"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
0 items in your cart
$0
Blog // Thoughts
October 16, 2009

Do It Everyday, Over And Over, Again And Again And Think About It

You know those articles – the ones that give you lots of neat little suggestions to improve some are of your life – 25 ways to be a better parent, 5 ways to become a famous guitarist, or 10 ways to improve your love-life? Tips? Yeah, I hate those. Tips; not the money you leave […]

You know those articles – the ones that give you lots of neat little suggestions to improve some are of your life – 25 ways to be a better parent, 5 ways to become a famous guitarist, or 10 ways to improve your love-life? Tips? Yeah, I hate those.

Tips; not the money you leave for waiters at restaurants, but the small, pithy hints that we look for instead of doing the hard graft of really learning how to do something, inside and out. My generation will be probably be judged harshly for buying into tipology as a lifestyle. At times it feels like the whole internet has become a giant tip factory. Or, just a giant tip!

It’s not that tips are always bad. Sometimes they can help us focus our mind, or remember truisms we may have forgetten. In fact, tips can be really useful when we are already close to mastering something.

But, the road to mastery is not paved with tips. Most tips go in one ear and out the other because reading them is not a real learning experience. It’s too abstract, especially when the tips relate to things we don’t do, or do well.

I don’t entertain much here in Hong Kong, but, I used to entertain, a lot, for friends and guests. I’d always receive compliments and usually be asked for some tip on becoming a better cook. I never liked the question – it’s one that should be directed to real chefs. After all, becoming a better cook involves nothing less than mastering basic techniques. There’s no tip to learning to saute well – it’s a technique that is aquired through trial and error, through doing it often, with commitment and patience and by learning from the experience.

Want to become a better cook? Grab a dozen eggs and make six omelettes, one after the other. Compare and taste all six and ask yourself what made each one different. Look for how each one comes out and cooks. Try cooking one with a little more heat and a little less, a little more butter or salt, or a little less. And, think about what is going on.

The downside of tips is they confuse shortcuts with improvements. What’s the point of looking for a tip on cooking omlettes if you’ve never cooked one? Do the exercise above and you’ll have some questions that arise from experience. Now go looking for answers to those specific questions and you’ll be doing something we might really call learning. But, you have to start by doing first, action, then reflection.

“Industry is a better horse to ride than genius.” Walter Lippmann

Does that sound like a lot of work? Good. Another troubling thing about tips is that they reinforce the (false) belief that creativity is not synonymous with hard work. I think the best chefs are great role models when it comes to creativity. We know, from observation and experience, that chefs work long hours, go through rigorous training, often have to overcome limitations in the ingredients they receive, adapt their dishes to meet the seasons and their customers and have aquired an array of skills.

But, sometimes we forget that similiar considerations apply to anyone who works in a creative field. I’ve been taking photos all my life and it pains me to admit that for most of that time, I’ve done little more than point my camera at interesting things and fumble for a setting that worked. I was a tip-dependent photographer, which is another way of saying I was subjecting myself to chance and disappointment, with no real hope of getting better. However, looking at David duChemin’s excellent podcast on photographing in Chandi Chowk made me think on the jounrey I’ve taken lately.

Did you catch the part where he talked about that great picture of the Chaiwallah being a sketch? What about the number of images he took, or how long he was willing to wait (and Chandi Chowk is not the easiest place to stand around and just wait), to get a good image? Even with some cool pics in the bag, he is already talking about going back and trying again, with a plan, to get a better image.

This year I’ve become a better photographer and the reasons are not rocket science. I’m taking a lot more pictures, I’ve engaged a fantastic teacher, I’m developing my photos properly, I’m thinking about what I’m doing when I shoot and looking back at the images to see if I was successful, I’m going back and re-shooting locations, I’m learning how the equipment works.

I could make the same sorts of points about music, whether it is writing, arranging, recording or just playing. I’ve known so many guitarists down the years who complain about not improving. But, they won’t engage a teacher, they don’t really understand and explore their gear, or they don’t expand repertoire, or learn songs in their entirety, or they can’t figure out how to record at home, or try writing some arrangments. All too often, they let days, maybe even weeks go by without playing (and noodling on the sofa while eating pizza and watching a movie does not qualify as playing).

If I had to distill my thinking on creativity and craft into one pithy phrase, dare I say, one tip, it would be this,

Do It Everyday, Over And Over, Again And Again And Think About It

Don’t “just do it,” but keep doing it and, importantly, think about it. You have to ride the line between loving what you do and being an honest critic of your work. Moreover, you have to make the time. Not just for the creative task itself, but the preparation, the maintenance and whatever it takes to get that out to the people you are trying to reach. Turn up, turn it on, tune it up and tune out the distractions.

Responses
kris 13 years ago

fantastic post fern.

Leave a comment

Enter your and your to join the mailing list.