The primary factor in a successful attack is speed. – Lord Mountbatten
I have always believed that doing things fast is important. That’s because people are usually willing to give you a small amount of time to try something out but balk at giving you long periods. So, if you’re the kind of person who needs to get it right then you’re best off doing it the way that you know works – following the recipe exactly and honing your ability to get it right every time. I imagine that’s the state of mind a master sword maker has – someone who follows a sacred routine that’s been perfected over generations of practice.
I’m not a good recipe follower. Instructions tend to bore me and I find it very hard to pay attention when I have to do things in order. I like trying new things and if I have to do something – I’ll probably approach it in a way that’s quick and easy and dirty and hacky and see what happens. This has been a useful approach professionally – because I get given tasks that people find hard because I’ll figure out ways to get them done while the people who are good at doing the job do the things that we know how to do. So I end up doing things that are innovative – or at least different.
The flip side of being innovative, however, is that you can end up never doing anything well. That’s ok when it comes to business because the whole point of being part of a company is to work with people who have complementary skills so that you do more as a team than any one of you can do individually. But when it comes to doing your work – the work of your life which is the same as the art of your life then you need to take a different approach. Fortunately, I’m finding out that the way you do that is a refinement of my “speed is best” approach rather than a choice between fast or good.
But first, let me talk about a few people who are on YouTube and who I’ve been learning from over the last few days.
Christopher Hart and Terry Moore are well worth checking out if you want some brilliant tutorials on drawing cartoons. What’s great about watching professionals draw, rather than reading their books, is that you get to see their pencils move and, in particular, the sort of processes they follow. It’s one thing reading a book that says rough out your picture and then fill in details and a completely different thing watching someone who knows what they’re doing work through their process. It’s a funny thing but people who know what they’re doing tend to forget how to do it and make terrible teachers. I remember this vividly when we first had children. You forget what’s its like and advice from mums and dads was pretty useless and even people who were a few months or years ahead seemed to forget the details of how they did what they did.
Anyway, this point, about first roughing something out and then working towards a finished article is the opposite of what I do – back to that speed thing again. I get on, at full speed, get it done and then move on. And it probably shows, in my writing, in my drawing, in the material that’s on this blog.
And when you start doing it the slow way it’s painful. For example, in the image above I started with an idea and then realized I had to draw a particular kind of figure so tried to work it out and then had a go at the piece again. Now, if you know how to draw you’ll find all kinds of mistakes I’ve made. The ones I can see, given my lesser knowledge, include an inability to work out which limb goes where and the fact that you can smudge your work if you try and erase pencil lines without waiting for the ink to dry. Paper is unforgiving in this respect, when compared the to the digital approach I’ve taken for the last four years. Digital is fast but has not made me any better. Paper and pen and sketching have made me more aware of what needs to be done and where my limitations lie and where I need to improve.
So let’s talk about Ivan Brunetti. There are a couple of YouTube interviews with him and they are going to leave you conflicted on whether to admire him or pity him. This is a person who has done covers for the New Yorker, who has a legendary status in the comics arena and knows all the big names in the field. He is also someone that talks about suffering from a clinical level of depression that leaves him unable to pick up a pencil.
His experiences echo what the theory tells you. Should you go for the safe secure job or follow your heart? Is it important to work hard and push yourself or do something every day that accumulates over time? What does getting old do to your ability to produce – do you speed up or slow down?
We all need to work out our own approaches to these things. On the one hand technology can make us so much better at doing things. If you use computers in the right way they will augment you. If you use them in the wrong way nothing changes. Back in 1993 a Microsoft memo talked about how the world “writes with PCs” and how spreadsheets have replaced the columnar pad. But, even in 2021, people write in the same way they’d have written with a typewriter. The way you should write using a computer has been around for forty years but it’s never going to catch on because the tools most people use don’t support it. What most of us read, however, webpages written using html, does.
The thing about starting with a rough structure and then refining it – that fundamental process is actually the fastest way to get to a drawing that works. It’s also the best way to build a business that works or a business plan or anything else. And when I talk about doing things fast it’s pretty much the same thing. If you’re doing something new then you’re not going to get it perfect the first time you have a go. You’re going to have to feel your way to it, with initial exploratory work, finding the boundaries, the outline and then starting to work on the detail.
There are a number of reasons why doing this is hard in business. People don’t like to admit that they don’t know what the right answer is. Or they’re too scared to contradict the boss. There’s lots that happens in organizations and bureaucracies and companies that happens because we’re not willing to work towards a solution, preferring to work instead on what the top person wants. The two may not be the same thing.
After all, you’re going to get somewhere whatever you do. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it when you get there. But the thing you can definitely do is enjoy the journey.