Monday, November 16, 2009

The path to mastery

How to transform organizations is the major theme of The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan (Jossey-Bass, 2009). But in the final part of the book there is a chapter entitled “The Path to Mastery” that I think has some insights for traders and investors.

The most important insight, to my mind, is that masters think from the principles of their field rather than about the principles. For example, Richard Feynman was committed to being at the source of whatever he worked on. “Until his death, he could create all the major laws of physics by thinking from basic axioms.” And, he wrote, “What I cannot create, I do not understand.” (p. 172)

As we learn, we usually try to make new ideas fit with those that are familiar and reject those that don’t fit. But, claim the authors, “if the new idea is truly difference making, it opens up new and uncharted territory. . . . [T]he person sees the world through the lens of the new idea.” (p. 180)

It’s important to note that the authors aren’t proposing some Zen-like state of being “one with the trade” or living in the “now.” Yes, the masters they write about are absorbed in their fields, but they are thinkers and actors. They think and act from the inside, presumably from principles that are basic enough to accommodate a panoply of new ideas. “The [often counterintuitive] way in which [situations] occur to a master makes the master’s performance possible, reliable, and consistently superior to that of other people.” (p. 171)

The path sketched here is not achieved in a linear fashion, step by step. It’s closer, the authors suggest, to learning French by moving to Paris and immersing yourself in the language. “In time, words and phrases begin to make sense. You can order food in French and get what you actually ordered. You begin to think in French, even dream in it. You see things from a new perspective. As linguists have pointed out, there are phrases, thoughts, and ideas that can be said in one language and not in another. One of the benefits of learning a new language is being able to think and say thoughts that were impossible before.” (p. 174)

I have no doubt that other authors have expressed these ideas more coherently. But I think the notions of thinking from rather than about and processing information counterintuitively are potentially profound.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree. It's what has separated (and still largely does) academic economists from "acting" businessmen/traders/economists.

    Plus, on a slightly different note, how can you expect high performance without immersing yourself in the experience (sports, trading, language, etc)? The best are often passionately involved in what they do.