I’ve been meaning to come back to this topic for a while – closing the loop on Daniel Pink’s Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose theme from his book Drive.  Now that I’m doing it I’ve realised that I need to think more deeply on what Mastery means when you extract that from Purpose.  Mastery can be a Purpose, but for many their Purpose isn’t Mastery.

Now that I’m nicely tongue tied let me dig into what Mastery is – closely tied, but not the same as – Autonomy and Purpose.  All three add up to a powerful motivational combination.

Mastery is a mind-set

Daniel Pink talks about two mind-sets.  One mind-set views intelligence as innate and hence finite per individual and the other mind-set views it as something that grows over time – as you learn and acquire knowledge.  Pink discusses research showing that people who view the world as a place in which they can grow their knowledge and experience will come up with more creative solutions to problems.  Their failure to solve a problem will not be because they are incapable of solving the problem rather that they haven’t learnt enough to engage with the problem and they will keep trying to solve the problem for longer.  They view their inability to solve the problem an external one – more learning – not an internal one of – I’m not capable of this.  This might be an oversimplification, but that’s the idea.

Mastery embraces this growth mind-set.  With a focus on getting better, you will get better.

Pain and the impossible

By definition when striving for mastery you will leave the safe place you’re in and expose yourself to failure.  That failure will hopefully bring learning but it can also bring pain and frustration.  Striving for mastery can be hard.

The other problem with mastery is that it is a potentially unattainable goal.  However if you strive for it, you may hopefully keep on inching closer, bit by bit, edging asymptotically towards mastery.

Engagement is a Good Thing

Engagement at work is valuable for enjoyment of your work.  It is also valuable for your organisation.  The more engaged you are, the more productive you will hopefully be.

Mastery at one’s work encourages individuals to become highly engaged in what they are trying to do and to strive to get better and better.  Mastery gives a focus on the long term engagement of individuals in their work.  This is a good thing.

What about the short term?

There is an often use term of “getting into the zone” or maybe “getting into a groove”.  Those are the times when you are working effectively and efficiently and enjoying yourself while doing it.  Pink discusses research showing that people who are in flow – or in the zone – are highly productive and thus we should attempt to optimise for flow moments.  Flow is the short term bursts of doing great work.

Flow is thought to be most achievable when someone has clear goals defined, quick feedback on those goals, and a slightly challenging problem in front of them.  (Doesn’t that shout TDD to you?)

Individual Mastery

Mastery for the individual is a personal choice.  Switch on and engage. Read, attend community gatherings, talk to people, learn.  It isn’t hard to engage.  This is your choice and isn’t limited by your organisation as it can all be done outside of work.

However your organisation should support you.  They should want you to be awesome at your job.   That should make it easier to get started.  A mastery focus will bleed into all of your work and you can only get better at your job and grow as a person.

The limitation here will always be how much autonomy does your organisation / team allow you to have to be a master at work.  And how much you care to try.  It is up to you.

Team Mastery

Scrum encourages teams to be masters.  That is the whole point of self-organising teams.  Activities like pairing and TDD help flow through providing lots of small short term goals with high feedback. Retrospectives allow for space to explore together how the team is performing and jointly decide what next to try in order to get better.  When a team gets this right they can be highly effective.

But too often I see this as not happening in teams.  People feel pressurised to deliver – right or wrong – and too often no one is brave enough to do the cleanest, most correct thing that needs to be done because it might cost too much, or it might be politically unsafe, or they are completely unempowered to solve the elephant in the room or any other myriad of reasons.

In order for a team to take the most advantage of the space that Scrum provides them to be a master, there must already be a majority of individuals in the team who already want to be masters and drive each other to get better and better.  Without that, the team has the finite mind-set that assumes the problem is too large for them and they will not come up with the really creative solutions to move forward.

And me?

Personally I’ve recently had my best flow moments doing TDD.  Both pairing and on my own.  I continuously know what is next to do and continuously get feedback on what I’m doing.

I’m on a drive for mastery.  I think in the last year I’ve made some great progress.  But there is a still lot to learn.  I’m looking forward to it.

That said, perhaps I should attempt to separate my view of mastery as my purpose and maybe I could derive even more drive as a result.  That’s something to experiment with.

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