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Where now Michelangelo?

At the recent EMCC conference, John Campbell from Primeast spoke about the journey “From Competence to Mastery”.  The analogy he used for mastery was the craftsman working a piece of wood or Michelangelo who “saw an angel in the stone and carved to set it free”.

In his supporting paper, co-authored with John Holt & Benita Treanor, competence and mastery are defined thus:

Competence’ is related to the acquisition of skills and carrying out work without mistakes, or without ‘compromising principles’.

Mastery’ is described in artistic terms and a master craftsman would compromise principles for the greater good (“what is needed here right now?”), with an intuitive feel for those things that are inviolate and those that are not.

Unarguable really, but in the workplace we often seem to focus exclusively on the former.  In fact, we usually look at competence through a model, process or measurement to show that anything else would be wrong… 

There are three fundamental perspectives which have stuck with me since:
  1. Labelling & codification does not create best practice.  It creates orthodoxy.
  2. Processes & models can show competence.  By design they can also constrain & exclude.
  3. Mastery has an artistry and intuitive fluency about it.  It goes beyond competence and measurement.

Thinking of Michelangelo again, the mastery that we aspire to involves understanding what is in front of you, the vision of its future and then being able to draw on a range of practised techniques to inform what you do next.  Perhaps more importantly being able to trust your intuition and break some of the rules of those techniques.

Perhaps those unorthodox, rule breaking experts in your organisation are more important than you think.  Perhaps this truly represents great leadership.

So don’t constrain them.  Instead ask “Where now Michangelo?”.


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