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Mastery Paperback – October 29, 2013
The 30 Best Self Help Books
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"Greene’s specialty is analyzing the lives and philosophies of historical figures like Sun Tzu and Napoleon, and extracting from them tips on how to manipulate people and situations—a cutthroat worldview that has earned him a devoted following among a like-minded readership of rappers, drug dealers and corporate executives."—The New York Times
About the Author
Robert Greene has a degree in classical studies and is the author of several bestselling books, including The 48 Laws of Power, The 33 Strategies of War, The Art of Seduction, and Mastery. He lives in Los Angeles.
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Achieving Mastery in life is a lot of work but it is the way to a flourishing life (a life of self-fulfillment). Spinoza's quote "All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare" came to mind several times as I read the book. The author provides ideas and strategies that can improve the process for those willing to expend the effort. I plan to re-read and work with the ideas and strategies covered in this book and apply them to my personal context. I also plan to purchase copies of the book for my wife and 2 teenage sons so they can benefit from this material as well.
The work begins by discussing how to discover one's purpose in life. This is unique to each individual and needs to be well thought through. The author gives 5 strategies for finding your life's task and illustrates these strategies with historical and contemporary figures. Two of the strategies he discusses that really gave me a lot to think about are:
1. ) Occupy the perfect niche - the Darwinian strategy. In this strategy you need to find the career niche that best fits your interests and talents and then evolve that niche over time. I found the eaxample of V.S. Ramachandran very interesting
2.) Let go of the past - the adaptation strategy. The following quote from this section that really resonated with me:
"You must adapt your Life's Task to these circumstances. You do not hold on to past ways of doing things, because it will ensure you will fall behind and suffer for it. You are flexible and looking to adapt."
The author then covers the Apprentice Phase which he breaks into 3 steps:
1.) Deep Observation - the Passive Mode
2.) Skills Acquisition - the Practice Mode
3.) Experimentation - The Active Mode
There are detailed strategies for completing the ideal appenticeship. These are illustrated by examples. 2 of my favorites in this section were "move toward resistance and pain" as illustrated by the example of Bill Bradley and "apprentice yourself in failure" as illustrated by Henry Ford. All 8 strategies are worth thinking about in detail.
The next section covers learning through a Mentor and is one of the best parts of the book. The example of Michael Faraday is used as a great illustration. There are strategies discussed for finding the appropriate mentor(s), knowing when to break away from the mentor and what to do if you cannot find a mentor (the example here is Thomas Edison and there is an interesting tie-back to Faraday). Having a mentor is the most effective way to gain deep knowledge of a field in the least amount of time - it greatly accelerates that path to Mastery.
The next section deals with social intelligence and seeing people as they are. Benjamin Franklin is used as an example. There are 7 deadly realities covered in this section (envy, conformism, rigidity, self-obsessiveness, laziness, flightiness and passive aggression) as well as strategies for acquiring social intelligence.
The fifth section is on awakening the dimensional mind. This is where you see more and more aspects of reality and develop ways to become more creative (and not get stuck in the past). There are several strategies on creativity discussed in detail. I found the discussion on ways to alter one's perspective especially illuminating. These include avoiding:
* Looking at the "what" instead of the "how"
* Rushing to generalities and ignoring details
* Confirming paradigms and ignoring anomalies - (key quote: "...anomalies themselves contain the richest information. They often reveal to us the flaws in our paradigms and open up new ways of looking at the world")
* fixating on what is present, ignoring what is absent (Sherlock Holmes example)
The section continues with strategies and examples for this "creative-active" phase. My favorite was a section on Mechanical Intelligence with the Wright Brothers as an example.
The Final Section is on Mastery as the fusing of the Intuitive with the Rational. The strategies in this section are very powerful and I will be returning to them again and again. Here are the 7 strategies:
1.) Connect to your environment
2.) Play to your strengths (this is very important - see further thoughts on this below)
3.) Transform yourself through practice
4.) Internalize the details - the life force (Leonardo Da Vinci example)
5.) Widen your vision
6.) Submit to the other - the Inside Out perspective
7.) Synthesize all forms of knowledge
This is a very powerful book filled with a lot of good ideas and strategies. There are ideas I plan to continue to "chew" on and think more deeply about while I work to integrate these ideas and strategies into my personal context.
A lot of the book stresses the importance of self-discipline, persevering through difficult challenges, the importance of an adaptive and active mind, independent thinking and integrating all of one's knowledge. Here are a few recommendations I would make to augment the material covered in this book:
1.) For Self-Displine and Willpower (and perseverance):
Willpower by Tierney and Baumeister
The Power of Habit by Duhigg
Grit (see TED Talk by Angela Duckworth and the GRIT assessment as well - Grit Assessment can be found at: available at [...])
2.) For an adaptive/active mindset (and recovering from failure)
Mindset by Carol Dweck
Apapt by Tim Harford
3.) For a great fictional example of many of the ideas covered in the book, I would recommend Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead (Roark as a positive example; Keating as a negative example of what the author calls "the false self")
4.) Other Real world examples
Richard Feynman (see his books "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" and "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out"
5.) Finding your strengths
Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath
VIA Survey of Character Strengths (available at [...])
Robert Greene's book addresses these issues not just with solutions, but with case studies that allow you to see how these principles work in reality. Henry Ford failed the first time he tried to manufacture a car? Buckminster Fuller was about to commit suicide because he felt like such a failure? Charles Darwin's father thought his son had no future or skills?
This is what real success looks like and I think for many, it will help them put their focus where it must be: on doing the work and finding a mentor or coach who can give you the necessary feedback for mastery. The things we often covet, such as fame or more money, won't get you to mastery directly, and even if you're successful at obtaining them without learning your trade, they won't mean very much (I have worked with plenty who prove that!). Mastery is the goal and this is a great book for getting there.