorts of ideas to write about, including this one, and concluded that sleeping was just… boring.

I much prefer to be here — taking an idea out of my head, and giving words to it. It’s simply more fun as my computer operates as my personal canvas of sorts, a way to express myself in the world.

This past year, the expression has taken the form of audio and video, more than ever, with the publication of my first several podcasts.

Recently, I made my first foray into e-commerce, with my “New Habits-New Goals” course allowing for on-line payment through PayPal.

The truth is, I love this part of what I do — to think up new stuff, and then turn my creativity into tangible expression in the world. I lay in bed thinking that this is what an artist must feel like when they go into their studio at 4:00 am with an idea in their heads that they just cannot shake.

The Making of an Expert


From time to time on this blog I have written about the need for professionals to commit themselves to mastery, as a way of expressing a love for what one does, and as a way of becoming very, very skilled.

Then, along comes an excellent article in Harvard Business Review that makes the case that research is showing that an expert is made, and not born, even in the case of a Mozart or a Jordan.

The article is well worth reading, and gives hope to those of us who remember the old power were taught as kids:

The heights of great men reached and kept,
Were not attained by sudden flight
But they, while their companions slept
Were toiling upwards through the night.

— Winston Churchill

I strongly recommend the article — available for about US$4 from the Harvard Business Review site.

It’s message is important, and it is urgent, as it counters the dis-empowering thinking that what you are born with is the absolute and essential ingredient to any kind of success.

The Kinds of Business I am Not In


There is a temptation in business to try to build the company around whatever seems to be hot at the moment.

The logic taught in MBA schools is as follows:

  1. Do market research- Figure out what people want by asking them what their needs are
  2. Start a Business – Find a way to provide it to them at a price that can make a big profit

The logic seems to make sense, and it has created a generation of what one might call “profit chasers.” People start companies in order to make as much money as they can as quickly as they can, and they are particularly susceptible to the latest offers that come along.

On the other hand, there is a new and growing school of thought that this thinking is limited. Instead, the new thinking is as follows:

  1. Follow your passions and interests until you become an expert
  2. Find ways of packaging and selling your expertise to those who appreciate what you have to offer
  3. Continue to innovate and expand your offerings, always paying attention to where your interests are taking you

I have become a firm believer in this new approach to business, which I will call Business 2.0. I started a company in the Business 1.0 model that didn’t work — a t-shirt company that just seemed like a good idea that would make money. Instead, it lost it (even while teaching me some stern lessons about running a company).

Living in the Business 1.0 world is cold and hard. People take jobs for companies they don’t like, doing things they don’t care for, earning enough to pay their bills at the end of the month. This is as good as it gets. In Business 1.0, people give as little as they can, while trying to get as much as they can in return — what economists call “maximizing their utility.” In this particular world, it always makes sense to pursue to highest paying job, no matter what.

In the Business 2.0 world, however, the single-minded pursuit of profit and tangible gain is set aside to some degree for other commitments, such as personal fulfillment and making a difference. There is a commitment to learn, expand and grow, while taking care of one’s psychological and emotional needs along the way.

I observed an interesting contrast between these two models recently in two web sites that focus on methods of making profits through blogging.

One,, is clearly Business 1.0 while the second, is clearly following the alternate model. While one model is not necessarily better than the other, I will say that the second is more likely to do a couple of things that i personally like:

  1. Business 2.0 is more likely to lead to a fulfilled life — it passes the deathbed test because it is asking the question “what is my life for” at each step of the way.
  2. Business 2.0 is more likely to produce well-managed companies that are strong on innovation simply because one is likely to find more innovation by people who love what they are doing, than by people who are “paid to do a job” and are focused on “doing what they need to do.”

I guess that my point here is that each of us has a choice in life, regardless of what we might argue to ourselves and others. I do know what many people complain that they have no choice, and they are more likely to bake what Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, calls “a bitter bread.

How to Grow a Super Athlete


I just read an interesting article in the New York Times that attempts to get at the source of a young athlete’s talent.

In a nutshell, it turns out that superior athletes are able to build additional thicker myelin sheaths, which are the jelly-like substances that cover over nerves. These sheaths operate as insulators, allowing the signals passing along the nerves to move more quickly, and more securely.

The way to accomplish this is through hours of repetitive practice.

This seems to reinforce a theme of several of the posts in this blog, about the importance of repeated practice to success in any field, and how essential it is to mastery.

Networking Issue 1.0: Developing a Question Base


It is often said among professionals in the Caribbean region, that everything rides on “who you know.”

Usually this is said with a slightly cynical undertone, implying that something less than honorable is involved in the awarding of jobs, contracts or promotions. Usually the person saying it implies that you can work all you want, but they know from harsh experience that merit is not as important as familiarity. They imply that there is something corrupt going on that is fundamentally unfair to those who are decent, play by the rules and have integrity.

I am here to confirm the fact that who you know is critical.

But not as important as who you are.

After all, all of us know either Beenie Man and Machel Montano (respective “Kings” of dancehall and soca.)

However, just because we know them does not mean that we will be inviting them into our companies to do that important Human Resource Audit. They might be fine for the Christmas Party programme, as they are both known for their ability to move audiences. However, the image of them as management consultants is a bit comical.

The fact is, the person who knows the right people, or is known by them deserves to get the advantage, but not because they happen to play at the same golf club or attend the same tea parties.

Instead, they have earned the right to be known by virtue of hard work of a particular kind that we in the Caribbean seem loathe to do, for factors that I hopefully will be able to discuss in future blogs on this topic. For now, let us say that the hard work to do is on “Who You Are.”

The Opportunity
Assuming that you are a professional working in one of the Caribbean countries, it is safe to say your opportunities to network are about to explode. Here in Jamaica, the largest of the CSME countries by population, we have 2.5 million people, and there are approximately 6 million people in the entire region.

In terms of GDP, the growth will even be larger as we become part of a market that is more than twice our size.

What can the professional do to prepare themselves for this opportunity?

Deepening One Area
The starting point, from my experience, is quite simple for those who enjoy their professions.

Pick an area of interest and deepen it.

Whether or not you actually ever become the world’s expert in the area is not important, yet. What is important is that you free up your creative juices, and engage your mind in its own expansion and training, and it has already given you an important clue on what to focus on — something you are already interested in.

It is a fact, however, that our education system in the region is not designed for this purpose, and you may have to teach yourself to tune into your interests, before even developing the will to pursue them. Such is the legacy of teaching that is geared towards passing the Common Entrance, GSAT, SEA, CAPE, CXC, and GCE exams.

Deepening your interest may mean doing some of the following, for example:

  • using Google to find websites devoted to the topic
  • downloading white papers in the field
  • finding and joining related professional bodies
  • locating others who share the interest
  • using online newsgroups to tune into the most recent developments (or creating them)
  • setting Yahoo! or Google news feeds to receive the latest news
  • learning how to use RSS to collect important datastarting, and commenting on blogs such as this onevisiting UWI library to research the topic
  • offer to give speeches on the area or host talk-shops at conferences
  • be available to the media for comment on the issue

These are only possible avenues to explore the interest, and the point is to start somewhere, anywhere, rather than to shy away from the overwhelming idea of being interviewed on prime-time television.

Ensure that the area is an authentic area of interest, and not one that is manufactured to “fit the market.”

Also, forget about trying to figure out “the job of the future.” When I was an undergraduate in the U.S., I remember after warning that the need for computer programmers was going to be far under that supply for the many year to come. At the time (1989) it was said to be an occupation that could not fail.

Fast forward to 2001 — when it was impossible to find a job as a programmer in the U.S. due to a combination of offshoring and new technology.

So, instead of trying to be a career obeah-man/woman, instead start with what you have a real and truthful interest in. If you like what you do, then simply start to believe that you can become an expert in that area, for no reason other than that it pleases you to do so.

While the area may not evoke words like “passion,” it is enough to start with just a sense of curiosity and a lot of questions that start to open up the possibility of answers that might be intriguing. It is said that real masters know more about the kinds of questions to ask, rather than the right answers to give. They know about the questions because they are always asking them, and never believe that they have reached the end of the story. In fact, they have accepted the fact that they might someday die with in the middle of a question, much in the way that Albert Einstein passed away while trying to achieve a Grand Unified Theory.

I am calling this way of thinking about connecting with others: “Question Based Networking.”

Organic vs. Forced
Thirdly, and fortunately, the work on Who You Are requires more patience, and tact than personality and force. Once the area of interest has been discovered, and it appears to be one that reflects an authentic curiosity, the final step is to allow one’s actions to unfold at a rate that is commensurate with the form of the question.

In other words, as one develops a series of questions related to the area of focus, and seeks to get them answered, what quite naturally evolves is a relationship with other people.


Because more often than not, their cooperation is vital in seeking answers, and in many cases they can help to share the questions themselves.

This process is quite organic, and natural, and is far cry from pretending to be interested at Chamber meetings, or trying to “Win Friends and Influence People” by feigning interest during stilted conversations.

For example, someone who has an interest in CSME and regional labour laws, could very well follow the questions they have all the way to various Ministers of Justice and Permanent Secretaries in governments of different countries! Someone with an interest in union negotiations could end up working with CEO’s of multinationals that must negotiate with multiple unions in a number of countries at the same time.

The key here is to allow the interest to grow at its own rate, and for the necessary courage and knowledge required at each stage to develop and mature.

As the process unfolds, what will naturally be there will be a network.

It will not be the kind of network in which your face is recognized from uptown or expensive fetes. Instead, you will be known for your Questions, and when people know you for your Questions, they will trust that you have something to say about some answers.

The 6 Best Ways to Learn a New Skill


The third issue of FirstCuts can be found at the following link:

To discuss the contents, add comments to this entry.

An imperfect rendering of the newsletter is included below (sorry, but I have not figured out how to make it work in this blog.)

FirstCuts Framework Consulting logo

A Framework Consulting Online eZine

High-Stake Interventions — New Ideas Issue 3 September 17, 2006

The 6 Hardest and Best Ways to Learn a New Skill
by Francis Wade


Coming up with a new topic each month for this eZine is an interesting exercise. Whereas I can happily put anything I want in my blog, and just “follow the way the wind is blowing,” I started to think that I should choose only “official” and “serious” topics for the eZine. The problem with doing that, is that I then began to focus on writing what I “should” rather than what I enjoy.

A wonderful book on the art of writing called “Weinberg on Writing,” advocates writing only about that which inspires, without exception. To break that law is to court real trouble, I am learning, as the “serious” topics are the ones that I find the hardest to complete.

Furthermore, finding the time to write “official” material seems to be impossible. People often ask me: “Where do you get the time to write?” When I follow Weinberg’s advice, and ignore my own fears, the answer is easy — I follow my own, positive, inner energy, and the result is a virtuous cycle of “needing to write” from which I have been unable to escape since I started writing my first blog last year.

And yes, I am loving it!


The 6 Hardest and Best Ways to Learn a New Skill

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC)

Sometimes the best way to learn a new skill is to take the most difficult path.

The most effective, and by far the most challenging form of skill development I have found occurs using video-based training, accompanied with immediate “full frontal feedback.”

How does it work? Here is the recommended recipe in 6 Ways.

1. Start with a new interpersonal skill that is difficult to learn to do well.

It might be listening, motivating, reflecting or probing. Or, it might be a combination of several skills such as coaching, public speaking, performance feedback or selling.

In most cases of superior performance, the formula is simple:
success = frequent practice + unique distinctions.

Frequent practice involves creating multiple learning opportunities to improve performance. Unique distinctions are principles or mental models that are used to achieve better performance, but may only be used subconsciously by the most successful performers.

2. Create a workshop or seminar in which the new skill can be learned through repeated practice. Attempt to simulate the real environment in which the skill is to be used, and then provide opportunities to try different approaches, and learn from repeated attempts.

For example, if the skill is selling, a workshop could be built
around roleplays of typical, but difficult, selling situations.

3. To maximize learning, set the training up as an
opportunity to receive feedback. As the repeated practice is
undertaken, provide a combination of real-time feedback after each session, using coaches that are familiar to the
participant, and also new one coaches.

Working colleagues serve wonderfully as familiar sources of
feedback. They know the participant, and can explicitly or
implicitly include their past experience in the feedback they are giving during the simulated practice sessions. Sometimes, they find themselves providing a participant with feedback that they have been wanting to give for some time.

To balance the feedback given by colleagues, include someone new in the group giving feedback to provide a source of “fresh” insight. This person can double as the group’s facilitator.

4. To ensure that feedback is given at a rate at which
the participant can use it, ensure that the facilitator is
experienced in working with executives and senior managers.

5. Use video-tape recording to capture the simulated roleplay, and to replay key moments. This ensures that the feedback given is based on the factual events from the simulation as they are recorded, as opposed to how they are remembered.

6. Provide sound principles to participants at the precise moment when they are looking for clues on how to improve performance. These principles might be known to experienced managers from prior training. However, they gain new life when they can be used immediately to improve roleplay performance. Once they have heard the principles, give them a chance to practice them in untaped replays until their performance visibly improves.

The formula is simple enough. But, as someone who has used these 6 Ways in training managers throughout North and South America, I can say that the first reaction of participants is usually one of anxiety. Most people shy away from the mere idea of being taped. The few that welcome it are taken aback when they understand that the tape will be scrutinized by a group of their peers for immediate feedback!

Furthermore, most participants experience a slight shock when they see themselves on tape for the first time, struggling through a difficult roleplay.

When the feedback starts, most are quite nervous at being so
exposed, and wary about what they are about to hear. Being this naked can be unnerving.

Yet, most report at the end, that it is the best opportunity they have ever had to practice and learn at the same time.

Some of the reasons given are that the feedback is based on
recorded fact, rather than interpretation or memory. They
appreciate the numerous opportunities to practice and learn. It is easier to learn and use the principles, even if they are not
new, as participants can immediately see how they help.

Participants often report a particular surprising discovery.

Often, it starts with a feeling of embarrassment at a
less-than-stellar performance. It continues with feedback,
and further practice. It ends with a successful redo of the
roleplay that is warmly acknowledged by the group as a

Participants say they are surprised that the new approach they are trying feels strange, unfamiliar and even uncomfortable, in spite of being told that their performance in the replay has visibly improved. We liken this to learning to write with one’s non-preferred hand.

This is all the encouragement that a participant needs to give up old habits and learn new practices. They demonstrate that even though this method is nerve-wracking, it is ruthlessly effective.

In a recent project, we were able to use the 6 Ways to deliver training to 80+ executives in three Caribbean region countries from a single company. These top-level managers were able to receive more feedback from their peers in a single session than they had ever received before, and many were able to demonstrate immediate, observable improvements in skill.

It helped us see that, like their extra-regional counterparts,
the 6 Ways are an effective, but challenging way to teach critical skills.

Next Steps
To discuss this topic further, and the approach we have built on these techniques called Lights!Camera!Action! place the following url in your browser to visit our company blog:
We promise to respond to comments and discussion added.

To download an article on training executives using the
Lights!Camera!Action! method, visit our website, click on Services and Select Facilitating Difficult Conversations, or place the following URL in your browser:

Useful Stuff

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CaribHRNews is a compilation of Caribbean HR news that our firm offers to members of CaribHRForum on a weekly basis. It can be viewed at any time at

Upcoming Speeches: I will have the honour of speaking at 2 events. One is the upcoming inaugural Business and Management Conference sponsored by the University of Technology in October and the other is the annual HRMAJ conference — both in Jamaica. See the Framework News Room at our website for more information and details:

Current Research Update: Study of Trinidadian Executives Working in Jamaica. We are still in the process of conducting interviews. One new idea that we are backing is the formation of a Trinidadian-Jamaican Chamber of Commerce, with a vision of chapters in Port of Spain and Kingston. To discuss this idea, or to put your weight behind it, visit our blog at and add a comment.

To manage this newsletter, we use an excellent programme called AWeber that you can explore here:-

Subscriber Q&A
Q — Where do you find the time to write as much as you do?
A — I used “Getting Things Done” by David Allen ( for the best concepts on time management, plus a book I recently discovered on writing called “Weinberg on Writing” by Gerald Weinberg. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a LOT of energy (according to my wife.)

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Jumping from the Plateau


Yesterday I experienced a jump in productivity. It had nothing to do with work, but instead it occurred in my swimming, which I found to be instantly improved.

In some recent posts on the topic of mastery, I shared how I have been working to improve my swimming technique, mostly through the use of Total Immersion. In this particular approach, drills that are designed to improve one’s form are the order of the day.

Yesterday, I was drilling away, doing a drill called “Skating” when all of a sudden I realised that I could kick my legs differently and get more propulsion. I tried it a few times and found that if I focused the kick from my hips as opposed to my knees I could produce a more fluid movement with less effort.

I decided to try out full swiming and thought that I was indeed going faster and not working as hard. I was taking less strokes on each length.

So, I decided to should check it out, by repeating an exercise I do to track my progress in swimming freestyle. In this exercise, the objective is to minimize not just one’s time, but also the number of strokes that are used. A formula is used to combine the two measurements into one by adding them together, and attempting to minimize the sum.

For example, over 50 yards:

45 strokes + 35 seconds = 80
40 strokes + 40 seconds = 80
55 strokes + 25 seconds = 80

In the exercise, these 3 efforts al lreflect the same performance because the sum is the same. Increasing speed is meaningless unless there is a decrease in the sum of the two, e.g.

40 strokes + 25 second = 65

Well, I had a breakthrough of sorts last night:

I went from
50 seconds + 86 strokes = 136 in April
35 seconds + 86 strokes= 121 last week
15 seconds + 65 strokes = 80 last night!

For my swimmers: my kick is now linked into the rotation of my body whereas before it was disconnected — I think!

Now, all I need to do is to keep practicing this new kick until it becomes a new habit, ingrained into the way I swim without having to think about it.

This is what happens when one is on the road to mastery… practicing over and over again until something happens and it all comes together to produce a jump in performance. Between May Jun and last night, I had seen no improvement — and by drilling I found some new way that my body could move that I had read about before, but enver experienced.

So there I was, cheering myself in the pool… happy as anything. I am still very, very slow compared to others but the pride and joy I felt came from making progress in something so small that only I could care about it (in the moment at least.)

This feeling is there for anyone who wants mastery, in any area of their life. From my plumber, to someone delivering front-line customer sevrice, to a CEO — it is fully available to all.

Swimming, Mastery and Customer Service


It struck me while swimming this morning that the method I have been using for the past 8 years or so is all about mastery.

As a triathlete, I spend a great deal of time practicing the three sports — swimming, cycling and running. Running and cycling share one thing in common, which is that a good athlete in decent condition can do well in these sports, especially when they are blessed with some degree of physical speed and power.

Swimming, however, is quite different.

Water is 80 times as dense as air. The reason that good swimmers are not muscular is that being a good swimmer is all about technique. In particular, poor swimming technique is punished severely in the form of resistance or drag.

By contrast, poor cycling and running technique are not as important as stamina, speed and power. The movements in both these sports are much more constrained, or limited, and the air is much more forgiving than water as a medium.

This makes swimming unique — and the repetitive drilling that goes with mastery all the more important.

At my level of swimming it is ALL about technique. In fact, the books I have read say that someone with my (slow) speed should not even worry about trying to go faster. Instead, the emphasis needs to be on cutting resistance by using better techniques.

This particular insight is one that is pioneered by Terry Laughlin, the inventor of the Total Immersion approach to mindful swimming.

Someone watching me practice would wonder what the heck I am doing… it would look like a bunch of half-swimming exercises, repeated over and over again. They might think I am trying to get my body fitter and fitter by doing different things.

The truth is quite different, however.

Whereas the typical swimming workout, and the typical swimming coach focuses on quantity — doing lots and lots of laps with variations in length and speed and stroke, Terry’s focus is on using your mind to emphasize, isolate and improve different actions of the arms, legs, torso and head and the resultant bodily sensations.

For example, he would have you swim while focusing on creating a sensation called “weightless arm” which is created by pressing the chest into the water.


It turns out that these sensations allow for a more streamlined approach that cuts resistance and improve speed. However, the speed comes when the technique is right, and the technique is right when the sensations are right, and the sensations comes when the various appendages are doing more of the right things than not.

So, there I was this morning, swimming back and froth, trying to accomplish better and better way of keeping that feeling, especially when I am fatigued.

I recognized a parallel between this kind of thinking and providing good customer service.

A company that sees the need to deliver good customer service might invest in actions such as training employees to smile, say hello and ask “How can I help you” every single time a customer walks in. However, the result might be the opposite of that intended.

In The US, for example, I got quite used to the “fake friendly” service that is delivered in stores by people who would do all of the right things, but five minutes later would ignore me outside the store as if they never knew me. I have even gotten the same greeting from the same person only minutes apart, indicating to me that they are not really meaning to be friendly — they are meaning to do their jobs.

If the company does not focus on the experience that the customer is having, versus the one that is intended, they could well deliver something very different.

It stands to reason that the way to focus on providing the desired experience with customers is to create practices for each employee of the company in producing the desired experience with other employees — the people that they interact with most frequently.

And this is where the analogy fit — practicing one thing can give you another. In my swimming training, practicing fast swimming comes from focusing on becoming more streamlined in the water.

In companies, producing excellent customer experiences comes from focusing on creating superior employee experiences.

When it comes to thinking about creating the right kind of experience with employees, executives have a tremendous blind spot, and start to think immediately of how much it will cost them. Often, the assumption is that the right kind of experience equates to giving them more money, which mostly comes from the point of view that employees are merely economic animals to be “inventivized” one way or another.

Well, it does come down to that — but only in the very worst companies.

In the better companies, employees do not retreat into monetary rewards as their sole or even most important reward. Research shows employees want much more than that, and are not so easily bought and sold.

Instead, in the case of the Jamaican worker, research from Why Workers Won’t Work by Kenneth Carter shows that respect is much more important.

In some companies that we have consulted with across the Caribbean region, workers have said over and over again that an executive that does not say “Good Morning” to each employee that he/she passes is guilty of disrespect, and insulting behaviour. While this may sound extreme (and it seems so to me with my American hat on) it nevertheless is true.

These feelings are then passed on wholesale to customers, as that same employee (without necessarily being vengeful) reproduces the same treatment that they received.

My sense is that executives can get away with this kind of behaviour to some degree in North American countries, as that “fake friendly” service can continue to some degree, perhaps due to the Protestant work-ethic that the US is so famous for.

In the Caribbean, however, a worker “dat not feelin’ it, not gwine give it.” Transl: “a worker that is not feeling it, will not give it.” Workers in our region are particularly unforgiving of such slights.

Mastery of the customer experience in our region may well start with executives mastering the kind of keen listening and sensitivity that they want employees to demonstrate.

Mastery and the Plateau


I recently completed a wonderful, short book entitled Mastery, written by George Leonard.

The first wonderful thing to report is that the book is based entirely on his own experience of learning aikido, from the novice stages to the point where he is a black belt, with his own school. This gives a certain gravity to what he says, coming from a serious discipline that requires a certain kind of devotion that cannot be short-cut, or faked. Also, the fact that this is a sport, as opposed to a part of his work, makes it that much easier to appreciate, and hopefully to apply to other parts of life.

The second wonderful thing is that he really says some new things that I have never heard before about the journey that each human being must take to advance themselves along their chosen path of interest in life — no matter what the path is. It is fascinating to me to realize that each and every chosen path is worthy of mastery — even plumbing, as I mentioned in an earlier blog on this topic!

Regardless of the path, there is a certain humanity that we must all deal with that is inescapable, even if we have Tiger Woods’ sized talent in our field of interest. The author’s observations about this path are what struck me as unique.

In the book he rightly observed that most of use do not demonstrate what it takes to become masters in the fields that we pursue, mostly because we simply love to find shortcuts and easy payoffs. He introduces three ways in which people try to avoid the long, slow struggle to mastery.

The three ineffective ways of being that people adopt are what he called The Dabbler, The Obsessive and the Hacker. I believe that we indulge in all these ways at different times in different fields, as we are confronted by what it takes to become a real master in one or more areas.

The Dabbler is someone who approaches each area of interest with enormous enthusiasm, whether it be a new sport, career opportunity, or relationship. This person loves the newness of getting started, and the new equipment, clothing, people and language that mark the beginning phases of any new interest.

They are overjoyed with their new find, and are willing to talk with anyone who will listen about their new interest. The first few lessons are eagerly anticipated, and as the early gains come there is a sense of euphoria.

The excitement continues until the first wall comes which marks the start of the first plateau in improvement. It starts to look as if nothing is happening, and to the Dabbler this is unacceptable — something must be going wrong.

The Dabbler’s response is to rationalize that this must be the wrong sport, career choice or paramour. They start to blame the hobby, the coach, the manager, the lover — whatever they must do to explain to themselves what is happening.

Starting all over again with another new interest is the only option, and the Dabbler quickly finds something new, or someone new, or some new place to be excited about all over again. Nothing gets accomplished, because the Dabbler is always… dabbling, and never spend enough concentrated time and effort in becoming masterful.

Over time, the Dabbler’s progress might look like the diagram at left.

The Obsessive, however, loses him or herself in the all the activity of their new interest. They devote tremendous amounts of time, energy and money acquiring information about their new area of interest. In a sport, they seek extra coaching wherever possible, and spend extra time practicing wherever they can. They purchase every book they can get their hands on.

In a relationship they virtually study their partner and cannot bear to be away or out of contact for very long — as if the other person’s presence is the most important thing to have.

This person is hooked on immediate results — the immediate knowledge, the felt thrill of learning and improving quickly. When the results slow down by virtue of hitting the inevitable plateau, the Obsessive redoubles their efforts. They work harder than ever, and put in even more effort to try to break out of the plateau. Long hours, late nights and 7 day a week work-weeks are their trademark.

In a relationship, they are the ones who crowd out their partner, stifling them with unceasing and eventually unwanted attention. They will not allow the plateau to run its course, and instead do whatever they can to force improvements and results to come.

Eventually, the Obsessive overdoes it, and the inevitable result is either burn-out or crash-out, sometimes carrying others with them in what is often a painful fall for everyone involved.

Over time, the Obsessive’s progress might look like the following diagram:

The Hacker, by contrast, is someone who hits a wall in performance and never generates enough intention to get past it. They are content to stay in the plateau indefinitely, hanging around without improvement, and never expecting to get any better.

They might just be involved for the “fellowship,” or the free food or the security, but the fact is they are satisfied with never ever doing any better at the particular interest. At work, they do just enough to never get fired. In a marriage, they simply enjoy the security of the relationship, without worrying themselves about learning and growing in the relationship.

For them, keeping things the same is of paramount importance, and their time is spent dealing with threats that might disrupt the status quo, either positively or negatively. The Hacker’s progress over time is shown in the diagram at left.

Obviously, most people are not one type or another in every place in life. Most of us live lives in combination — e.g. being a Dabbler in playing sports, and being a Hacker in relationships. The net effect is the same however — Mastery in nothing.

The Master, however, is someone who is able to deal effectively with the walls that inevitably comes in attempting to improve performance.

In the early stages of a new interest, there is steady improvement, and then a spurt of gains as everything seems to come together all at once. The body and mind which have been learning at different rates cooperate to produce the perfect result, and all of a sudden there is a breakthrough in performance.

However, once the breakthrough has been completed, there is always an immediate drop off in performance, followed by a plateau, as the body and mind consolidate and organize at this new level, and begin to prepare for the next improvement.

Therefore, improvement does not come as a steady graph of upward improvement. Instead, improvement comes in spurts, and usually all at once after spending significant time on the plateau in which nothing seems to be happening. See the diagram at left.

A couple of weeks ago, on my regular 4:00 a.m. bicycle ride here in Kingston (described in this blog entry) I suddenly realized that I was riding stronger than ever before. The experience was unmistakable — instead of barely hanging on at the back of the pack of the riders, I felt as if I was cruising with additional strength to spare at what was about a 25 – 27 mph pace. I actually was able to be up with the fastest riders at the front, and to participate in the final sprint at the end, which took us up to 32mph or so.

The improvement was stunning to me and to several others who, on the ride back up Mountain View, remarked that I was riding much stronger than before. I had clearly broken out of the plateau I had been on since February, when I first started riding with this group.

It is during the plateau that the dysfunctional behaviour of the Dabbler, Obsessive and Hacker occur.

The Master, however, reacts differently, neither quitting, nor becoming neurotic, not giving up on further improvement.

Instead, the Master devotes him or herself to practice, because that is all that there is to do in the plateau. Patience, discipline and diligence are their watchwords as they immerse themselves in perfecting their craft.

When the plateau is described to most people, their mind (which has been trained by the current culture to think in terms of immediate gratification) reacts with a feeling of boredom or fatigue. However, the Master is able to do more than just be bored — they are able to find satisfaction, joy and challenge even while they endure the lack of improvement.

The Master’s focus is not on the immediate results, but instead it is on the practice itself, and on perfecting the drills that are required in this phase to eke out the invisible small improvements that are the hidden building blocks of the sudden improvements that occur days, months and even years later.

Is the source of Brian Lara’s achievements his talent, or is it the millions of balls he has faced in the nets practicing the same strokes over and over again for over twenty years? Clearly, talent has its place, but it is only a starting point.

Is the source of Tiger Woods’ achievement his father who encouraged him, or is it the millions of shots he has taken and the minute changes he has made to his game over the years? Obviously, early coaching has its place, but that cannot replace the solitary practice he has undertaken over most of his life.

In the moments when I have enjoyed the plateau, there has been a profound feeling of being alive, and awake to what is around me. In the Total Immersion swimming technique that I have used for almost ten years, there is an emphasis on doing drill after drill, and looking for
small improvements in technique and in one’s feel for the water.

Recently, I switched from breathing every 2 strokes to every 3 strokes, a change I tried several years ago without success. Only now, after years and miles of practice, could I make the switch and get my body and mind to cooperate, with the result being an instant boost in sped, and an ability to use the new stroke without feeling as if I am drowning!

Other areas of mastery that I realized I have committed myself to after reading this book include: public speaking, managing my company, growing in my relationship with my wife, expanding my relationship with the Divine and leading high-stake interventions in organizations.

Of course, I have many other areas of minor interest that I have no commitment to become Masterful in, such as fixing computers, university teaching, cooking and playing cricket and football.

The challenge for our people here in the Caribbean is that they are becoming more and more like their counterparts in North America — trained to seek instant satisfaction from life around them. Nowhere in our school curriculum are students taught to value, to enjoy, even to love the plateau, the long stretch of diligent effort, with no seeming progress (according to the author.)

This is a tragedy, not only in accomplishment, but also in personal enjoyment because accomplishing anything worthwhile involves a commitment to Mastery. Granted, there is a thrill in winning the lottery, but that is a fleeting victory and comes from luck rather than diligent effort and application.

Often, the gifted athlete makes the worst coach, simply because they are ill-acquainted with the plateaus that an athlete must learn to love in order to reach the higher levels of accomplishment. They find it hard to help an athlete go through these plateaus simply because they do not know of their existence from first-hand experience.

The author, in closing, makes the overall observation that on a daily basis we are not present to each and every moment, and therefore rob ourselves of the joy that is available. We wake up and hurry to take a bath (taking a bath isn’t important). We hurry up and “grab a bite” to eat (eating is not important). We rush to put on our clothes (also inconsequential). We rush to drop off the children and to get to work through the unimportant” rush hour” traffic. We engage in some light chatting, because we are too busy to really talk (more important things await). Perhaps work will be challenging and interesting and different (but most days, it is not).Maybe lunch will bring a stimulating conversation… but it usually doesn’t.

And so on.

The fact is, life consists mostly of plateau-like activities, and even a World Cup footballer will play at most 2-3 matches of ninety minutes each per week during the season, which equates to at most 4.5 hours out of a possible 126 waking hours — some 4%.

If our experience of our lives has more to do with our moment by moment experience, than anything else, then teaching ourselves to love the practice that is required in the plateaus may be the beginning of actually leading a Masterful life.