The Forgotten Third “P”, Practice Mastery

Quietly, below the surface, from ancient times to the present there has been a vein of creative energy running through select Creatives. In the East this has manifested in the Living National Treasures of Japan, for instance, or the tea ceremony, or zen archery. In the West, the lore of Edison and Steve Jobs as models of persistence/perfection, the grand masters of painting, fine crafts, high level sports/adventure, and the movie Groundhog Day, are a few examples.

The distinguishing features of this vein is the emphasis on practice, not the other two “P”s, process or product.  Practice is calm, travels at glacial speed, small, and frankly, away from the action. Or so it appears. In fact, deep practice is exciting, rapid, and huge if it is seen from the perspective of the practice master. The master shifts perspective to see and experience the invisible. Practice opens and shows its  secrets.

Staying Longer, Working Harder, Working Smaller – Levels of Mastery Practice

Level 1: Showing Up Practice – We get to our work space and work some.

When we do show up, are we really there when we are there? Are we really paying attention? Really? How much do we put into the session? A quick stab at something, a scribble, a rushed stroke/movement/composition/response? Is this the best we can do?

How long do we stay?  The pen doesn’t pull away from the repetition of hard practice. The brush, the air that carries a singer’s voice, the tool, the stage floor, the playing field, the laptop–they don’t pull away….we do. We can’t stay longer? We can’t stay longer to get to know more about the nuance’s of our craft? Our tools don’t rush for the door.

Level 2: Solid Practice – We get to our work space and work a fairly long period with good attention to what we are doing. But are we going deeper, overtime? Are we making discoveries? Are we really changing or is our work really just repetition of the known.

Level 3: Micro Mastery Practice – Here we break the major components of our craft down into smaller pieces. We in turn break those down into yet smaller pieces. Next, we shrink ourselves to fit into this new world. What would not have been visible to us earlier now looms large and imposing. This is our new home. We travel carefully, again and again in each fragment of our craft. Our shock comes from how much we didn’t see before, how the little reveals how little we really knew.

Level 4: Measured, Micro Mastery Practice – We don’t go to our miniaturized practice world to wander, we are there to work. To work deeper and longer, we need challenges to push our bodies, minds, and spirits. We can pit ourselves against the clock, the counter, or other measures of quality and quantity. These are not senseless challenges but creative ways to burn our skills in by doing things: fast, backwards, slow, upside down, inside out, alone, with a crowd—name the challenge.

Level 5 – Mentored, Measured Micro Mastery Practice – With measured practice we work under the influence of challenge, but have we truly developed the right challenges? It would be so easy to pick areas to practice and practice diligently but these tasks might be areas that don’t really get us where we want/need to go. Perhaps we become darn good at something but we paint ourselves into a corner. What we need is a mentor from our own field to pick what is important for us to practice and to define how we can go about it. Do what. Do when. Do how. Do under challenge. Do the right stuff for the right reasons.

When the Creative is ready, the great product emerges.


The Talent Code – lays out the larger why and how of micro, measured micro, and mentored practice – book

The Practicing Mind – jumps into the experience of process over product and conveys a love of practice – book

Mastery – George Leonard – book and summary of book


One thought on “The Forgotten Third “P”, Practice Mastery

  1. Interestingly enough – I put a guitar on layaway at a pawnshop today. I am 63 yrs old. I know practice – I am a left handed writer and we few lefties had plenty of practice in Catholic school;, in school, staying after school, doing it over and over just to make the cut so to speak. I took piano lessons in a couple different seasons. I never got very far but I could play. When I look at my life – there has been one constant presence – music- music makers-written music- live music- recorded music- from symphony conductors all the way to beat box. I wanted to be a great singer and to me I became one. It took teachers and listening, practice and passion. the only way someone learns to be a better singer is to sing. I have spent 4 years recovering from chemotherapy and surgeries. I practice at a lot of things.
    I always was on the move, a busy person, a mother, worker, student, friend, child, stranger, neighbor. Practicing a guitar was always the last thing I would do or the 1st thing I would put aside. And I have owned 2 in my life – no, 3.
    I have been trading videos at the pawnshop looking over their guitars every time. I told myself no no no. But today I knew yesterday I would say yes. I have time – I have a lot of time and I can practice and learn it well. I believe now I have the opportunity. And boy this guitar sounds really good. I spend hours everyday on the internet and watching movies – I don’t go far. Nothing will be more welcome to me than that guitar.
    Can’t wait. 3 more payments.


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