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Can Mastery and Innovation Coexist?

Can you pursue both at once?

Mastery takes a dogged commitment to becoming extraordinary at a single task or pursuit.

It means learning by someone else's rules, then spending thousands of hours in deliberate practice, building neural circuits that allow you to reach a level of extraordinary ownership of a process or body of knowledge. It's largely about trial, analysis, correction and repetition.

Innovation, on the other hand, is about breaking from convention, repetition and routine. It's about doing what's not been done before. Seeing how two things go together to create a third in a way nobody's seen before. It is, by definition, about novelty, which would seem to be the antithesis of mastery.

Very often, mastery lays the foundation for innovation. You need to become adept enough at someone else's game, rules, patterns, music, vision to cultivate the depth of understanding needed to generate the insight that fuels a radical departure from the past and launches you into innovation. Which leads to ideas, experiences and solutions that move beyond the current paradigm, then leads back into a quest for mastery of this new paradigm.

So, question is—can you pursue both at once? Mastery and innovation?

Can you seek to be the best in the world at something while simultaneously striving to shatter the paradigm within which you're working to do what nobody's ever done before?

Can innovation, the creation of something new, arise directly from and during the pursuit of mastery?

Or does the base requirement of mastery—repeat, refine and rework—so contradict the experience of innovation—novelty, insight and disruption—that the two can exist, but never at the same time, in the same room?

Must they move in alternating cycles within a larger quest for genius?

Curious, what do you think?

Jonathan Fields is an attorney turned serial-entrepreneur, business strategist, speaker and author. He writes about the creativity, innovation, embracing uncertainty, leadership, entrepreneurship, mindfulness and lifestyles at Jonathan's latest book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance, is due out in September 2011 from Penguin/Portfolio. When not deep into the process of creation, you can usually find him dancing around his living room with his wife and daughter.

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