When I first began writing I listened to the advice: “If you want to be a writer, write”.

My dream was to write the type of stories that turned children, like my then 9-year-old son into devout readers. Stories filled with heros that would move the needle from insecure to courageous.

So I wrote.


I was arrogant enough to believe I could write simply by ‘doing it’.

How hard could writing a sentence be?

I created what’s best described as a dog’s breakfast. Pages that ranted and raved down an unpaved path of ‘no idea’.

Persistence can be a dual edged sword.

Calvin Coolidge once said, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.

Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.

I think Coolidge, though right in essence, is missing a key point.

Persistence can keep failed ideas on life support long after they need burying. And stymie one of the most important ingredients needed for growth and innovation.

And that is: Mastering The Basics.

So I went back to square one. And discovered that writing great sentences is one of the single most difficult things I’ve had to learn.

Truth #1: Practicing Mistakes Does Not Improve Performance or Results.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Pablo Picasso

In the race to the top, to be noticed, to achieving dreams — there’s a temptation.

And that’s to get all creative, all original-like and all in a ‘category of your own’.

Bad move.

While that may work for some — it’s usually a recipe for failure in the long run because getting the basics right means setting solid foundations.

In essence, it’s like trying to reinvent the wheel. That’s been done.

While learning the basics may be boring — it’s an essential tool to catapult results. It offers freedom from the insecurity of ‘Not-Really-Knowing-What-You’re-Doing Syndrome’ that catches all novices.

Being an apprentice opens a door to learning new skills and closes another: arrogance to think one can ‘know it all’.

Truth #2: Learn Mastery From A Master

It’s a truth that you can’t read the label from inside the jar.

>> High level sports people get coaches.

>>Business people find mentors.

>> Health conscious people find personal trainers.

>> Individuals find therapists.

Most of us don’t know we have blind spots. They’re hidden from our awareness.

In 1955 Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham developed a technique called the Johari Window.

It describes four basic forms of the Self (the Public, Private, Blind, and Undiscovered Self).

In many ways it also describes the path followed by apprentices aiming to master new skills. And why those who reach high levels of mastery always consider themselves as ‘students’.

A quick experiment. Below is an image showing how your brain fills in a blind spot. Close your right eye. Look at the + using only your left eye. Slowly move your head closer to the image. The space in the middle of the vertical lines will disappear.

An apprentice can’t see why they’re not getting the results they want. Especially when it looks so easy to those more practiced in the skill.

It’s the Johari Window of limited self-perception.

  • The public self who’s aware of some limitations and openly admits it.
  • The private self who knows its limitations and prefers to keep them hidden (for example dyslexia or learning problems).
  • The blind self who believes what it’s doing is right while those around them know differently.
  • And the undiscovered self — the person who’s capable of reaching the highest levels of mastery, yet whose talent lays undiscovered.

You may have seen this at work with people who resign because of bosses who are blind to their inability to engage and motivate staff.

There’s a saying: People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.

As long as the person remains ‘blind’ to the problem (and often excusing themselves by blaming another) change is rare.

Learning from a master means humbling oneself to the fact they are blind to so much that is apparent to others.

Truth #3: Emulate Before Innovating

I was at a conference where a successful Brazilian entrepreneur, Erico Rocha spoke about what makes successful people and why others fail — even though they may be studying the same material and following the same master.

And the key point he shared is this: “Some people learn the basics well and create a strong foundation. They go on to become successful. Then there are the others who start with Step 1 and then say … ‘What else have you got?’. These people chase ‘shiny objects’ and never master the most important elements: the basics.” Erico Rocha

Powerful truth. Who doesn’t want to be remembered for their innovation and creativity? Being ‘original’ is a trait most desire.

Who doesn’t want to be an overnight success, or be seen as a ‘natural’. One who is gifted?

Yet, the hard truth is that learning Step #1 is only the beginning — not the end.

It took Leonardo da Vinci the final 16 years of his life to perfect the Mona Lisa’s smile. He assumed the role of learner. Spending his evenings in the morgue drawing anatomy, he was the first to draw the human spine with the correct curves.

Mastery leaves clues.

Truth #4: Pivot At The Pinnacle

Nature works in cycles. So do businesses. The stock market. And learning curves.

It’s the maturing of the market. The maturing of the ego. The maturing of the mind to see new connections, make new insights and create from an original place.

Innovation happens at the pinnacle point. When the basics are mastered. And patterns become apparent. It’s the slight adjustments — or the radical 180 degree turn that can achieve results you may never have discovered otherwise.

The pinnacle offers a view impossible to see in the valley.

Below are two examples of people ‘pivoting’ in unusual ways.

Dutch designer, Roosmarijn Pallandt, weaves geography, anthropology and Google earth images together to create stunning hand-woven rugs. Blending deep skills, insight and technology has opened a new way of interpreting the world around.

Richard Weston, Professor of Architecture, began scanning stones and minerals. Amazed by the depth of colour and detail he printed them on to silk scarves. They are now a featured line with Liberty of London’s scarf hall.

Innovation happens when deep skills meet diverse perceptions — ones that create original ways to present ideas that traverse the expected.

Truth #5: Mastery leads to Genius.

Seeing from diverse perspectives offers different views. Different interpretations. Different ways to seeing.

“Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge

The genius path can be a lonely path. It can also be a path to poverty. To hidden gems buried in shallow graves.

Genius needs celebration. And this only happens in a community of like-minded people willing to lift each other.

The ‘lone wolf’ rarely makes the breakthroughs because elements needed for success are blind spots. The ‘undiscovered self’ shies from the light, instead choosing a shadow.

What’s needed is the bright light of honest reflection to open the Johari Window of success.

Opening the door to mastery and genius starts with small seed-like steps.

Tiny habits that build to rituals. Openness to change. Awareness of self in relation to the world around.

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Originally published at medium.com