You’re observing what happens in response to each of your behaviors. You’re observing what happens in response to others’ behaviors. You’re observing how each small piece of the puzzle fits into the whole, larger organism — how it all connects.
You’re not making decisions about what should be done instead — not yet.
You’re asking why are things done this way? And has anyone yet tried doing this that way?
And you’re making note any time you don’t get a satisfactory answer.
You’re working to understand how each piece connects to the other.
You’re working to understand the history behind why things developed in the way that they did. What problems were solved by the development of this system of behaviors? Are those problems still relevant? Or were they only necessary in a previous context?
Dig, and dig, and dig.
You’re seeking to understand how each action that takes place creates a cascade of effects in every direction (not only in the obvious direction[s]).
In applying this thoughtfulness, you’re deepening your familiarity with the landscape in a way that the majority of others don’t.
By suspending your own ideas about how things should be done, you’re creating for yourself the strongest foundation you can for the change that you want to make.
Gift #2: The gift that close observation gives you is intimate insight. It helps you develop a comprehensive and deep understanding of the landscape, which sets the stage for further progress.
You’ve witnessed the status quo.
You’ve begun to understand the status quo.
Now, you begin playing with the status quo.
In this stage, you’re developing your own hypotheses and putting them to the test.
During Imitation and Observation, you noted which activities no longer seem to have a reason to them. Now, you begin to challenge those activities or to suggest improvements.
Now, you begin putting yourself on the line — you put your own ideas and your own capacity in the spotlight. Now, you set yourself up to be judged by the merit of what you offer.
You’re not burning bridges. But you’re also not cow-tailing to anyone.
You’re offering your honest opinion based on the understanding that you’ve developed and everything that you’ve learned up until this point.
And then you’re putting your own ideas up for scrutiny. Not the scrutiny of public opinion, but the scrutiny of reality.
Gift #3: The gift of experimentation is discretion. The more of your own skin you put in the game, the more you gain a rich understanding of the situation, as well as the capacity to discern between nuances of specific use cases.
Finally, we keep our communities — and ourselves — in check through conversation.
Conversation is the push-and-pull of ideas. It’s open interaction with each perspective that comes to the table.
Because even after all the work that you’ve put in until this point — even after everything that you’ve learned — no one knows better than the Master that he doesn’t know it all.
No one knows better than the Master that she needs to be questioned and challenged, and that she’ll sometimes be found to be wrong.
No one knows better than the Master that we need each other — we need each other’s perspectives and backgrounds and opinions and feedback.
When this element is lost, then the whole thing starts to tilt, until a major corrective force comes swinging in (and likely over-corrects).
Gift #4: The gift that conversation grants is expansion. Your own understanding continues to expand, and the understandings of those around you also continue to expand — and this is the enabler of healthy ongoing progress.
This is the path of the Master.
She begins by imitating exactly. Walking directly in the footsteps of a trustworthy mentor — following motion-for-motion everything that they do, because she knows that there’s wisdom in practicing something established.
As she imitates, she also observes. And she considers deeply. And she questions. She questions where this came from. She questions why it didn’t develop into any of the alternative possibilities. She identifies what positive functions it’s serving — or used to serve. She questions how it might be improved without losing the good that it currently produces.
Then she experiments. Her questions have led to hypotheses, which she now presents to the world and tests against reality. The results she gets informs her further hypothesizing…
With each iteration on her tests, she engages in deep and candid conversation with all of the other stakeholders.
The Master knows her situation intimately before she begins messing around in it. But she also remembers that it’s on her shoulders to make things better — to discard the fat and to strengthen the good.
When all four of these elements combine in the right way, we all improve, and we all benefit. When any one is lacking at scale, however, the ecosystem begins to tilt a little more and a little more — becoming ever-more unstable.
This approach calls for a few qualities from you:
First, it calls for humility. It calls that you assume you don’t know it all. It calls that you trust that the people who came before you did the best that they could with what they had, and that they’ve solved a lot of problems in what they’ve built. What they’ve built isn’t perfect — that’s why you’re here: to improve it. But if what they’ve built has stood so many tests of time, then it wasn’t reckless either.
It also calls for courage. It calls that you reach outside, beyond what’s known, what’s familiar, what’s comfortable. It calls that you risk getting it wrong. The world needs you to introduce new ideas and a new perspective on the old, expected ways of doing things — but not in the same way that everyone else does. We need your honest thoughtfulness and discretion. We need you to not fear going against every grain. We need you to learn to navigate by your own internal compass to discern what you should do.
Humble ambition. Practical optimism. Respectful rebellion.
It’s sexy to go against the grain in the name of replacing the old and outdated with something new and fresh. And it’s true that there are things that are old and outdated and insufficient that need new life and new perspective to come in and improve things.
But that doesn’t mean it’s good to throw the whole thing out the window…
There are probably a few babies hanging out, quietly, in the bathwater.
(It takes humility to spend time finding those babies.)
If you don’t know — completely, thoroughly — what you’re overhauling, if you don’t know everything that you’re rejecting, you could end up throwing out the good with the bad.
Don’t assume the whole thing’s garbage. That’s what arrogant morons do.
Gain understanding of why things are the way they are. Extract the good seeds. And then get rid of everything else. Master the rules better than anyone so that you can break the rules.
Break all the rules you want — but not until you understand them better than anyone.