Shallow sucks, why you need to go for mastery

You can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself. —LEONARDO DA VINCI

Robert Greene

I am a massive fan of Robert Greene. I think his “33 strategies of war” is a masterpiece. I read “Mastery” a few years ago and decided to pick it up again after Dave Hogan, the CEO of Smartflow, mentioned it to me (I am on the board of Smartflow).

The lost art of mastery

In the current world of fragmentation and diminished attention span, mastery appears to be a lost art. So is “Deep work”. As is focus, long-termism, and sticking to something for a long time. The opposite to instant gratification. From being an apprentice to creative-active to ultimately mastery. The opposite to the hack or shortcut.


Pattern recognition, developed intuition, knowing without knowing, effortless power, the power of the mind, deep understanding, ongoing renewal, discipline, creativity, absorption, flow and quantum access. Twenty thousand hours (and counting), heightened intellectual powers and seeing more.

Develop your intellectual muscle

Think of the mind as a muscle that naturally tightens over time unless consciously worked upon. You are in control. Your thoughts determine your mental landscape. You have your mind, and you have your attitude. Manage your levels of desire, patience, persistence, and confidence. Feeling motivated and energised, we can overcome almost anything.

Stat with you

The first move toward mastery is always inward—learning who you are and reconnecting with that innate force. Finding your authentic self, your vocation, your uniqueness, your destiny, your life force. What weakens this force, what makes you not feel it or even doubt its existence, is the degree to which you have succumbed to another force in life—social pressures to conform. Once you find your purpose, you need to adjust your path or journey, and eventually, you will hit upon a particular field, niche, or opportunity that suits you perfectly.

Rely on yourself

Mastery is important. We are entering a world in which we can rely less and less upon the state, the corporation, or family or friends to help and protect us. It is a globalised, harshly competitive environment. We must learn to develop ourselves. At the same time, it is a world teeming with critical problems and opportunities, best solved and seized by entrepreneurs—individuals or small groups who think independently, adapt quickly and possess unique perspectives. Your individualised, creative skills will be at a premium.

Make yourself future proof

In the future, the great division will be between those who have trained themselves to handle complexities and those who are overwhelmed by them—those who can acquire skills and discipline their minds and those who are irrevocably distracted by all the media around them and can never focus enough to learn.

There are five strategies

1. To master a field, you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it. Your interest must transcend the field itself and border on the religious.

2. Find a niche in the ecology that you can dominate. It is never a simple process to find such a niche. It requires patience and a particular strategy.

3. Avoid the false path. A false path in life is generally something we are attracted to for the wrong reasons—money, fame, attention, and so on. If it is attention we need, we often experience a kind of emptiness inside that we are hoping to fill with the false love of public approval.

4. Adapt. Change is inevitable, particularly in such a revolutionary moment as ours. Since you are on your own, it is up to you to foresee the changes going on right now in your profession.

5. From now on, you need never await temporal attestation to your thought. You think the truth, and no good can ever come from deviating from the path you were destined to follow. 

Focus on learning

The principle is simple and must be engraved deeply in your mind: the goal of an apprenticeship is not money, a good position, a title, or a diploma, but rather the transformation of your mind and character—the first transformation on the way to mastery. This has a simple consequence: you must choose places of work and positions that offer the greatest possibilities for learning. By observing, skill acquisition and experimentation. Concentrated practise. The 10,000 hours. Enough to establish an exceptional skill level at a craft. The more we speak and practice, the more fluent we become. Hardwiring your brain. Automatic action. Second nature.

Apprenticeship tips 

  • Value learning over money
  • Keep expanding your horizons
  • Stay modest
  • Trust the process
  • Move toward resistance and pain
  • Combine the “how” and the “what.”
  • Advance through trial and error

There is no hack

There are no shortcuts or ways to bypass the apprenticeship phase. It is the nature of the human brain to require such lengthy exposure to a field, which allows for complex skills to become deeply embedded and frees the mind up for real creative activity. The very desire to find shortcuts makes you eminently unsuited for any kind of mastery. There is no possible reversal to this process.

Stage two, the creative-active

Masters manage to use discipline and a childlike spirit together into what we shall call the dimensional mind. Such a mind is not constricted by limited experience or habits. The dimensional mind is active, transforming everything it digests into something new and original, creating instead of consuming. We all possess an inborn creative force that wants to become active. This is the gift of our original mind, which reveals such potential. The human mind is naturally creative, constantly looking to make associations and connections between things and ideas. By understanding how the dimensional mind operates and what helps it flourish, we can consciously revive our mental elasticity and reverse the deadening process. The powers that the dimensional mind can bring are nearly limitless and within the reach of almost all of us.

  • The task that you choose to work on must have an obsessive element. Your emotional commitment to your work will translate directly into your work.
  • The mind must be able to feel doubt and uncertainty for as long as possible. As it remains in this state and probes deeply into the mysteries of the universe, ideas will come that are more dimensional and real than if we had jumped to conclusions and formed judgments early on.
  • Allow for serendipity. Widen your search as far as possible.
  • But by continually cycling between speculation and observation/experiment, we are able to pierce deeper and deeper into reality, like a drill that penetrates a piece of wood through its motion.
  • Alter your perspective. Look for the weak signal, the anomalies, the absent,
  • Revert to primal forms of intelligence. The grammar of language locks us into certain forms of logic and ways of thinking. And so, language is a tool that is often too tight and constricting compared to the multilayered powers of intelligence we naturally possess.  Access the lower chambers of consciousness, to revert to those primal forms of intelligence that served us for millions of years.

The Creative Breakthrough—Tension and Insight

Everyone will recognise this. You begin a project with an initial intuition and excitement about its potential success. Their project is deeply connected to something personal and primal and seems very much alive. You begin to give their concept shape, narrowing down its possibilities and channelling their energies into ideas that grow more and more distinct. They enter a phase of heightened focus. As the process becomes more conscious and less intuitive, that idea, once so alive, starts to seem somewhat dead or stale. You have been through this before, and on an unconscious level, you understand that they must plough forward and that the frustration, or the feeling of being blocked, has a purpose. At a particular high point of tension, you let go for a moment. This could be as simple as stopping work. And then the perfect idea for completing the work comes to you. When we let go, we are not aware that below the surface of consciousness, the ideas and the associations we had built up continue to bubble and incubate.

Hard work

To create a meaningful work of art or to make a discovery or invention requires great discipline, self-control, and emotional stability. When you look at the exceptionally creative work of masters, you must not ignore the years of practice, the endless routines, the hours of doubt, and the tenacious overcoming of obstacles these people endured. Creative energy is the fruit of such efforts and nothing else.

Fuse the intuitive with the rational: mastery

This intelligence is cultivated by deeply immersing ourselves in a field of study and staying true to our inclinations, no matter how unconventional our approach might seem to others. We then come to have powers that approximate the instinctive force and speed of animals but with the added reach that our human consciousness brings us.

Seeing more

Throughout history, we read of masters in every conceivable form of human endeavour describing a sensation of suddenly possessing heightened intellectual powers after years of immersion in their field. In all of these instances, these practitioners of various skills described a sensation of seeing more. They were suddenly able to grasp an entire situation through an image or an idea, or a combination of images and ideas.

Beyond rational

We humans have come to recognise only one form of thinking and intelligence—rationality. But the types of intuitions discussed by various masters cannot be reduced to a formula, and the steps they took to arrive at them cannot be reconstructed. The problem we are facing here is that high-level intuition, the ultimate sign of mastery, involves a process that is qualitatively different from rationality. It is an intuitive feel for the whole, and it accesses deeper parts of reality. This intuitive form of intelligence was developed to help us process complex layers of information and gain a sense of the whole. To the ancient Chinese, who understood this very well, it was known as the Tao or Way, and this way inhabits. Everything in the world is embedded in the relationships between things.

Intense absorption

Through intense absorption in a particular field over a long period of time, Masters come to understand all of the parts involved in what they are studying. Since it has been shown that the brain is literally altered after approximately 10,000 hours of practice, these powers would be the result of a transformation that happens in the brain after some 20,000 hours and beyond.

Beyond memory

Intuition, primitive or high level, is essentially driven by memory. People who spend years studying a particular subject or field develop so many of these memory networks and pathways that their brains constantly search for and discover connections between various pieces of information. When confronted with a high-level problem, the search goes in a hundred directions below conscious awareness, guided by an intuitive sense of where the answer might lie. The answer comes to consciousness with a feeling of immediacy.

Become a mentat

The problem that technology presents us is that it increases the amount of information at our disposal but slowly degrades the power of our memory to retain. Possessing even a part of such power will instantly separate us from others who find themselves overwhelmed and straining to simplify what is inherently complex. We will be able to respond faster and more effectively than others. The brain of a master is so richly interconnected that it comes to resemble the physical world and becomes a vibrant ecosystem in which all forms of thinking associate and connect. Accessing meta-skills.

Slow flow as the way to future-proof yourself. Going against the grain. Human renaissance. Shallow sucks.


sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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