Robert Greene has had a greater impact on my view of the world than any other author, with the possible exception of Adam Smith. The 48 Laws of Power discusses power dynamics. Only a sociopath would practice all 48 laws in his personal or professional life, but it is helpful to understand how the principles work so that one can recognize when he is using them and when another is using one on him. The Art of Seduction is an examination of seduction, in a sexual and political sense. It provides some insight into how Marilyn Monroe became synonymous with sex in the 20th century and the techniques used by master politicians like Ronald Reagan and JFK. The 33 Strategies of War combines the ancient wisdom of Sun Tzu with the post-Enlightenment theories of von Clausewitz with lessons learned from 20th century wars. Even if you never plan on joining the military or participating in geopolitical struggle, it can serve as a guide for competition in politics or business.
In Mastery Greene seeks to answer a simple question: how can one master a subject? He looks at the lives of Darwin, Mozart, an ace fighter pilot, and an architect, among others, for the universal truths of mastery.
This book wasn’t nearly as entertaining as his previous works, but it is helpful particularly for those who are just beginning their careers. Greene identifies 6 steps on the path to mastery:
- Identify your life calling
- Find an apprenticeship
- Find a mentor
- Master social dynamics
- Activate your creativity
- Marry creativity with reality
The most useful chapters were about the importance of the apprenticeship phase; acting as a sponge to absorb as much information as possible. This makes sense, given my stage in life.
The passage and concept that I found particularly helpful was quoted in a Forbes piece about the book:
Even with skills that are primarily mental, such as computer programming or speaking a foreign language, it remains the case that we learn best through practice and repetition—the natural learning process. We learn a foreign language by actually speaking it as much as possible, not by reading books and absorbing theories. The more we speak and practice, the more fluent we become.
Once you take this far enough, you enter a cycle of accelerated returns in which the practice becomes easier and more interesting, leading to the ability to practice for longer hours, which increases your skill level, which in turn makes practice even more interesting. Reaching this cycle is the goal you must set for yourself, and to get there you must understand some basic principles about skills themselves.
First, it is essential that you begin with one skill that you can master, and that serves as a foundation for acquiring others. You must avoid at all cost the idea that you can manage learning several skills at a time. You need to develop your powers of concentration, and understand that trying to multi task will be the death of the process.
Second, the initial stages of learning a skill invariably involve tedium. Yet rather than avoiding this inevitable tedium, you must accept and embrace it. The pain and boredom we experience in the initial stage of learning a skill toughens our minds, much like physical exercise. Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life, which makes them constantly search for distractions and short-circuits the learning process. The pain is a kind of challenge your mind presents—will you learn how to focus and move past the boredom, or like a child will you succumb to the need for immediate pleasure and distraction? Much as with physical exercise, you can even get a kind of perverse pleasure out of this pain, knowing the benefits it will bring you. In any event, you must meet any boredom head-on and not try to avoid or repress it. Throughout your life you will encounter tedious situations, and you must cultivate the ability to handle them with discipline.
The cycle of accelerated returns. The snowball effect. I’ve watched it with people playing instruments or learning languages or writing. Quite fascinating.