5 Ways to Graduate from Professional to Master in Your Craft

— February 22, 2017

We are all craftsmen and craftswomen. Our craft (“the work we do”) is what sets us apart from others. Our craft may be building software, branding products, making espresso, laying concrete, organizing events, or many other specialties.


The journey of developing your craft often starts at novice and ends at professional. Sometimes we learn on the job. For example, in a prior role, I had to become a professional in lean management techniques for banking operations while advising a client on the same topic. Other times we become a professional in order to secure a client or job. For example, one of my acquaintances recently obtained a certification as Salesforce Administrator in order to land a well-paying job.


But there is a proficiency level beyond professional: You can become a master (or expert). A master is someone with authoritative knowledge who guides and influences others. A master goes beyond professional status by looking outward and offering to assist others. More importantly, a master builds relationships that solidify and strengthen their master status.


If you are a proponent of continuous development, below are 5 ways to graduate from professional to master in your craft:



  1. Teach Your Craft to Someone Else or Become a Mentor

Teaching your craft to someone else will force you to distil the concepts and key messages into digestible chunks. You can obtain critical feedback on whether your student is retaining the information – and if not, how you might evolve your approach. If you’re worried you might be giving away the secret to your success by teaching others, keep in mind that most skills have a shelf life. By the time your student becomes a professional, you’ll have likely deepened your mastery (which leads me to #2).



  1. Deepen Your Mastery by Maintaining Your Craft

You’ll feel a natural tendency to move away from your craft as you become a master but it’s important to fight the urge. Here’s why: you don’t want to shift too far to theory and lose touch with practical experience. It’s a matter of credibility. For example, if you’re teaching others how to build an iOS mobile app, you don’t want to rely on out-dated first-hand experience. As a rule of thumb, make sure you’ve practiced your craft within the last two years. What’s more, you can deepen your mastery by working with other masters who can introduce you to new methods. To much acclaim, Joel and Ethan Coen collaborate on the same craft: filmmaking.



  1. Stretch Yourself by Applying Your Mastery in a New Context

Over time, we all tend to focus our skills in a particular industry. This specialization helps us create unique value. However, becoming a master means applying our strengths in a new context. For example, a friend of mine who’s in the residential construction business recently took on a commercial construction project. But the new context doesn’t have to be high risk – you can start by applying your craft to near adjacencies. For instance, if your craft is custom WordPress development, you might explore web development based on Shopify or Squarespace.



  1. Compound Your Mastery with a Complementary Skill

Developing a related skill increases your addressable market and provides insights that sharpen your primary mastery. For instance, I recently spoke with a successful email marketer who was tasked with meeting an objective for direct mail marketing. Because of this experience, she has multiple offers for direct mail work and a set of conversion rate insights that transfer back to email marketing campaigns. Another example is Malcolm Gladwell who complements writing books with public speaking.



  1. Amplify Your Mastery with a Personal Brand

Whether your community is local or dispersed, there are opportunities to harness the power of personal brand to build trust and stand out. You can volunteer to speak at an in-person or virtual event that caters to your craft. Local meet-ups are still popular in our online world. If speaking in front of a dozen or more people sounds like your worst nightmare, consider sitting on a panel where you can answer pre-screened questions or have more of a dialogue with the audience. Another option is joining an advocacy group or professional association. For example, Facebook is chock-full of community groups bringing together local craftsmen and craftswomen.


Not sure where to start? Fortunately, you can start your journey to master level with any of the development activities above. Building on your strengths is the straightest path from good to great.

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Author: Matthew Baker


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