When you hear the word, you know you’ve run across something or someone that’s uncommonly good. Maybe you know a master builder or master craftsman. Or you enjoy watching flicks about Kung Fu masters who devote their lives to teaching others.
I’ve always been interested in the pursuit of mastery. Which recently led me to Tom Morello.
For those of you who don’t know – and I didn’t – Morello is a guitar player. And not just any guitar player. He’s considered one of the world’s best. As former lead guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and Audio Slave, he became known for his unique and creative style.
Morello began learning guitar at the relatively late age of 17, practicing two or three times a week. By his own admission, Morello had no natural talent or genetic predisposition for music. He soon became frustrated at contemporaries whose guitar abilities surpassed his own.
Then Morello read that learning could be accelerated by practicing one hour every day instead of two hours every other day. In other words, frequent practicing was more beneficial than an hours-long jam session once or twice a week.
He took this advice to heart. In time, his buddies were huddling around and listening to him.
“It really didn’t happen very fast. The beginning was slow and frustrating. There were months and months on end where I felt I was actually getting worse. It was just grinding practice day after day.”
Morello shares his thoughts on mastery in his Masterclass. These online courses are taught by icons in their field. Think Gordon Ramsey teaching you to cook, or Steve Martin honing your comedy chops.
Morello’s 4 Block approach to learning the guitar can be applied to master almost any pursuit. And that’s why I find him so fascinating.
4 Steps to Becoming a Master Musician
Block 1 is to master the technique and to do so slowly. Speed will eventually come. Gains in technique are often incremental, and people who want quick results will drop out in Block 1. Only the truly dedicated continue.
Block 2 is to master musical theory. Morello read books on the mathematics of music. He studied chord progressions and form.
In Block 3, Morello combined his technical and theoretical gains to master actually playing the guitar. He listened to music and tried to re-create it. He spent time writing songs and creating new music.
Finally, Block 4 is to master improvisation. Morello and his buddies would switch the radio dial to random stations and mimic what was playing, adding their style or ideas. They meandered wherever the music took them and created new applications. Block 4 is where the fun happens. This highest level of mastery makes all the time spent on technique, theory, and playing worthwhile.
Block 4 isn’t the end game, though. Morello says he’s always working through and going back to the previous blocks – honing and refining skills. His practice regime intentionally includes all 4 blocks.
So, how can these principles be applied to investing? Is mastery even attainable in investing?
How We Apply This 4-Step Approach to Investing
I’ve been thinking about my own journey and the various blocks I have worked through.
For investing, Block 1 is reading investment books, learning financial history, and being able to read and decipher financial statements. You have to be fascinated with these technical subjects to stick with it and go further.
Block 2 is learning the different types of investment philosophies. For example, what is value investing and why does it work? Is technical analysis valid, and if so, how can we apply it to real-world situations?
Block 3 is applying these techniques and philosophies to understanding 10-Ks and 10-Qs (audited and unaudited financial statements of businesses) – before you invest real money. It’s learning the more refined skills like how to use options, protect a portfolio, or correct positions sizing for your investments.
Block 4 is the most fun. It’s talking about ideas with other investors. Understanding how unit economics or corporate strategy works. You’re reading more widely now across industry sectors. You can connect dots and reverse engineer data for information that’s not apparent to the general public. You’re making mental connections now that you couldn’t before. You start to see patterns or inconsistencies that others don’t.
I think Morello would say that it’s not about attaining mastery itself. It’s about the journey. There will always be something new and undiscovered.
A famous football coach once said, “We do something every single day to become better. Not only the players but also the coaching staff. It could be tiny and almost inconsequential. But over time you and everyone around you becomes better as a result.”
At CSH Investment Management, we strive to be a tiny bit better every day. It might be reading a quarterly report on Sunday, or listening to a great investor’s evening podcast. Even if total mastery eludes us, we’re so much richer for trying.