I love Japanese culture. The fixation on becoming a master at one particular thing has always fascinated me. This is as true for Musashi as it is for Jiro, and it's been inspiring to me for many years.

I've wondered what that thing could be for me - is it coding in a certain language? Is it a role in a job? Is it something I am yet to find? The thinking being that once I've found that thing, I'd be able to apply myself and go through the mastery journey.

Taking a step back, mastery itself is a skill. It's a function of putting a dedicated amount of effort consistently into a given focus. We're going to get a bit meta here but bear with me: that dedication to consistently focus effort is itself a part of mastery. The act of putting effort - regardless of what the effort actually is - is one of the core foundations of achieving mastery, because mastery is actually about mastering yourself not mastering a skill.

Iron and fire

Any person has their virtues and vices, their successes and shortcomings, and these are shown in their interaction with the world. "If your mind is messy, your room is messy" is the easiest representation of this.

The realisation that your virtues and vices are externalised in your actions and world is the first a-ha moment. The second is to then realise that by working on the externalisations, you are actually working on yourself.

And this is how we get back to mastering a skill: when you master something external, like swordsmanship or pottery or calligraphy, you are working through the externalisation of your virtues and vices, making them visible, understanding them and moving through them. As you move through them, you shape them into how you want them to look, and you get one step closer to becoming a master.

Business alchemy

One of my recent realisations is that this externalisation is actually evident in a key way: the business. Any business is a reflection of the people working on it and in it, and shaping a business is the process of mastering a skill. To go one step further, daily work is the process of mastering yourself - and this is the real purpose of work.

There is a key distinction to be made here. If it is your business, or you have some control over what it looks like, then the business itself is what you are mastering. If you are working in the business, and you play a more limited role in the business, your actions and outputs are what you are mastering. In the business versus on the business.

I'm focused currently on the on the business side. I love building and shaping companies, and my goal is to become better at this. As a technical person I've struggled to make the leap from working in the business to on the business, but this is becoming clearer daily.

One way to help make this distinction is to view the business itself as a product: there are requirements, a set of inputs, outside factors, capability, a development path, iterations, all the way through to delivery. By taking a look at the business through this lense you can use the technical background to your advantage.

One of the things I realised when I did this was that a business is basically a set of systems. I've written about this before but the takeaway is much larger than I realised. The whole business is a set of systems, not just certain aspects. The goal as an influencer within a business is to build a set of systems that serve a customer function. You put something in the one end and out comes the product filling some market need.

Having all of these systems working in harmony is the end goal. This is also moving closer to mastery at a personal level: you're finding the balance between the various aspects, externalised and represented through the business.