Forget about being an expert or a professional, and wear your amateurism (your heart, your love) on your sleeve. Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you. – Austin Kleon, Show Your Work
I’m often asked questions about how I do things on this blog – the tools I use to create material.
The first response of most people, I suppose, is going to be one of concern.
If you tell others how you do things won’t that mean they can do what you do now as well?
Surely by being open about what you do and how you do it, you’ll be giving away your knowledge for free?
I don’t know where that thought comes from – perhaps it’s inbuilt from prehistoric times when if you held a little food back you were more likely to survive.
Or perhaps it comes from when we invented the idea of ownership – and property – first physical property and then the products of the mind.
But there are a few things that we should keep in mind.
The first is that ideas are things you can share without losing anything.
If you tell someone else what you know – you both go away richer.
You get a deeper understanding of what you know and they learn something they didn’t know.
When you cling to the idea that the things you have are the things that matter then you confuse the ability to hold a tool and do a manual task with the skills of a craftsperson.
If you’re working at the level of a tool operator – you can be easily replaced.
But what is it about a craft skill that is hard to replace in the same way – what’s the thing that makes it valuable?
A 1951 paper by W.M Macqueen called “What is craft skill?” may help.
Some elements of craft skill are about manual skills – about how you do things.
For example, do you understand your materials and if they are suitable for the job you’re doing?
Just as a woodworker knows what kind of wood to use for a chair and what kind of wood to use for a pipe.
Assuming they are different – I don’t know, after all.
Do you know what techniques work?
If you’re a consultant, for example, do you understand how to do joint work, remote work or group work?
And can you do it well – have you spent the time working on your ability to carry out those tasks.
These three skills are still pretty manual, they’re about time spent on learning your trade.
Macqueen then says craftspeople have a better understanding of non-skill elements.
They know why one approach works while another tends to fail – how to make things happen.
They also look beyond their field – and know how related approaches work.
Doctrinal wars appear to be a standard feature of situations where this is forgotten.
For example, you have people who believe that agile is the only way to go, or you might have lean startup approaches, or various systems approaches.
It’s the mistake we make when we think rituals matter more than the outcome.
And then people dedicated to the craft look beyond themselves – they get involved in the community and industry – as a contributing member rather than someone looking to do the most for themselves.
But after all that, what makes the difference between one person and another?
Warren Buffett, as is often the case, has a quote that sums it up.
Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.
The thing that makes the difference is character.
Macqueen has a few more points, but what it comes down to is be a person who can be trusted, who can get things done and someone who can respond intelligently to changing circumstances.
And that’s what makes the difference between you and a tool.
p.s. As a result of this thinking here’s a list of the tools I use.