September 07

Leadership hack 026 – the three steps to mastery

Learn to ski on piste before you ski off-piste”

Army Ski Instructor


One of the biggest problems I face when teaching and coaching is that people often try to do too much too soon.  Without a mastery of the basics I find some of the following problems occur:

  • Paralysis of decision-making.  When someone is subjected to too much new information, they have no way to organise or recall the information needed.
  • Poor decision-making.  It takes time to build up intuition (pattern recognition), without time to build up expertise
  • Inability to adapt.  When a new or different problem arises, an analysis of basic principles is not possible
  • Increased Stress and possibly burn out.  People can often become,
  • Decreased interpersonal skills.  Not having the right answer, it a difficult position to be in.  When you a


The Japanese concept of shu, ha, ri is helpful here.  Simply put (my own interpretation):

  1. Learn the rules
  2. Bend the rules
  3. Be the rules


A more in-depth translation (copied from Associates Mind) would be:

  • Shu () “protect”, “obey”—traditional wisdom—learning fundamentals, techniques, heuristics, proverbs
  • Ha () “detach”, “digress”—breaking with tradition—detachment from the illusions of self
  • Ri () “leave”, “separate”—transcendence—there are no techniques or proverbs, all moves are natural, becoming one with spirit alone without clinging to forms; transcending the physical


If you have ever watched the Karate Kid, you will see how Mr Miagi taught the Karate Kid to master the basics “wax on.  wax off”.  Before Mr Miagi taught the Kid anything else, the Kid spent hours waxing a car.

The insight Mr Miagi had was to allowed the Kid to focus on one task, and repeat it until it because automatic.  Only then did Mr Miagi add further complexity.


How can this apply to build software?  

As Jakob Schmidt Sørensen put (see here), just apply Shu, Hi, Ri to the agile principles.