Updated: Sep 10, 2020

Seeing Pablo Picasso’s statement, after which this article is titled, got me thinking about ‘great performances’ I have watched in the workplace, on a stage, in the classroom, on a sports field, in a kitchen, or simply through engaging conversation. It is inspiring to watch the effortlessness of confidence and skill of ‘an artist’ ‘at work’. This confidence is not bravado or swagger, but mastery, or talent. Regardless of the nuance and subjectivity, mastery is tangible and not easily faked.

So what?

Rules are the key to achieving mastery. Having to follow rules often elicits rebellion, through the perception that they are designed to rob us of agency and ‘protect the organs of authority intent on crushing us’. Clearly some rules are autocratic and disempowering; however, many are carefully considered frameworks in support of context, understanding, progression, scale and repeatability.

Equally, the rules that facilitate our learning and practice allow us to impart the same to others. As a hobbyist guitar player who solely plays on ‘feel’, I am not proficient (confident) enough to improvise in real-time with other musicians, because I have not been disciplined enough to learn the rules of scales and their related chords. Conversely, I have chosen to learn the intricacies and rules of other systems. Those allow me to engage with others, and improvise in the moment, based upon a level of trust and confidence I have in my ability to contribute and respond in a discerning and impactful way. There is clearly subjectivity at play (pun intended) when discerning ‘what is right’, when ‘feel’ is being employed. Importantly, rules provide the specifics and boundaries that, if we choose to embrace and learn them, allow us to participate in a meaningful way with others who respect and know those same rules.

There is a difference between improvisation and pretending. Those who know the rules can be discerning improvisers.


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