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My Kung Fu Is King

I didn’t know until recently that ‘kung fu’ does not refer exclusively to a discipline of martial arts.

Kung fu/Kungfu (or Gung fu/Gungfu) is a Chinese term referring to any study, learning or practice that requires patience, energy and time to complete. In its original meaning, kung fu can refer to any discipline or skill achieved through hard work and practice.

Saying that a person has kung fu in an area implies a skill in that area that they have worked hard to develop. Someone with ‘bad kung fu’ has not put enough time and effort into training, or seems to lack the motivation to do so.

Mastery …

I have never had any interest in marital arts outside of Akira Kurosawa movies, but I am completely interested by people and their personal kung fu. Curiosity is one of the gifts I was born with.

People who master something fascinate me, and it doesn’t matter what it is. I may have no personal interest in Russian history (my brother Bradley) or gardening (Susan here at DMWSC) or management consulting (Tom Frisby), but people who are determined to master a skill, to know all there is to know about it because they find everything interesting about it inspire me, and they should inspire us all.

Mastery requires patience, and patience is in short supply.

Not everyone has kung fu.

We assume that if you talk to a person long enough, you’ll find out that they have some hobby or interest they are really passionate about. But this simply isn’t true. In fact, most people are incredibly boring and they watch too much TV. So right way, a person with kung fu is unique, rare and interesting.

The marketplace rewards these people who are exceptional and who are experts in their field. I am always leery when someone tells me that they are an expert in something, because experts are truly rare, and experts rarely say they are experts even when they are. I am a certified Experience Economy Expert (#203) but I don’t tell anyone. And when I do tell them, I quickly clarify that I am still a student, grasshopper, and still pursuing more knowledge.

I am just about terrified when someone claims to be an expert in more than one discipline. Certainly these masters exist, but they are the rarest of the rare so I always wonder just a little bit.

Learn the joy of mastering only a few things completely.

Mine are parenting, mogul skiing and playing guitar. That’s it. Inside of work, I am focused completely on the Experience Economy. I have no time or interest in anything else. There are dozens of things I could do, but only a few things I am going to do until I’m dead.

Here are a four simple rules I follow to master a skill:

Quit Dabbling

I have three fun things I focus on, and my job. Everything else (being in a band) is never going to happen; I’m never going to be a runner or a chef. Just accept it, pick the ones that matter most, and fall in love with them.


If you want to learn how to do something, you need a teacher. Whether it’s a formal education or a mentor, you need somebody to first show you how to do it. Pablo Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” That’s some powerful advice. When I really tackled skiing, my ski partner was way better than me, and I had to chase him season after season. Without him, I’d still be cruising the blues and missing out on the wonder of the wild woods.

When you try to learn a new language, you need to learn the basics of sentence structure, verb tense and the phonetic alphabet before you can start trying to speak. Builder apprentices and business leaders start at the bottom as interns or assistants, and expert skiers start on the bunny hill. This is the way it is. Don’t fight it.


This is the hardest one because of your own expectations and your reluctance to fail. The Lizard will climb all over you and eat you alive because having the patience to get better, to fall and stumble and feel uncomfortable, isn’t easy.

With the tools of observation and a steady, constant exposure to the skill you desire to obtain, the next step is to try it on your own with your mentor or teacher as guide. If you are a builder, draw up your first plan for inspection. If you are an aspiring leader, take charge of a task or project at work.

The doing step is critical, and so is accepting the risk and having a willingness to fail. Failure doesn’t mean defeat unless you stop trying, and it’s in this crucial ‘do’ stage of mastery that you must muster all of your courage and be willing to stumble and then stand again with your mentor or teacher’s help.

Mastery comes from failing, risk and being willing to be taught as you continue to learn how to do it better, faster and simpler – until that one day when you ‘get it.’


When you believe you’ve achieved mastery, there is one more crucial step to push you over the top. Teach someone. If you want to see how smart you really are, try to teach someone else.

Teaching someone is really about teaching yourself. You learn adaptability and patience. You learn the ability to see problems and solutions in totally new ways because your students will ask you questions you may not have considered before.

How can this be? Because we all have to keep learning and adapting to achieve mastery on an ongoing basis. Teaching is the crucial step that will ensure you achieve and maintain mastery.



Comments (2)

Fantastic! I believe completely that we should never ever stop learning or we die (literally or figuratively). This blog just reinforced some of the things I need to refocus on. I needed this today!
Thank you!

Pick the most important, and master them completely. I’m working on learning the joy of that. My friend John, who reads this blog, once said of skiing that you had to measure your ‘ski career’ in decades, that to have ski kung fu took a life time. Learn the joy of mastering a few things, let everything else slide. Thanks for writing in – DMW.

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