A well defined field: Preconditions and principles for obtaining mastery
Updated: Feb 4
Part 1 For the past 9 years I’ve studied what it takes to become a master therapist, and in doing so I’ve discovered a set of universal preconditions and principles for obtaining mastery. I’m going to lay out these preconditions and principles, and show how they relate specifically to the therapy world.
Precondition #1: A well defined field
In order to get good at something you must pick a field with clear goals, and well defined skills to meet those goals. A field with clear goals and well defined skills (piano, swimming, coding, etc.) will have lots of people who’ve gain status because of what they can produce or do. Let’s call these people masters.
For instance Usain Bolt is the worlds fastest man because he’s faster than everyone else. He’s a master. It’s pretty straightforward.
This sounds self evident. It isn’t. Very often we confuse defined fields with undefined fields, fields with unclear goals and poorly defined skills (leadership, politics, radiology, ect). In undefined fields most people perform no better than chance. These fields have lots of people who’ve obtained their status because of their charisma, attractiveness, type of medium, and political savvy. Let’s call these people gurus.
Oprah is a guru. Is she really the very best interviewer in the world? What does that even mean to “be the best interviewer”? I don’t know. Compare her to someone like Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air. I’d argue that they are equally skilled interviewers. So why is Oprah known by only her first name and you had to google Ms. Gross? Well, who would you say is more attractive and charismatic? And if you wanted to have maximum reach, which medium would you choose? Radio or TV? We don’t like to think these things matter, but things like charisma matter a lot.
As a new person in a field, the most important question you can ask is, “is this field definable? Are there clear goals and clear ways to meet those goals?” Some fields aren’t definable. For instance, Nobel laurate Daniel Kahneman talks about how stock pickers and political forecasters are gurus with their performance being no better than chance, “but it’s not their fault” he says “the world is just too complicated.”
Some undefined fields just haven’t been defined yet. Throughout history the G.O.A.T.s have made their name by picking fields that were undefined and defining them. Mozart’s father was a music teacher who wrote one of the first books on how to teach kids music. Before Mozart few musicians regularly practiced and no one started young. He and his father defined an undefined field. A modern day example is Steph Curry. In the 70’s people thought that the 3 point shot was just too hard to make. Fast forward to today. Steph Curry has made it his signature move, and probably put himself on the list of all time greatest players because of it. The same with Tony Hawk. People said it was impossible to do a 900, but Tony Hawk did it and cemented his place in history. Mozart, Curry, Hawk. All of these people defined and undefined field.
So how do you know if a field is defined or undefined? The biggest indicator is how quickly you can get feedback.