In Praise of Technique

I don’t know how often I’ve heard descriptions of athletic excellence along the lines of:

“Great footwork.”

“A perfect swing.”

“Beautiful arm position.”

These are ways of praising the specific techniques in use by the individual whose work is on display.

Technique may seem merely mechanical, and it’s true you can’t achieve real excellence in any field without some level of natural talent. But it’s very difficult to fulfill your true performance potential without also mastering the relevant technique(s).

Even more to the point, no matter how much talent you do or don’t have, you can nearly always improve with better technique.

I am reminded of a line in one of my favorite films, Miller’s Crossing, when one character describes some killings recently done by the mob boss at the heart of the film by saying: “The old man’s still an artist with a Thompson (submachine gun).”  

Because technique is the backbone of excellent performance, mastery of it enables almost anyone to transcend the practical aspects of their activity and enter into the realm of “artistry.”

At a more practical level, however, mastering the relevant techniques in whatever field you’re pursuing brings you the following advantages:

Precision and Control

When you master the fundamental movements, actions, forces, and considerations in whatever you’re doing, you become capable of much finer calibrations, much more complex combinations, and much better realization of your intentions. Have you ever noticed how much simpler an activity becomes as you work toward mastery of it? Your increasing capabilities are the result of your growing skill in using the relevant techniques.

Versatility and Adaptability

Mastering the relevant techniques of a particular endeavor allows you fine tune exactly what you’re doing to achieve more of what you wish. Moreover, after a while mastery of technique allows you to “break the rules” and develop new approaches, new responses, and new strategies for accomplishing nearly all the different tasks, projects, and goals you will ever face.

Personal Expression

Even within a highly repetitive setting, mastery of techniques makes it possible for you to put your individual stamp on whatever you’re doing. Your ability to apply the proper techniques at the proper times in the proper places helps you make the work your own, and – perhaps more important – fosters a feeling of satisfaction when it’s done.

Efficiency and Effectiveness

Anybody can hammer a nail, draft a memo, bake bread, fly an airplane, or merge two companies. But the person who has mastered the relevant techniques can do the work with maximum efficiency and effectiveness, saving time, energy, and other resources, eliminating obstacles and delays, finding the smoothest way forward, and generally producing the best possible results.


The process of learning and mastering relevant techniques helps you become far more self-aware of not merely your actions, but your role in the overall process and the possibilities for making improvements. Because the relevant techniques help establish a framework for how things should go, mastering them allows you to far more easily identify and eliminate potential problems, shore up weak points in your efforts, and keep the task or project moving steadily toward the final goals.

More than a set of instructions on how to complete a particular task, techniques are a kind of language that informs and communicates levels of intricate detail that bolster your efforts to reach the highest levels of productivity and success in both your work and your life.

That’s why mastering the techniques underlying whatever you’re trying to accomplish is an extremely worthwhile use of your time and energy.

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