August 20, 2021

Mélanie Boucarut

The difference between competence, mastery and virtuosity

My post yesterday on feeling competent reminded me that I heard somewhere (on Adam Grant’s podcast perhaps? Can’t remember) a great explanation of what happens when we increase our proficiency at a skill.

When we first learn how to do something new – speaking a new language, leading leaders, dancing salsa, whatever – we create a mental structure to sort out what’s happening:

“If X happens, it must mean that I am at step 3 in the process and therefore next step I should do Y”.

Something like that.

We get good at making sense out of information that initially was invisible, or seemed meaningless or not worthy of being noticed.

As we become more and more competent, we structure our experience so that uncertainty is transformed into certainty. We become able to deliver a specific result, on demand.

We move from competence to mastery when our knowledge or ability in this particular field becomes more and more comprehensive. We are able to completely eliminate uncertainty from the process.

Whatever happens, we know exactly how to react, what’s the best course of action.

What struck my interest was the next level: virtuosity.

This is the level where you invite uncertainty back into the process, because you NEED the discomfort of the unknown to push you to recombine what you know to perform in new, unexpected, brilliant ways.

It’s going for a ride off-piste; it’s managing people from a different culture; it’s welcoming failure, risk, threats back into your practice as the fuel to open yet another level.

Do you see that too in your own experience?

No bad horses, only untrained riders 🐴

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You know that I normally disapprove of eating instead of embracing discomfort, but in this specific case we’ll actually go for cookies...

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