Competence vs Mastery

As a student I think it really useful to know whether you are aiming for competence or mastery.

As a photographer I want to know the 20% that will give me the 80% of the results. I have a decent camera that can do a lot, but to be competent I want to know enough about composition and also about light and aperture settings. I want to know enough to take a decent photo, but I have no intent or desire to become masterful.

Likewise with most of the software I use I just want to be competent. I want to be a competent driver – I never plan on racing formula one or to be able to double de-clutch an 18-wheel semi-trailer.

Occasionally I am aiming for mastery. I want to be masterful at Aikido and I recognise that this is a lifetime journey. With my writing and speaking, I am not satisfied with being competent. I am consciously on the journey towards mastery.

If you are a teacher I think this is a really powerful distinction. Are you teaching competence or mastery, and what is it that your students want to learn? Too often we teach mastery when what our students need (at least to begin with) is competence.

When I spent a month last year learning Indonesian I was after competence. What would have served me was a teacher saying if you know these 500 words, you can get by. This makes up 80% of the language used and in one month you can get to a point of competence. Not necessarily to be able to talk philosophy, but to have a simple conversation and to get around. Unfortunately we were just taught the first module of the ten that would make up mastery.

When I was in high school everyone was taught differential calculus. That’s a concept that is on the path to mastery. But I reckon the majority of people only need competence in maths.

I think there is incredible value as a thought leader in identifying what is the 20% of what you know that people need to learn to be competent in your field. To get the biggest bang for their buck, so to speak. And teach that first.

Love to hear your thoughts – how are you teaching competence? You can leave your thoughts below.