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Innovation Insights
by Stephen Shapiro

Mastery is Not Enough

Think about the last time you went to your favorite restaurant. Was the quality of the food the only reason you enjoyed it so much? Or were there other factors? Décor? Service? Overall atmosphere? Other intangibles?

If you can, recall a time you needed technical support and were 100% pleased with the service. Was your satisfaction purely based on technical competence? Or was there something else that made your experience so positive?

Or consider a standing ovation quality presentation you saw at a conference. Was it the speaker’s knowledge of the topic that amazed you? Or was there something else that brought you to your feet?

Of course there are situations where technical mastery is all you expect. When you watch Tiger Woods sink a 30-foot putt, it is his skill that you appreciate, not how good he looks while doing it. If you are suffering from a debilitating disease, you probably don’t care if the laboratory researcher is curing the disease with finesse; you just want the remedy.

But in most situations, mastery is not enough.

As many of you know, I love magic. And lately I have watched many magicians perform. Interestingly, the ones who have the greatest mastery are not necessarily the ones who put on the greatest performance.

If you want an example of one of my favorite performances, watch this video of Shawn Farquhar perform his championship winning card trick done to Sting’s “Shape of my Heart.”

From a magician’s perspective it is far from perfect. But the overall performance is art. I watch it frequently when I want to be inspired.

I’ve seen other magicians do more complex manipulations during their routines. But they are done so fast that it is hard to really know what is going on. It is not art. It is just someone showing off his or her skills. It is far from beautiful.

Technical competence is important, but it is not sufficient.

Is the iPhone the best phone from a technical perspective? Probably not. But the overall experience excels. There is beauty and simplicity in its design.

If your favorite restaurant only had amazing food but all other factors lacked, you would probably not return. Your enjoyment is a combination of mastery plus art.

Look at every aspect of your business and your innovation efforts. Take a hard look at your personal life too. Are you simply a master at what you do? Or are you focused on the entire performance?