Whenever you are trying to learn a new skill, there are three stages to it. Learning new skills is something that most people do not take seriously because they think that they are done with learning once they have finished school and college.
Schools and colleges do not encourage you to find out what you are good at and focus on it. Instead, they try to apply a standard template of professional life to you. Extraordinary careers do not come out of templates. They come from years of practice.
There is also a theory that schools were invented just to make you obedient and not question authority. By now, I think it is kind of obvious. The “good boys” at school never had any real success in life. It was always the rebels. But that’s a topic for another day.
Learning new skills is very important in this day and age because, by the time you graduate from college, your skills are already outdated. The world is changing very fast and there is no such thing as a “safe and secure” job anymore.
As AI, Machine Learning, and automation replace human tasks, humans have to take up new and advanced tasks to remain relevant and contributing members of society.
In my experience of having learned a lot of new skills, and having taught those skills to other people, I have learned that there are three stages to skill development. This is also inspired by Robert Greene’s book: Mastery.
Stage 1: Deep Observation
Any learning journey starts with observation. Having a look at something deeply will first create a mental map of where you are and where you want to go.
For example, if you want to become a kick-ass copywriter, you would need to first observe copywriting in action by other experienced copywriters.
The best way to observe is to be an intern/apprentice of a master who has already been down the path that you want to go in.
A strong understanding of fundamental concepts on which the skill that you are trying to learn is built is uber important for the long-term benefits of the skill that you gain.
More than just learning the skill, learn why the skill is needed in the first place. How does it serve others? Will it still be required 10, 20, or even 50 years later?
Inspiration plays a huge role in learning. That’s why choosing a master that you want to become like is more important than just choosing a master. Unless you can get inspired by the person who is your master, you will not be involved in your learning.
Once you have observed enough and developed enough conviction on the learning path you’ve taken, you need to start practicing that skill.
Stage 2: Practice the Skill
If you have chosen the right master, the master will guide you on how to start your practice. Do not jump into practice directly without deep observation. You need to choose the right things to practice, and you need to deeply understand the why before you get into the what and how.
For example, I know what my students should do when they want to learn digital marketing. I take them on the same path I’ve been through in the learning process (but I speed it up for my students).
When it comes to practice, you need to follow the master’s instructions and do as the master asks you to do. Without questioning why you should do what you are doing.
For example, I ask my students to start learning digital marketing by starting their own blogs. Without having a blog/website of their own, there is no sandbox to play around with, and learning by doing is the best way to learn digital marketing.
During skill practice, the exercises are more or less the same for all the students and are not customized and optimized for each student’s talent and inclination. It is not possible because you haven’t discovered your hidden talents and natural advantages yet.
The practice stage will be challenging and you have to embrace tedium. This is the stage where most students give up.
The master and the master’s team will be able to give you feedback on your practice and you can learn how to improve. Repetition is important in practice, even if it involves doing the same thing over and over again without much change.
For example, if you are learning guitar, learning how to play a simple tune is not going to be difficult. However, playing it perfectly needs repetition and patience. You just need to play one simple tune over and over again until you can move on to an advanced tune. At this stage, you can’t even think about making a new tune.
The same goes for a skill like driving a car. Learning the basics is easy. The gears, the clutch, the accelerator, and brakes. But learning it enough to go around the city by yourself takes practice. A lot of practice.
Boredom, frustration, and anxiety are a regular part of this process. Only the people who have the motivation, grit, and patience to go through this process can get to the next stage: experimentation.
Stage 3: Experimentation
Once you have practiced the skill for long enough, you can start implementing what you have learned. This implementation will not follow a roadmap given by your master/mentor. You have to add some variation to it and do something new.
For example, if you are learning digital marketing, you can build a new marketing funnel by yourself. You can do some keyword research, identify market demand, build a landing page for lead capture and build a community. You can use the community to learn what your audience wants and then build a product or service that serves them.
When you experiment for the first time, it is highly likely that you are going to fail. Your experiment can backfire. But since you are doing something brand new, that no one else has tried before, there is no divine book that says what’s right and what’s wrong.
You have to discover what’s right and wrong through experimentation. And that’s where the opportunity also lies.
Experimentation is the first step to mastering a skill. I would say that I have been experimenting with digital marketing for more than 15 years. The more I experiment, the closer I get to the objective truth, and the more mastery I gain in my field of work.
Working for years on a specific skill will give you an advantage that cannot be put into words. The insights you have about your line of work and the mastery you gain over a particular skill cannot be transferred to someone else through text, audio, or video.
Mastery cannot be communicated at all, because it is non-verbal. It is intuition. And something deeper than logic. Masters have different behavior and pattern of thinking. The skill is hard-wired into their brain. The solutions that they can come up with cannot be found in any books.
A change in behavior only comes through years of experimentation. If it was so easy, then everyone would do it. The only way you can set yourself apart from your competition is to do what your competition is not willing to do.
When you go down this path, you will stack multiple skills on top of each other and become unique.
The human civilization is built on the division of labor and bringing that uniqueness of skill, passion, mastery, and intelligence is not just beneficial for you, but also for the world.
Within a few years, you will start seeing compounded results from your focused work.
You will gain mastery if you are ready to walk the path.
And mastery is the ultimate form of power.