Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself. – Yohji Yamamoto
On Twitter the other day Paul Graham, the founder of Ycombinator, retweeted this – “Be so good they can’t ignore you” can be adjusted to “make something so good that people have to tell their friends about it.”
So, how do you do that?
The bad news is that there are few shortcuts to getting that good.
Or should that be – there are no shortcuts?
There are a few books I’m working through that make this point in different ways.
Joel Spolky in his book Joel on Software starts by reminding us that “Life is just too short to hate your job.”
What you spend your time doing matters more than you realise.
We spend astonishing amounts of time in front of screens – and only some of that time is spent working.
The problem is that most of this time is not “good time” – instead it’s fragmented and disconnected bursts of work pockmarked by interruptions.
And in such a world it’s hard to get things done.
Cal Newport in his book Deep Work points to K. Anders Ericsson’s work which pulled together disparate ideas that were related in a field called Performance Psychology and came up with the term Deliberate Practice as the way to improve performance.
There are two core elements to deliberate practice – focused attention on a task and feedback on how you are doing.
I wonder how many of us find that we have the time to do the former and if we are given the latter in our working environments.
More importantly, do we consider these factors when we’re responsible for training others or even when we’re trying to help our kids get better at something?
The thing about focused attention is that it takes time – weeks are good, days are doable, hours are a minimum.
You are not going to get good work done if you have to rush doing it in five minute intervals.
You need time.
And that means dealing with the things that consume your time – which in this day and age is almost everything around you.
From phones and email to friends and family – they can all be time sinks.
Some of those sinks you want and need – but others do more harm than good.
If you listen to anyone who does work that you like you’ll probably find that they spent a long time getting good at what they do.
It’s clear that Joel Spolsky has spent a lot of time thinking about software.
But the trick, he says, is to start at the foundations of the machine and build up from there.
If you’re into Mr. Men books you should look at some videos of Andy Hargreaves showing you how to draw the characters on YouTube.
It’s hard, he says, to draw circles – and he prefers to draw squares.
You don’t get much more basic than that.
And if you like words there are always those from Churchill on which words to use – “Short words are best, and the old ones, when short, are best of all.”
There is an art to getting better at something – and that is to practice – but practice in the right way with focused attention and feedback.
And if you take the time to do that then what emerges, eventually, may be remarkable enough to share with your friends.