The author Robert Heinlein famously said: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
Compelling as that sounds, why do so many of us fall short of that kind of ideal, and cease to learn new and different skills in our adulthood? My guest would say it’s because we approach learning the wrong way. His name is Robert Twigger, and he’s the author of Micromastery: Learn Small, Learn Fast, and Unlock Your Potential to Achieve Anything.
Today on the show, Robert makes the case that we often fail to learn new things because we feel we have to learn the whole field of a subject, which is overwhelming, tedious, and de-motivating. A better approach, he says, is to first master just one distinct skill that’s part of said subject, or what he calls a micromastery. We discuss what micromasteries are, why they keep you motivated to continue learning in that field and in general, the benefits of lifelong learning, and why specialization is indeed for insects. We also discuss what the punk rock scene of decades ago can teach you about tackling new skills. We end our conversation with Robert’s use of omelette making as a case study in micromastery.
- What is a micromastery?
- What is the “entry trick”? Why is it important?
- The “Rub-Pat” barrier and how to move past it
- How to find the micromastery in anything
- How to make yourself a researcher for whatever you’re trying to learn
- Why learn a bunch of disparate skills that aren’t seemingly connected?
- The inherent pleasures of learning
- Why specialization is boring
- How to ward off cognitive decay
- What punk rock can teach us about micromastery
- How to master the omelet
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Learning How to Learn
- How and Why to Become a Lifelong Learner
- How to Make the Perfect Omelet
- How to Bench Press
- Cool Uncle Tricks
- To Succeed in Work and Life, Be Mr. T
- Ernest Hemingway as a Case Study in Living the T-Shaped Life
- Why Generalists Triumph in a World of Specialists
- How to Split Wood
- Business for Punks by James Watt
- “Learning How to Learn” Coursera course
Connect With Robert
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Recorded on ClearCast.io
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The Great Courses Plus. Better yourself this year by learning new things. I’m doing that by watching and listening to The Great Courses Plus. Get a free trial by visiting thegreatcoursesplus.com/manliness.
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. The author Robert Heinlein famously said, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” Compelling as that sounds, why do so many of us fall short of that kind of ideal and cease to learn new and different skills in our adulthood?
My guest today would say it’s because we approach learning the wrong way. His name is Robert Twigger, and he’s the author of, “Micromastery: Learn Small, Learn Fast, and Unlock Your Potential to Achieve Anything.” Today on the show, Robert makes the case that we often fail to learn new things because we feel we have to learn the whole field of a subject, which is overwhelming, tedious, and demotivating. A better approach, he says, is to first master just one distinct skill that’s part of said subject, or what he calls a micromastery. We discuss what micromasteries are, why they keep you motivated to continue learning in that field, and in general, the benefits of lifelong learning and why specialization is indeed for insects. We also discuss what the punk rock scene of decades ago can teach you about tackling new skills, and we end our conversation with Robert’s use of omelet-making as a case study in micromastery. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/micromastery. Robert joins me now via clearcast.io.
Robert Twigger, welcome to the show.
Robert Twigger: Thanks for having me.
Brett McKay: You’ve written a book called, “Micromastery: Learn Small, Learn Fast, and Unlock Your Potential to Achieve Anything.” So, what is a micromastery?
Robert Twigger: A micromastery, well, I’ve defined it as a self-contained unit of doing. So it’s something that’s complete in itself, but it’s connected to the greater field. So that’s the abstract version of it. But what it is, it’s the distilled essence of an activity. If I give you a few examples, say, the … When I started the whole process, I thought about becoming a good cook and that seemed like a daunting task. But then I thought, okay, I knew that, as a test piece for your ability as a cook, making a perfect omelet was often used. If you went for a job as a chef, they’d asked you to make a perfect omelet. So that’s the first micromastery that I stumbled upon, because an omelet has in it, making it, all the skills that you need, or almost all the skills that you need, for far more complicated kinds of cooking.
It’s that ability to boil something down and something that’s repeatable. See, an omelet only takes a minute or two minutes to make, so you can make an awful lot of them, so you can get better. Which is important because you need to repeat in order to practice something, and it needs some payoff. A micromastery is something that needs some payoff. It’s the hey, wow, thing. You’ve done a trick or you’ve done something that’s pretty cool. If you can do a 360 on a skateboard, people go, “That’s good,” and you feel a bit better about yourself.
I think people underestimate how much feedback we need when we start learning something. I know when I started doing aikido, the Japanese martial art, people would say, “What can you do?” At the beginning, I couldn’t really do anything, so I didn’t feel like I was learning much.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about the benefits of approaching learning with this micromastery idea as opposed to the way most people go about learning. What’s the way that most people go about learning a skill, and why do you think this micromastery concept is better?
Robert Twigger: If you think back to how you’ve probably approached things, I certainly know I have, it’s been very haphazard. I often get an idea in my head, yeah, it’d be great to learn Arabic, for example, but, short of buying a textbook, I don’t really go much beyond that. Maybe I’ve looked up courses. I’ve got a very conventional approach and it’s all tinged with boredom. I would say that, for me, the notion of learning, having been through the school system, it’s always got this tinge of boredom about it.
So micromastery was head on wanted you to get rid of the central boring elements that is in learning, and it doesn’t have to really be there. That was the starting point. Once I had worked out that you could really find these micromasteries everywhere, I looked for things which definitely have a fun element. And there is constantly a sensory fun about the way they do it.
Brett McKay: What I like about the micromastery approach is that, instead of initially going wide in a field and trying to learn everything about it all at once, you first take a small step and then you go upstream. And that circumvents a lot of what keeps us from sticking with something where it’s too daunting, it’s too tedious, and you just give up. Instead, you’re having these satisfying little successes that sustain your momentum.
Let’s talk about some of the … Sticking to the elements of what makes a skill a micromastery skill, you talked about it as a self-contained unit. So, instead of thinking I’m going to become a better cook, I’m gonna learn how to cook an omelet, would be example. Instead of I’m going to learn how to play baseball, I’m going to learn how to throw a fastball correctly. So these are skills that are self-contained, they’re repeatable. But let’s dig in even further. There’s six elements you’ve laid of what the components of a micromastery skill. What are those?
Robert Twigger: What I realized is that all micromasteries have what I call the entry trick. It’s some piece of information that once you’re in possession of it, it immediately levels you up. And what I discovered is that experts often jealously guard this information, and you find it out much later when you don’t really even need it.
I found that a lot of artists in the past, including some of the great masters of Renaissance, use tracings when they did crowd scenes. They didn’t muck around ranging a whole lot of models and do it from life. They used to swap each other’s tracings, some of the crowd scenes look slightly similar. It’s an entry trick. It’s something that immediately levels you up. If you know that an artist sometimes uses a tracing to get one step ahead, why not use it yourself? And I knew in writing that writers use a lot of simple tricks that tend to be not known about. And they certainly don’t teach them at school.
The entry trick for, let’s say, surfing is get yourself a foam or a board that isn’t going to hurt you when you fall off it and it hits you on the back of the head. Practice jumping up on top of it on top of your bed. Immediately that’s gonna give you … A bed is slightly wobbly, it will give you an advantage over someone who’s trying to learn surfing choppy water.
So these are little bits of information that can immediately cause you to level up. And you find those usually by asking experts. They’re the shortcuts that they use, the little tricks that they about.
And the next thing is that, as I said, you need to have some payoff, something when you’ve done the micromastery, when you’ve surfed that wave or stood up on your surfboard, when you’ve cooked that omelet, people give you some feedback. You don’t want something that’s just essentially lonesome and doesn’t have any end point. The nature of micromastery is it’s small so it’s repeatable, so that’s the other element which leads into it being gameable, by which I mean you can change the elements.
And this is how you really start learning. It’s not really about mindless repetition. Learning is about tweaking it, changing it, recalibrating. So with omelets, do you use one egg? Two egg? How hot is the pan? How far away from the heat do you hold it? Do you use oil? Do you use butter? There are lots of little things that you can alter and make it gameable or experimental. It’s taking an experimental approach to something that is very much broadly the same but you can change all these elements.
Brett McKay: What’s helpful about the entry level trick is it that it feels really gratifying to learn and that gives you a boost to keep going. Another element you talk about, and I think it’s connected to the entry trick, is this idea, you call it the rub pat barrier or the counterintuitive skill-
Robert Twigger: The rub pat barrier is the point in … Every skill that’s worth having that looks slightly difficult at first has this point where there are two sub-skills pushed against each other. If you’re driving a stick shift car, there comes a point if you’re learning to drive when it actually interferes with your steering because you’ve got to think about moving your hand down, moving the gear level and then going back to steering and you have to coordinate these two skills. And I call it the rub pat barrier because it’s rather like patting your stomach and and rubbing your head or rubbing your stomach and patting your head. To coordinate those two things at once seems problematic but you learn how to do it.
So you identify before you even start what are these … Where’s the point going to be in this skill where there are two elements that pull against each other? That’s usually when people give up because they think this is too hard. But if you already know that’s going to happen in advance you can focus your energies on it.
Brett McKay: And you can use a trick basically to get over that barrier.
Robert Twigger: There are often tricks that you can use to get over that barrier. For example, the example of a kayak roll, you’re going to have to coordinate the hip movement that you’re making with the arm movement with the paddle to flip the boat back up. But if you understand that you’re going to transmit that hip movement through your knees and your legs, you’ve actually got an advantage over somebody who really isn’t quite sure what they’re supposed to be doing.
Brett McKay: One of the examples you give in the book that has a rub pat barrier that I’m familiar with is you talk about the bench press as a skill. And the counterintuitive thing there is you think when you bench press all you’re doing is just going up, you’re just pressing the bar up. But really if you want to make the lift more efficient you have to press up and back, and going backwards is very counterintuitive for people.
Robert Twigger: That’s true. The bench press is a brilliant micromastery because at first it does look like it’s a really simple thing, but actually there’s a lot of skill and coordination involved. It’s a very satisfying one because obviously you can boast to people how many pounds you’re lifting.
Brett McKay: Right. See I’ve been lifting weights for several years now and I’m still messing with it. I’m still getting over that rub pat barrier of pushing the bar back because your body just wants to go up but you need to press it back. The one that gets similar to that is just the shoulder press, where you’re just standing and you’re pressing it up. You have to press the thing backwards. You have to pretend like you’re going to throw the bar back behind you and you don’t want to do that because you feel like, well, if I do that I’m going to lose control. But as soon as you do the bar just goes up so much easier.
Robert Twigger: That’s worth listening to this podcast alone for that one.
Brett McKay: Right. What you’re doing when you’re do that is you’re keeping the bar over your center of gravity.
Robert Twigger: Exactly, yes. That’s why machines are actually, as you know, just an inferior way of exercising because you’re conforming yourself to the demands of the machine rather than the most efficient way to lift that weight.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about this payoff thing, because I think that’s an important thing you hit throughout the book and you’ve already talked about it. When you were writing about it, it made me think when I was a kid and I got into magic. The thing that helped magic become an obsession for me is I learned that one really easy trick and I was able to impress my parents. They were like, “That’s really cool,” and that made me want to do it more. What worked for you as a kid that’s still in effect today. People want to get recognition for acquiring new skills.
Robert Twigger: It’s true. Often that’s the reason why people sign up for courses and go along to organized learning environments because they’re going to get that attention from the teacher and the teacher will give them a pat on the back and probably other students will, if they achieve better than the average grade. But it’s much easier to just find things and identify the payoff without having to go through the rigmarole of doing a course in it.
The magic trick is perfect for that because, of course, it’s all about that payoff. In the book I talk about the three card trick, which is a very simple con game but also works as a magic trick. And you can show that to people and learn that quite quickly.
Brett McKay: It’s something you can do. When you say, “I can do a magic trick,” or “I’m studying magic,” people are always going to ask, “What can you do? Show me a trick.”
Robert Twigger: They’re not going to say … You tell them, “I haven’t learned any tricks yet.”
Brett McKay: They’re not going to say, “Explain to me the theory of magic and the psychology of it.”
Robert Twigger: Exactly.
Brett McKay: Show me something. You argue that there’s micromasteries in everything, cooking, weightlifting.
Robert Twigger: You can usually find them.
Brett McKay: Yeah. So how do you find them?
Robert Twigger: I set myself the challenge in the book actually of saying subjects I had no interest in were lawn care and international law. I thought, okay, now where’s the challenge? Where’s the micromastery? What you do to find it, you have to find where’s the fun in a subject for you. Where’s the exciting element for you? And then you break it down.
So for me I thought about when I was a kid people had these, in the UK, cricket pitches that need to be rolled really flat. And often as a punishment all the boys were given this task of rolling it flat. But it wasn’t really a punishment, we really enjoyed doing it because it’s a really heavy machine, this roller thing. So I thought, okay, then that would be the micromastery would be to start around getting your lawn really flat and rolling. It starts from there. Look for where the fun in something is and then build out from there. Usually that’s where you can identify where it is.
Other ways are just simply ask an expert in that field. For example, in carpentry I asked this guy who’s a top cabinetmaker I know and he said, “Make a perfect cube of wood,” because it’s actually a really difficult thing to do. Because as soon as you cut bits off one side it’s not a perfect cube anymore. And the skills you use to make a perfect cube of wood are all the skills that you need for being a good carpenter.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about talking to experts, because that can lead you astray. Because often times experts, their knowledge is tacit. They just know it and they have a hard time explaining it because they have the curse of knowledge.
Robert Twigger: That’s true. Sometimes you have to approach it a bit sideways. What I found is explained the micromastery concept to an expert they usually dig one out. So I was explaining one to a sculptor and he said, “Make a skull out of clay. Don’t try and sculpt a head, just make a skull and then try and make a funny skull or a sad skull.” He identified a micromastery for sculpture. If you have an expert at your disposal, you can usually explain the micromastery idea and they will dig into their knowledge and find one for you.
But you’re absolutely right. There is a tacit element of they don’t really know what they’re doing or they’re not very good at explaining it. And you can see that if you go online for something like omelet making. Gordon Ramsay making an omelet is not very … First of all, he breaks the omelet as well. It’s not a great omelet. You have to poke around to find the right people.
I think of it as a network of things. It’s not just experts, you read about it, you look for hints online. You have to be a bit of a researcher. Things that catch your eye or going back into things you thought were cool as a kid, often that can be a very good starting point.
Brett McKay: Okay, so learning a micromastery skill can be a way into exploring a wider field. But they’re also complete in themselves, they’re a pleasure in themselves, so that it can be the only skill you learn in that field. Even then though, they motivate you to keep learning skills in other fields. But why should people even take this continual learning approach in life? Why learn a bunch of different disparate skills that aren’t connected? Why learn how to do the kayak roll or throw a fastball or to do the perfect bench press? What’s the purpose of that?
Robert Twigger: Humans are learning machines and we are happy learning. Even though school is … to just beat that out of us, it is actually something we’re meant to do. And lots of things are actually disguised learning experiences. So when you go to a new city and you’re walking around, you’re actually learning all the time about what that city’s like. Things like confidence, what is a confident person? A confident person is someone who isn’t scared to have a go. But they’re not scared to have a go because they know they can learn it. They have confidence in their learning ability.
A lot of people who are not confident simply think they can’t learn things and they keep sticking to what they know or the limited amount of things they know. There’s definitely true that more you learn the better you become at it and the more learning tactics you have the better you become at it. So there is a functional reason for learning stuff, which is the better you are at learning the better you are at living.
But also it’s good to give yourself permission to be interested in anything. We live in a world where we’re bombarded by so much information. For the first time in history we’re in a world where information is actually toxic. We’re turning it off. We’re saying, “No,” rather than, “yes.” And I don’t think that’s a natural human response. Human response is to see something interesting and want to find out about it. That’s for hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, interesting things meant food, they meant something important. We should naturally follow that way of being I think.
A micromastery is a way to satisfy the desire to be interested in. You can say yes to something but you don’t have to devote your entire life to it. It was, for me, about permission to be interested in everything, which I think is normal and it’s what you’re like when you’re a kid. When you’re an adult you say, “No, I haven’t got time for that. No, I can’t buy that book. I can’t do that.” That’s a depressing way of living, I think.
Brett McKay: Right, or you’re told you’ve got to specialize in something and make that your thing.
Robert Twigger: It becomes boring. Specializing sounds great because, of course, it gives you an economic advantage and it comes from the business world really. But it’s migrated into the human world to our detriment. Every job that is completely specialized is basically boring. And the most interesting jobs that people want, things like being a film director or an explorer, jobs that are actually polymathic, they have loads of different elements.
Brett McKay: Yeah, you look back maybe even 100 years ago, if you were a farmer, you had to know a whole bunch of different things to do your job.
Robert Twigger: That’s true. And I think that it is not a great thing. More and more jobs are actually sitting, as we are now, staring at a computer screen, and that’s not a great way to spend your time if it is the bulk of your time. You have to do something extra and I think micromastery maybe supplies that extra element. If you have to earn a living so be it, but at least have other elements there.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I was thinking my favorite job … I enjoy my job now but one of my favorite jobs I had when I was right out of high school was I worked at the paint shop at the medical school and we not only painted, and I learned how to paint … There’s a micromastery there, how to paint an edge, that’s a skill. So one day I’d be laying tile so I learned how to do the mortar, the glue or whatever, and there’s a skill there. That whole job, that whole summer, I just acquired all these little micromasteries. You’d learn it and then you’d do the project for maybe two or three days and then it was on to something else. I learned how to … I’m trying to think of the other things. I learned how to lay carpet, cut carpet, which was amazing.
Robert Twigger: Using your knees to kick it in did you?
Brett McKay: Yeah. It was a lot of fun because I was always learning a new discrete skill that I can still bust out today. I can still paint an awesome edge, an awesome corner.
Robert Twigger: Exactly. It’s something that never leaves you. That’s the other thing about micromastery, it can’t be taken away from you. That’s a really good feeling that you’ve got these skills. I think it’s sad that school doesn’t really do that so much. You can come out of school having spent five years studying French and you can probably only say a few things. It’s lamentable really.
Brett McKay: So if you’re in a job that’s very specialized, learning these varied skills can be something you do in your spare time. Pursuing these skills, besides being satisfying, besides being a confidence booster and helping you become more competent and better at life, but also it’s good for your brain to constantly learn new things. As you said, learning new things is normal for human beings. Once we stop learning new things our brain actually deteriorates.
Robert Twigger: Yeah, evidence of cognitive decay is increasing in adults because, and this is research … I quote some of the leading experts into stroke recovery because how people recover from a stroke is measurable and it shows the ability of the brain to continually grow even in old age. A lot of people grew up with an erroneous notion that the brain had a set number of cells and once you learn your basic stuff it didn’t really grow anymore. We now know the brain is constantly adapting. The plastic brain is the new model and you have to keep learning. It’s learn it or lose it. So that in itself is an incentive.
Often when I talk about the micromastery and the audience is a bit older, this is the time when they suddenly start paying attention. Because just doing the crossword puzzle isn’t really enough. There’s a lot of evidence you do have to learn stuff as you get older, and if you don’t learn it the neurotransmitters associated with learning gradually decrease. And so you actually become unable to learn anything.
I watched a TV program where they had this elderly football team manager and he was having to learn French and he just couldn’t hold it in his head. He’d obviously hadn’t done any learning. He was good at managing a football team but he really hadn’t done any learning for 40 years. He just couldn’t do it.
But the good news is starting small, doing a little bit every day, you build up that neurotransmitter. You build up the ability to learn. So that is a definite health benefit.
Brett McKay: Yeah, there’s a case for dabbling in different things and not feeling bad. Because I think that’s another thing, people are afraid to be a dabbler, because then you’re a dilettante. Well, you can’t stick with anything. But the micromastery concept is, well, I don’t have to stick with … I learned this discrete skill and that’s all I need. If that’s all I want to learn that’s okay.
Robert Twigger: That’s it and you’ve got something that you can … It’s a bit like a party piece. It’s complete in itself. It doesn’t really need you to do anymore. The fact that you can get on a surfboard, stand up on that surfboard and surf away, that’s enough. You don’t have to then devote your entire life to it or even a greater part of your life.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I can stack a great stack of wood. That’s a discrete skill that’s awesome.
Robert Twigger: Very useful.
Brett McKay: Very useful. Flipping a pancake I think is a micromastery.
Robert Twigger: Totally. That sorts out the men from the boys definitely. The people who go for it and the others who mess it up and it ends up on the taps of the stove.
Brett McKay: Yeah. You have in here splitting a log is another one. Which, yeah, there’s a skill to it. There’s a trick and once you learn the trick … Yeah, splitting a log. The thing there is you want to let the mall do all the work. A lot of times people want to swing as hard as they can, that’s not the trick.
Robert Twigger: Yeah, you’re right. And if you see people, native people, often women, chopping wood, the ax or the machete does all the work. They’re just learning a drop really. But the other one I love, I put this in the book, is a skill that’s actually gone because everyone has chainsaws, but the actual chopping a log in half rather than splitting it. And often in movies they get this wrong. They just vicious go at a V in the log, and of course eventually you have to start chopping at each side to widen the V. Whereas the correct way is you make two cuts that are the width of the log apart and then you angle the ax so that chip just flies out. You actually get rid of a big lump of wood. It’s miles faster and that is the traditional correct way of chopping a log. That’s a skill that really impresses people.
Brett McKay: It does impress people. You have this section about how the punk rock scene in the 70s and 80s can teach us something about micromastery. So in the 90s I was a punk rocker, as punk rock as you can be in suburban Oklahoma, which is probably not very punk rock. But there is an ethos there that I think does apply to this micromastery concept.
Robert Twigger: Definitely. It’s the have a go ethos. Basically in the 70s, music had become really bloated and you had these huge supergroups and then suddenly a whole bunch of guys in garages said, “We can’t even play instruments but we want to be pop stars.” So they would construct the simplest songs. Even I read the other day Sid Vicious, the reason he started his pogo dancing is he couldn’t dance. So he, in frustration, just started jumping up and down and invented a new dance. So it’s that willingness to have a go.
Punk rockers, they did their own recording. They often set up their own record companies, they had their own fanzines. They were willing to have a go at everything. It took over and created a whole movement in music that eventually the conventional record companies got on board with.
An interesting modern day example is, I don’t know if you have this bit craft beer in America but in the UK it’s huge, it’s called BrewDog, and the founder of BrewDog actually wrote a book calling his book, “Punk Businessman,” because he’d grown up with punk rock and that idea of doing everything, in his case brewing the beer in his garage when he started, doing the marketing, going out to get the money from the bank, bottling it, all of these things he was willing to have a go at. He wasn’t trying to outsource it so specialists and that gave him much bigger control and a much bigger ability to do it cheaply. The moment you start asking experts to do things for you you’re just going to be writing checks left, right and center.
Brett McKay: Right. That was one thing that I enjoyed about the punk rock scene was if you wanted to do a show, you rented out an American Legion Hall and you made your own crappy flyers at Kinko’s, you handed them out and then you made your own cassette tapes that didn’t sound great. But you just did it. You weren’t afraid to put it out there. You just, as you said, give it a go. I like that a lot.
Robert Twigger: Why did you give up in the end?
Brett McKay: I think I just outgrew it. I was never in a punk band, I just went to the shows and listened. I think I outgrew … I still carry that ethos with me. I’m just going to do this, I’m going to give it a go. What’s crazy too is I think things are a lot easier now to give it a go.
Robert Twigger: You’re right. It has actually never been easier to do a lot of these things.
Brett McKay: You have YouTube videos that can show you how to do things. You didn’t have that 20, 30 years ago.
Robert Twigger: Yeah, it was really difficult. I fixed my car the other day replacing some broken taillights. I would never have done that in the past because it did involve removing a couple of bumper panels in the right order. But the video, a six minute video on YouTube, ordered the parts on eBay for minimal sum, saved myself probably $200 or $300. So it’s fantastic in a way.
Brett McKay: Yeah, the idea there, we started talking about punk rockers, is just don’t be afraid to give it a try and just go for it. You might mess up a lot in the beginning, it might be terrible, but if you find that micromastery skill in that thing you want to learn, because it’s repeatable, because it’s self-contained, you can easily master it.
Robert Twigger: Yeah. It’s a painless way of approaching something. And I think that, I’ve mentioned this before, we now go through life with our minds set to no. When you’re walking down a crowded street you’re basically not open, because if you were, panhandlers or people might get in your way. You’re more or less saying no to life. But, of course, that isn’t the normal human response. Normally we’re supposed to be open and interested in things. So this is a way of getting around that no barrier that we’ve had to erect around ourselves to get through life.
Brett McKay: So we’ve been talking about micromasteries in the abstract, why they’re great, why you should develop them and the benefits of it. Can you walk us through a micromastery that you’ve enjoyed that can give us a taste of what we’re talking about here?
Robert Twigger: Yeah. The first one, which I’ve spoken about several times, which is the omelet making, I think it’s satisfying because it’s such an easy thing to do. The entry trick, which I picked up from a French cook, was if you want to immediately make the omelets fluffier, which will get a response, and this isn’t the classical way to make an omelet but it is a way to immediately get that payback, is to separate out the egg whites and the egg yolk and beat that white a lot and then recombine them later. You will get a much, much fluffier omelet. So immediately you’ve got this entry trick skill.
The acknowledgement that when you’re making an omelet, in the past I would just put them straight into the pan. I didn’t realize that the whole rub pat barrier, if you like, in making omelets is to do with the heat of the pan and how much you agitate the omelet mix. In fact, an omelet is actually closer to scrambled eggs than people think. They think it’s more like a pancake but it really … If you’ve got the model of scrambled eggs in your mind, that’s closer. So the simple way around that barrier is don’t mess around with the gas control on the oven, just lift the pan up and down and learn how to control the heat in the pan by just the distance it is from the flames. It’s another very, very simple trick that enables you to get around that problem of be the correct heat of the pan should be.
The classical way to make an omelet is to use a fork. Which, at first, seems like people use spatulas and so on. But a fork is a really good piece of equipment for cooking an omelet because you can keep agitating the mix in the pan and that builds it up and makes it much fluffier. And then when it comes to tipping it out, you can use the fork to gradually roll up the omelet. In the classical omelet you roll it up when you dump it out.
Another entry trick which isn’t so widely known is that it’s almost impossible to undercook an omelet but it’s very, very … And this why it’s a test piece, it’s very, very easy to overcook one and just make it like rubber. So once you know that, it’s always much better to err on the side of undercooking. Because once you roll that omelet up it will keep cooking. So you don’t really need to worry. With that information you should be able to cook some pretty good omelets.
Brett McKay: Right. But you said that even though you’ve got those entry tricks down you’re still tweaking with it, you’re still experimenting with it. It can stop there if you want but it doesn’t necessarily have to.
Robert Twigger: It doesn’t because you’re interested in the process and you want to improve. You want to experiment, I think that’s a natural human thing to want to do.
Brett McKay: What I think this micromastery concept does is you’re learning how to learn again, which is becoming a skill that is essential in today’s world where skills are constantly upgrading and changing. What you were able to do to get ahead in life or make a living might not be relevant 10, 15 years from now. So you have to know how to learn and this micromastery concept is a way to learn how to learn.
Robert Twigger: Exactly. It’s absolutely true. In my own career I earned money as a journalist and pretty good money as a freelance journalist. That’s pretty much dried up. Obviously there are a few magazines and newspapers that are still going but vast amounts of that revenue now goes to Facebook. So people who are journalists have got to learn something new and if you’re not prepared to learn something new, you’re not going to earn a living.
Brett McKay: Right. Robert, where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
Robert Twigger: So, yeah, the book’s on Amazon. Most of my books are on Amazon so you can get them there or from Barnes & Noble, those websites. I also have a website, which is a blog, and it has a lot of articles, it probably has nearly 1,000 articles on it, and that’s roberttwigger.com. So that covers a whole range of subjects. Yeah, you can dig around in there and there’s more on micromastery, there’s more on some of the traveling I’ve done and various other things I’ve been involved in.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Robert Twigger, thanks for your time. I’m going to go make an omelet now.
Robert Twigger: Cheers. Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Brett McKay: Thank you. My guest today was Robert Twigger, he’s the author of the book, “Micromastery.” It’s available on amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can find out more information about his work at his website, roberttwigger, that’s Twigger with two G’s, .com. Also check out our show notes at aom.is/micromastery, where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Check out our podcast archives at artofmanliness.com, there’s over 500 episodes there. And while you’re there, check out our platform called the Strenuous Life, it’s an online platform that we created that will be put into action on things we’ve been talking about on the podcast. One thing we do there on the Art of Manliness is help you develop different skill sets. So ties in nicely with this micromastery podcast. So if that intrigues you, you want to put it into action, check out the Strenuous Life. We’ve created 50 different badges based around 50 different skills where we create little micromasteries to help keep you motivated to learn more about that field. So check it out, strenuouslife.co, we got enrollment coming up in September.
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