You wake up every morning, full of creative energy, spark and enthusiasm.
You’re doing work that you know is ‘your’ work – you were made for it, it’s what brings you the most happiness and it stretches you while at the same time continually pushes you to the edge of your natural ability.
You are constantly evolving on a learning journey and you are in flow. This is mastery.
You also have total freedom in the way you go about doing your work and yet have all the support you need from peers or mentors. Your creativity is given space to express itself fully and authentically, and you are given the space you need to stay connected to what inspires you. This is autonomy.
Mastery and autonomy are well known to be two key drivers for people to do their best work, and yet so often the right conditions are missing. What are those conditions?
Autonomy and Creativity
Let’s look first at a video of two guys playing a piano at a station in Paris.
They don’t know each other. The first guy is finding his way, building a tune, sensing his way in to a piece of music that’s in his head and bringing it to life through the piano. Enter another guy, who watches and listens before starting to contribute and build on the music that’s beginning to evolve.
What follows is 7 minutes of pure creative collaboration, full of respect, quiet joy and a building of engagement with the audience who sense that something special is happening. It has been watched over 15 million times.
What can this video teach us about autonomy?
1. Give yourself and others space to figure things out, to allow the creative process time for ‘trial and error’.
2. Give yourself and your team freedom to contribute to any project or initiative that inspires.
3. Understand what work needs replicable processes and what work needs space for experimentation. Don’t work to a script unless you absolutely have to. Spontaneity can lead to magic.
4. Treat people as equals. Autonomy and creativity is not bound by hierarchy.
5. Engage with your community of users, your tribe, your audience – however you define the people you serve through your product or service. Share your creativity in all its shades of glory and invite them to participate. Share before it’s ‘perfect’.
Mastery and Grace
And what about mastery? Here’s where the grace comes in. Yes, mastery is about practice, it’s about ‘owning’ one’s work… but there’s an added dimension.
Mastery is also about being open to the muse, to the source of creativity that flows through our work and makes it effortless.
We put in the hard work, and then ‘get out of the way’ in order to allow room for grace. It’s the difference between ‘excellent’ and ‘sublime’. Take a look at this video to see what I mean.
There’s no doubt these champions practiced and practiced. And yet there’s something else – beyond the mechanical execution of a routine, something else came through. And that’s what mastery is – it’s the grace that takes it to the next level.
So yes, do your work well, be open to creativity and inspiration. Be playful and let it emerge in its own way, and be open to others who want to collaborate and help you along the way. And be open to grace for the finale.