Thoughts About Why We Do What We Do How We Do It

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Sunday, 8.16pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information. – Man Ray

A number of papers I read talk about method and methodology. They are not the same thing. And when you throw technique into the mix you get a recipe for confusion. So let’s unpack these a bit.

I don’t like doing this, but let’s start with dictionary definitions, using Google’s English dictionary from Oxford Languages.

A technique is “a way of carrying out a particular task”, a method is “a particular procedure for accomplishing something”, and a methodology is “a system of methods used in a particular area of study or activity”.

I recently read Quentin Blake’s Beyond the page and learned about his particular technique – the one he has used for decades. It involves a light box. He works on the broad shapes and composition of his artwork on paper and then puts it on the light box with a fresh sheet of water colour paper on top and then draws with ink. That’s the way his compositions seem effortlessly fluid, the inky scratchings of dip pen nibs guided by what was done before.

A method is more than technique – while a technique gets one small part finished, method gets the work done. The world is full of methods, procedures, routines, processes and more. Some work better than others. Some are busywork, some are crucial. On a post shared on social media I read the slightly astonishing line that “no political system, no matter how venal, can corrupt a bureaucracy if it stands united and inflexibly committed to collective high standards of ethics and professional integrity.” A functioning bureaucracy, it would seem, is essential if things are to work. One might not think of a civil service in this way and perhaps it’s more important than we realize.

Methods, however, are chosen by individuals and groups – and methodology is the umbrella that hangs over the selected methods. If technique has to do with “how”, them method has to do with “what”. But methodology has to do with “why”. Take, for example, the creation of art – even something as simple as the picture that starts this blog. How would you go about creating something similar? Some people might reach for a pen and paper. Some might whip out their iPad or drawing software. But why would you choose one way over another? Perhaps it has to do with what you’re comfortable with, what you’re good at using. Maybe it’s the best tool for the job on the platform you use. That collection of reasons for why you do things the way you do is the methodology you follow – it may not always be articulated but it hangs over your approach. For all my work, for example, I prefer to use Free as in Freedom software – and that affects the tools I select and use. MyPaint for drawing. Groff for writing. GNU/Linux as a platform.

Understanding the difference between technique, method and methodology is important if you want to figure out why your work is different from everyone else out there. A key element of competitive advantage is inimability – making it hard for others to do what you do. Quentin Blake draws in a very particular way. If you try and do the same you’ll simply be copying Quentin Blake – and if someone wants Quentin Blake’s work they might as well go to him rather than come to you. You need to figure out which elements of your technique, method or methodology are inimitable – those are your unique contributions to the world – the things no one else but you can do in the way you do.

That’s what makes you you.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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