Understanding 3 Indispensable Levels of Mastery

There are different mastery levels necessary to be top dog on any field. These include:

Level 1: The  Expert,

Level 2: The Adept, and

Level 3: A Teacher.

Rare indeed is the person who can do all three. But if you can, fame and fortune will be your best friend.

by Murray Johannsen, May 12, 2016.  Comments or Question?  Feel free to connect with the author via this website, combining networks on Linkedin,  or by  email.

The Valkyrie’s Vigil, by Edward Robert Hughes. A symbol of MASTERY, the Valkyrie would meet only the bravest of warriors who had performed well in field of battle.

The Valkyrie’s Vigil, by Edward Robert Hughes. A symbol of MASTERY, the Valkyrie would meet only the bravest of warriors who had performed well in field of battle.


This page covers the three mastery levels and the roles allowing  you to:

  • Know,
  • Do, and
  • Teach

“Only the curious will learn and only the resolute overcome the obstacles to learning.” — Eugene Wilson

The Example of the Buddha. Someone who performed all three roles well was The Buddha. He formulated an easy to remember set of principles known as the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path. For the beginners, you could study sutra; for the advanced, tantra.

And he was skilled—he mastered the deceptively simple skill of meditation, even though it took him many years of strenuous effort. And finally, he taught for about 40 years. Ultimately, he generated a social movement and a method of personal development that has flourished for 2600 years.


One must know before one can do. — Murray Johannsen

Becker von, Adolf (1831 – 1909): The Art Expert. Many expertise areas require many years of study to develop — years above and beyond getting a master’s or a Ph. D.


“Before one can do, you must understand.”    Murray Johannsen

Level 1 is the level of expertise  the deep understanding of ideas and concepts that go beyond the superficial. At this level, the focus is on the first two levels of Blooms Taxonomy:

• Knowledge (Remembering), and

• Understanding.

Expertise is what you have been your ears, what you can’t find on Google when you are talking to the boss, what you don’t have time to find in the mobile phone during a meeting , what’s important to recall to impress your friends, and what you need to know to build understanding.


Image by: Jebulon

“Experts as a group know more and more about less and less. Soon they will know everything about nothing.

You might think, “I have been learning all my life.” Of course, you have. But it most likely is terribly inefficient.

Legacee’s founder once told this story (Johannsen, 2015):

When I was in high school, it seemed as though I never really had to study. Or at least, I did not have to study to get grades good enough to get into college. However, in college I suddenly found out that I was sadly lacking in the basics needed to get good grades. The first semester was miserable. Spending endless hours of time in the library wasn’t paying off in decent grades. 
The Christmas break was miserable. Going through lots of soul, bouts of anxiety, self-doubt and thoughts about, “Being a failure at 18.” Finally, I decided that I didn’t want to be the wimp in the family and maybe I better figure out how to get better grades. 
So I spent time learning how to learn, revamping:

• Test taking, 

• Reading comprehension, 

• Memorization and recall, 

• Studying, and 

• Time management.  

I got through it and my GPA went up.

Expertise is what you have in long-term memory; what you can’t find on Google; what impresses your friends; what you need to know to make sound decisions; and ideally, what employers will pay for. Expertise development is one of the core functions of a great university. But it’s more than simply regurgitating facts and getting “As” on a test.

Seven Characteristics of Deep Expertise 

In fact, many who say they are experts, really aren’t. It’s really hard to know since many are skilled liars and you have to know something about a topic yourself. Here is a quick checklist to determine if that extroverted talking head is really an expert. True experts have:

1. Deep Knowledge. It’s almost like they are a walking encyclopedia on the subject.

2. Profound Understanding. They understand the meaning of all the professional jargon used.

3. Few Delusions. These are false beliefs thought to be true that resist change despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

4. Application Savvy. Many “experts” fail to make the cut here. The classic is the English professor who cannot write the great American novel but teaches a class titled, “How to Write The Great American Novel.”

5. Sound Judgment. To make sound decisions, you also have to know something about problem solving.

6. Intuition. When logic fails, what do you do? Some guess. The smart ones use intuition to discover the best alternative under uncertainty or risk.

7. Wisdom. It all boils down to this. But it’s hard to teach and difficult to learn.

These are ideal characteristics. Rare is the person who possesses all properties.


Felice Beato: Picture of Samurai in Armor. These individuals were expected to achieve perfection as a warrior. This was symbolized by Miyamoto Musashi who in 1643 wrote The Book of Five Rings, achieving fame through victory in one-on-one combat


Definition of Adept. An adept is essentially an individual who has honed a skill to a level few can equal. They may or may not have deep expertise.

We find adepts in all aspects of life. Some possess their ability primarily due to genetics (i.e. Mozark). For others, the competency came about as a result of conscious, purposeful learning over many years (Beethoven). And for many, it’s a bit of both.

Level II learning is about mastering skills. Learning to learn is an advantage in this world. Unfortunately,  No one every teaches you to learn to learn–they just expect you to know. In this century, it’s all about how — how to learn better and faster. It’s about how one evolves from a novice to mastery. How one goes beyond mastery to instruct others. For it is well known that:

  • Just because you read, doesn’t mean you remember
  • Just because you know, it doesn’t mean you can do, and
  • Just because you can do, doesn’t mean you can teach.

Commonly we see experts who are not adepts. Someone who cannot put theory into practice is like being blind and lecturing on color. This commonly occurs in four-year research universities where the system rewards theory wonks with degrees in something they can’t do.

You would think that in business schools, the professors would tend toward the practical. But even here, many full-time professors cannot apply their expertise outside of the classroom. We commonly see professors in entrepreneurship that never had and never will start a business. A cynic would say they had a business, couldn’t make it work, and decided to teach.

I once met a professor who was teaching market theory to the undergrads. In other words, these undergrads where paying good money for some sound advice so they might become a future Warren Buffet. So I asked him, “How often do you trade?” The reply, “Oh, I don’t trade since it would interfere with my research.”

Things aren’t much better in the social sciences. For example, there are professors writing about Buddhism that cannot meditate. Reminds me of the chef who writes a cookbook yet cannot make a decent meal.


Mastery Practices is the term used to describe the basic skills helpful to building other skills. The first level is primarily cognitive, and no the easiest thing to do while skill at building skill is actually not as difficult as a sounds. Mastery Practices are specific learning materials designed to accelerate learning. In other words, most of us have never been taught how to learn. Nor do we have the skills to build mental or physical skills. Still, one only has a limited amount to time and it makes sense to make learning more effective and efficiency. 
Therefore, we make available techniques, that when practiced, accelerate learning. We group these into three levels: 
• Level 1: Cognitive expertise, 
• Level 2: Mental and physical skills, and
• Level 3: Teaching.


When the student is ready, the master appears. — Buddhist Proverb

Claude Lefèbvre (1632–1675): A Teacher and his Pupil. In the old days, the rich would educate their young by someone who was considered wise in the ways of the world.


The best way to learn something is to teach it.” — Murray Johannsen

This is the level of the teacher, the coach, the tutor, and the instructor. It requires more than the simple transmission of knowledge; after all, that can be done by reading a book.

Just because you are skilled, doesn’t mean you can teach another. For teaching requires that you:

  • Know how to present information,
  • Provide appropriate feedback,
  • Are skilled at motivation, and
  • Can design a practice program that works.

Wikipedia, (N.D.), The Nature of an Expert.

Germain, M. L. (2005). Apperception and self-identification of managerial and subordinate expertise. Academy of Human Resource Development. Estes Park, CO. February 24–27.

Germain, M. L. (2006, February). What experts are not: Factors identified by managers as disqualifiers for selecting subordinates for expert team membership. Academy of Human Resource Development Conference. Columbus, OH. February 22–26.

Johannsen, Murray (2015). The Methods of MastersSM, Available from Amazon and Apple.

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