What is it about?
No doubt there is some truth in this (you obviously do become a master of a subject through spending intensive time studying it) but there is less thought given to the opportunity costs of this. If you spend all your time doing this, what are you not spending your time doing? Twigger argues that we have evolved to be a “Jack of all trades” and that actually there may be some quite significant costs involved in being so narrow. He notes that there can often be a degree of boredom that sets in with one’s profession where it feels like there is something missing. People can feel incomplete. Whilst there is a clear benefit to becoming a master in a field, it seems a mistake to define yourself solely by this field. As well as seeming unnecessary and costly, Twigger makes some arguments that it may be suboptimal.
Some examples he gives are around the clear benefits of polymathy - being skilled in multiple different domains. He notes that many of the greatest thinkers (he uses the examples of Leonardo da Vinci and a number of Nobel Prize laureates) had wide ranging interests. These could range from the scientific domains of maths and physics through to the ‘creative’ skills of drawing, playing music, acting and singing. He argues that, rather than being a distracting force, these disparate interests produced a degree of synergy. Skills learned through creative endeavours provided boosts to scientific pursuits and vice versa. In addition there are global benefits to having multiple domains of interest. If you are constantly exploring new areas then you are more likely to maintain your passion for learning in general. If you feel that you are a multifaceted individual then you are less likely to be unbalanced by challenges in your primary area. At least that is the idea.
What is a micromastery?
It can be seen that a micromastery has to have some important features that differentiate it from other things that we might learn. Indeed, to start using micromasteries Twigger describes there as being 6 key components:
- Having an entry trick
- Overcoming the “rub-pat” barrier
- Optimising background support
- The payoff
- Experimental possibility
The entry trick is something pretty easy that immediately gives you a sense that you can actually achieve this skill, and even do it well. There can be a number of these for the same skill, but they should allow you to go from complete novice to practitioner without excessive time and/or effort. In essence, you should be able to get a foothold on the skill early on to keep your interest and confidence on track.
The “rub-pat barrier” derives its name from how difficult it is to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time. If you are not prepared for the first challenging barrier in a skill, you can easily become disheartened and give up. The biggest obstacle to learning is giving up because it gets too hard. Hopefully the entry trick will have mobilised the sense of possibility in you, but being mindful of the hurdles is essential. There are a few tips for tackling this challenge. You can try and focus on only one component at a time or build more ‘non-thinking time’ into practice (thereby trying to promote greater subconscious activity). Either way, the point is to remain motivated and confident of success. The focus on optimising background support is a clear extension of this, and is the fairly obvious step of trying to maximise your ability and desire to keep learning (I think there are some excellent tips from James Clear in his Atomic Habits book).
The payoff is another extension of these themes of motivation. The skills should ideally have a nice, obvious payoff from it and their nature should be that they are standalone, thus not needing anything extra to achieve this. The omelette skill above is a great example of this; you get a tasty meal at the end, and maybe even some impressed family and friends. Other good examples he gives include learning a specific magic trick, learning how to sharpen a knife, or developing beautiful handwriting (perhaps easier than it sounds, although I am yet to confirm this).
Repeatability refers to the timescale of the actual skill. It has to have a level of time investment (and other resources) that allows a high degree of repeatability. This enables the high degree of repetition and practice that is the cornerstone of becoming good at anything. However, if the resource investment is low, this can be achieved on a short timeframe, keeping your interest and giving early results. Making an omelette only requires a few minutes and some simple equipment and ingredients - you can become pretty skilled within a few weeks, depending how frequently you want to eat omelette. If your goal is something larger, breaking it down into smaller components like this can be the starting point to reaching your goal. If you would love to write a bestseller, maybe try writing a few blog posts or short stories first. The repeatability of these will lend themselves better to your skill development and before you know it you will be a full on author.
Finally, there should be scope for experimentation. Boredom with a skill is another reason to give up. Indeed, if there is no scope for variation then it may be difficult to appreciate the components that make the skill. Experimentation allows you to explore the components of a skill with a degree of playfulness that keeps the pleasure in the learning, and thus helps its effectiveness. Cooking would seem to be an excellent example of this, and learning to make a perfect loaf of bread offers a huge scope for experimentation once you have got the initial recipe cracked. Most skills have some scope for experimentation, although you may need to think creatively.
I’ve had a think about some micromasteries that might work well in the world of anaesthesia and critical care medicine. Indeed, I think this concept has been recognised in some of the items below. See what you think:
- Become an expert at ultrasound cannulation
- Learn lung ultrasound (already encompassed by a FUSIC programme)
- Learn focused echocardiography (again, already encompassed by a FUSIC programme)
- Learn depth of anaesthesia EEG interpretation
Perhaps more importantly though, a major aspect of the micromastery concept is the exploration of completely different domains. Therefore, whilst the concept still seems applicable to medical training, I think my preference for applying it will remain for outside of this. It seems to be perhaps best utilised as more of a complement or alternative to the training as a professional, where the wide ranging skills that you develop can subsequently be employed to see your primary profession from different perspectives. I am not sure what my next micromastery will be, but I am actually quite excited by the prospect. As always, thank you very much for reading and I’d love to hear your ideas on any micromasteries you have in mind or have already tried.
Links & References
- Twigger, R. Micromastery: learn small, learn fast, and find the hidden path to happiness. 2017. Penguin Life.
- Twigger, R. Why you don’t need 10,000 hours to master a skill. TEDx Talks. Youtube. 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEUIfXbz0PA