Mastery and Transformation

No, we don’t put theories into practice. We create theories out of practice.
(Nassim Nichol Taleb, @nntaleb)

I have always been (and will always be) a student of human nature — in awe of the human condition and human dynamics (through which human nature emerges in how we communicate, relate and behave)!

While I have been a longtime fan of Robert Greene‘s (@RobertGreene) work (Power, Seduction and War) — including, The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, The 33 Strategies of War, The 50th Law (see The 50th Law “Fear Nothing” & Agility Distilled for more), and especially Mastery — I have found The Art of War (particularly, The Denma Translation) to be quintessentially more foundational to embracing human nature and offering a more “humane” perspective — furthermore, I’ve often referred to “The Art of War” as “The Art of Human Nature”!

As one explores and reflect on Robert Greene’s life journey through his work, his books seem to be converging more and more towards the integrated perspective offered by The Art of War versus the disintegrated aspects of power, seduction, and war!

Generally, Robert Greene’s Mastery is particularly potent! While the Laws of Power focuses more on individual power, the Art of Seduction focuses more on social seduction relative to power, and the Strategies of War focuses more on social strategies relative to power, Robert Greene’s Mastery focuses on ultimate power — Mastery.


There exists a form of power and intelligence that represents the high point of human potential. It is the source of the greatest achievements and discoveries in history. Let us call this sensation mastery — the feeling that we have a greater command of reality, other people, and ourselves. And at the root of this power is a simple process that leads to mastery — one that is accessible to all of us. In this process leading to this ultimate form of power, we can identify three distinct phases or levels. The first is the Apprenticeship; the second is the Creative-Active; the third, Mastery.

Greene’s elegant introduction of mastery as “the source of the greatest achievements and discoveries in history” and as the form of power that “represents the high point of human potential” that may be realized through a “simple process [Apprenticeship, Creative-Active, and Mastery phases] that leads to mastery” is absolutely brilliant!


In the first phase, we stand on the outside of our field, learning as much as we can of the basic elements and rules. We have only a partial picture of the field and so our powers are limited.

Chapter I of Mastery, Discovering Your Calling: The Life’s Task, offers strategies for finding your life’s task (“what you are meant to accomplish in the time that you have to live”).


In the second phase, through much practice and immersion, we see into the inside of the machinery, how things connect with one another, and thus gain a more comprehensive understanding of the subject. With this comes a new power — the ability to experiment and creatively play with the elements involved.

Chapter II of Mastery, Submit to Reality: The Ideal Apprenticeship, focuses on the three steps or modes of apprenticeship: Deep Observation, Skills Acquisition, and Experimentation.

Chapter III of Mastery, Absorb the Master’s Power: The Mentor Dynamic, offers strategies for deepening the mentoring relationship.

Chapter IV of Mastery, See People as They Are: Social Intelligence, focuses on specific knowledge (reading people) and general knowledge (the seven deadly realities).

Chapter V of Mastery, Awaken the Dimensional Mind: The Creative-Active, focuses on the creative process: Creative Task, Creative Strategies, and Creative Breakthrough (Tension and Insight).


In the third phase, our degree of knowledge, experience, and focus is so deep that we can now see the whole picture with complete clarity. We have access to the heart of life — to human nature and natural phenomena. That is why the artwork of Masters touches us to the core; the artist has captured something of the essence of reality. That is why the brilliant scientist can uncover a new law of physics, and the inventor or entrepreneur can hit upon something no one else has imagined.

Chapter VI of Mastery, Fuse the Intuitive With the Rational: Mastery, focuses on the roots of masterly intuition and the return to reality.


In many ways, the movement from one level of intelligence to another can be considered as a kind of ritual of transformation. As you progress, old ideas and perspectives die off; as new powers are unleashed, you are initiated into higher levels of seeing the world. Consider Mastery as an invaluable tool in guiding you though this transformative process. The structure of Mastery is simple. There are six chapters, moving sequentially through the process. Chapter 1 is the starting point — discovering your calling, your Life’s Task. Chapter 2, 3, and 4 discuss different elements of the Apprenticeship Phase (learning skills, working with mentors, acquiring social intelligence). Change 5 is devoted to the Creative-Active Phase, and chapter 6 to the ultimate goal — Mastery.

Greene’s elegant description of “the movement from one level of intelligence to another” as a “ritual of transformation” or “transformative process” where old ideas/perspective die and new powers are born is again absolutely brilliant!

Brad Barton (@Brad_Barton), Mark Ferraro (@mark4ro), and I (@SAlhir) have expressed this ritual or process via Conscious Agility (Conscious Capitalism + Business Agility = Antifragility), which includes a Define phase, Create phase, and Refine phase involving an ecosystem of stakeholders whose identity, including their awareness and ownership, evolves through an initiative (cycle) of “fundamental change” (or renewal). See Conscious Agility: A Brief Introduction for more detail.

Define Phase

Greene’s Apprenticeship phase generally relates to Conscious Agility’s Define phase.

The essence of the Define phase is to foster awareness among stakeholders and establish clarity around the initiative. Conscious Agility’s Discover a “minimal” Ecosystem Definition conversation cluster involves design team members discovering their own calling (Chapter I).

Create Phase

Greene’s Creative-Active phase generally relates to Conscious Agility’s Create phase, including Greene’s Apprenticeship phase and Mastery phase.

The essence of the Create phase is to achieve greater awareness, intuition, orientation, and improvisation (among stakeholders) by evolving the ecosystem.

Conscious Agility’s Enact Experiences conversation cluster involves stakeholders engaging in discovering their calling (Chapter I), the ideal apprenticeship (Chapter II), and the mentor dynamic (Chapter III).

Conscious Agility’s Integrate Stakeholders conversation cluster involves stakeholders engaging in social intelligence (Chapter IV), the creative process (Chapter V), and mastery (Chapter VI).

Refine Phase

Greene’s Mastery phase generally relates to Conscious Agility’s Refine phase.

The essence of the Refine phase is to ensure stakeholders have sufficiently evolved the ecosystem to nurture continued success.

Conscious Agility’s Embrace Experiences conversation cluster and Nurture Stakeholders conversation cluster involve stakeholders and design team members engaging in mastery (Chapter VI).

Mastery and Transformation

Finally, you must not see this process of moving through levels of intelligence as merely linear, heading towards some kind of ultimate destination known as mastery. Your whole life is a kind of apprenticeship to which you apply your learning skills. Everything that happens to you is a form of instruction if you pay attention. The creativity that you gain in learning a skill so deeply must be constantly refreshed, as you keep forcing your mind back to a state of openness. Even knowledge of your vocation must be revisited throughout the course of your life as changes in circumstance force you to adapt its direction. In moving toward mastery, you are bringing your mind closer to reality and to life itself. Anything that is alive is in a continual state of change and movement. The moment that you rest, thinking that you have attained the level you desire, a part of your mind enters a phase of decay. You lose your hard-earned creativity and others being to sense it. This is a power and intelligence that must be continually renewed or it will die.

Greene’s elegant emphasis that we “must not see this process of moving through levels of intelligence as merely linear, heading towards some kind of ultimate destination known as mastery” and anything that is alive is in a continual state of change and movement” is again absolutely brilliant!

Robert Greene‘s (@RobertGreene) accentuation of mastery as a “power and intelligence that must be continually renewed or it will die” is completely aligned with Brad Barton (@Brad_Barton), Mark Ferraro (@mark4ro), and I (@SAlhir) describing Conscious Agility‘s Define, Create, and Refine phases as an initiative (cycle) of “fundamental change” or renewal.

In so many aspects of practiceMastery and Conscious Agility are readily aligned! Also see Conscious Agility: A Brief Introduction for more detail. And also see Constructively (rather than Destructively) Adopting and Sustaining the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) if you are doing anything with the SAFe (and perhaps struggling to achieve success)!


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