“They all overvalued the importance of stability.” – Robert Greene, Mastery
A Different Approach
The book delves into physics and math theories such as higher dimensions, unifying of forces, and time travel, while tying these concepts back to accepted work such as quantum mechanics and Einstein’s work on relativity.
Though these are great topics, it was his approach that really drew me in. There was a certain technique behind each example, something I couldn’t quite grasp. He had a way of slicing apart established concepts, playing around with them, and assembling them in new ways.
I couldn’t have explained it at the time, but it was like something had awakened me to larger possibilities, even if not these ones. That part of me never went back to sleep.
Institutions Of Higher Learning
That book also ruined college for me.
Imagine yourself eating a plate of worms right next to a juicy, perfectly seasoned filet mignon. That’s how I felt sitting through most of my lectures after that.
Once, I talked a roommate into reading it. He managed to become offended at both myself and the contents. He even told me why he hated it – it called things he knew into question!
At the cost of a “friend,” I learned a valuable lesson: Ideas can threaten people. Be careful who you put them in front of.
I began to craft my own thinking methods in the same direction, practicing at every opportunity. For a short time, I was naive enough to think my professors might appreciate this.
I wish I could say that college was time well spent, and that those who call it a bubble are wrong. Perhaps a certain line sums it up best:
“You dropped 150 grand on a fuckin’ education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!” – Will, Good Will Hunting
Forget the public library, though. The internet has no late charges.
Thinking Inside The Box
If college is the Go-Kart-Track of feeling threatened by new ideas, then the workplace would have to be The Grand Prix. In most jobs, thinking outside the box is merely a catchphrase for motivational posters, pep talks, and PowerPoint slides.
The world, at large, detests anything of the sort.
Career success, in most places, typically has more to do with conforming to expectations, playing politics, and telling management what they want to hear. See Breaking Down The Pyramids That Govern and Celine’s Second Law .
Over the years, I went back and re-read some of my favorite authors: Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and others. I came to understand the real reason their stories had engaged me at a young age. It’s amazing how the work of others can stir us on a deeper level than we notice at the time.
Sometimes, The Answer Finds You
In early 2010, a friend of mine introduced me to a book he swore by: The 48 Laws of Power. For most of that year, you couldn’t find me in a coffee shop or on a lunch break without a Robert Greene book in my hand.
I picked up Mastery on its release date. A worthy continuation of Greene’s work, I’d recommend it for anyone’s reading list. For me, personally, it held an answer that felt long overdue.
Greene explains the development of thinking in three models:
The Original Mind
“Never lose the child-like wonder. It’s too important.” Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
Children live in a world filled with possibilities. Their thoughts roam without boundaries, like dreams – full of images, places and actions. Unlike adults, they can’t temper their imaginations with experience. So, when a child plays with a toy or reads a story, it becomes an adventure, a new reality to them.
Adults can read a story to a child and can’t help but notice everything unrealistic about it. Yet, nostalgia is something we crave. It’s a priceless feeling.
The Conventional Mind
“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” – Every adult in A Christmas Story
As we grow up, experience brands us with the realities of adulthood. Wonder is replaced with restraint, play with discipline. Dreams yield to real responsibilities: careers, school, marriage, and children of our own. Adventure gives way to risk management, planning, and worry.
New physical or intellectual surroundings can give us a taste of our former selves. Without the comfort and safety of familiar boundaries, we become explorers again. The window to our creative side reopens.
Unfortunately, this can’t last if we don’t progressively challenge ourselves. For that, we need self-discipline, support of our peers, or a solid mentor who can inspire and motivate.
The world needs people who can think with both minds, and places where they can thrive.
The Dimensional Mind
“The conventional mind is passive – it consumes information and regurgitates it in familiar forms. The dimensional mind is active, transforming everything it digests into something new and original, creating instead of consuming.” Robert Greene, Mastery
Dimensional Mind thinkers are grown adults, with fully developed Conventional Minds, who retain their Original Mind in a creative role. They combine their expert knowledge with superior mental flexibility.
Mastery discusses the tools for achieving this:
“It seems it takes the brain [10,000 hours] to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.” – Daniel Levin, neurologist
Mastering any profession demands years of vigilant practice. The best in any field are often marked by a healthy obsession with their work, and their enthusiasm is displayed in the results. Boundaries can only be pushed by those with the confidence to experiment and the experience to do so in a meaningful direction.
“Satisfaction might be the goal of the common man, but it is the enemy of greatness.” – Garrison Wynn
Our comfort zone can become our own worst enemy. Great achievers will not only welcome criticism, they will actively confront their own flaws. Just like muscles in need of stretching, our thinking can become inflexible without active exposure to different perspectives.
Those who spend all their time confirming and praising an existing paradigm, will fail to notice the anomalies it leaves unexplained. Those with the necessary attention to detail and open mind will spot these first.
“We don’t know what we have until it’s gone.” – Old Adage, Unattributed
We can’t really know the value or meaning of our assumptions until we have operated without them. The cutting-edge thinkers in any field aren’t just capable of this, they love doing this.
A chess master can see six moves ahead because he can posit and negate each possible move on the board. Practice with negation yields situational insight, expansion of creative limits, and avoidance of confirmation bias.
Those who master the art of negation are able to think in a vast array of positive and negative assumptions, reconstructing knowledge into new models. They learn to stop thinking in single examples, and learn to think in ranges. They see possibilities resolve into probabilities, narrowed into the actualities we see in front of us.
Applying this, a master strategist can reconstruct his opponent’s entire playbook after seeing just a few moves. World War II cryptanalysts used this to build entire working examples of enemy code machines that they had never seen.
Putting It All To Work
“Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.” – Thomas Edison
Dreaming up a great idea is the part almost anyone can do. The hard part is waking up every day and putting hours into something that holds no guarantee of success.
It would be impossible to build something like a Cirque Du Soleil show without a talented core of individuals dedicated to bringing it to life.
Consider the real challenges:
•Costume & Set Design
•Choreography & Music
•Show Schedules & Travel Plans
•Stage Construction & Management
•Auditioning the Acts & Characters
•Scripts, Storyboards, & Concept Artwork
•Running a business that is financially sound.
A brand like this gains a lot of professional respect, even outside of its field, because its creators have to apply both minds. Their finished product is enjoyed by people of all ages because it engages both minds.
Look for this principle in some of your favorite works. You’ll find it often.
Building A New Paradigm
Child-like wonder, tempered with adult discipline, is a force to be reckoned with. We find it hard not to notice when we meet someone like this: It’s written all over everything they do. With some people, it’s not that they know how to create things, it’s that they don’t know how to do anything else.
In the past, societies produced a few great thinkers in a decade. But now, for the first time in human history, like-minded individuals can come together at virtually no cost (See: The Rise Of Emergent Networks). Without the traditional limits of travel and communications, a 21st Century Einstein might not even have to leave his job at the Swiss patent office to share his ideas with the rest of us.
As a society, we cannot afford to waste our best and brightest on dead end careers, petty workplace politics, and overpriced education. The first step in bettering ourselves is learning to think differently.
We have all the tools we will ever need. Carpe Diem.