Build lots and lots of stuff


Taking a journey through the classic book "Arts & Fear" unveils surprising business lessons.

My career taught me this most valuable (if not too obvious) lesson. Building stuff is better than not building stuff. And if you want to succeed, you need to build a lots of stuff.

The wisdom of the book “Art & Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland will illustrate this better than I could possibly do.

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the ‘quantity group: fifty pound of pots rated an ‘A’, forty pounds a ‘B’, and so on. Those being graded on ‘quality’, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an ‘A’.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the ‘quantity’ group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the ‘quality’ group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

Stop theorizing and trying to make ‘perfect’ things. Just build a lots of things.

Note that building things is different than starting things. Remember that ever-growing pile of projects you started and never finished? You weren’t building things. Building means finishing something, however imperfect it might end being.

“The seed for your next artwork lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece. The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential.”

Now have you ever thought or feared that you are not “gifted” enough to succeed? You were wrong.

“Art is made by ordinary people. Creatures having only virtues can hardly be imagined making art. It’s difficult to picture the Virgin Mary painting landscapes. Or Batman throwing pots. The flawless creature wouldn’t need to make art.”

But umm, that guy is just insanely talented…!

“Talent is, in common parlance, ‘what comes easily’. So, sooner or later, inevitably, you reach a point where the work doesn’t come easily, and, – Aha!, it’s just what you feared. Wrong. By definition, whatever you have is exactly what you need to produce your best work. There’s probably no clearer waste of psychic energy than worrying about how much talent you have – And probably no worry more common.”

It is not the talent that will get you far, it is the strength of the will to always move forward.

“Talent may get someone off the starting blocks faster, but without a sense of direction, or a goal to strive for, it won’t count for much. Even at best, talent remains a constant, and those who rely upon that gift alone, without developing further, peak quickly and soon fade to obscurity. Artists get better by sharpening their skills, or by acquiring new ones; they get better by learning to work, and by learning from their work. They commit themselves to the work of their heart, and act upon that commitment. What you end up caring about is what you do, not whether the doing came, hard or easy.”

Why then, should you build all this stuff?

“Writer Henry James once proposed three questions you could productively put to an artist’s work: What was the artist trying to achieve? Did he/she succeed? The third’s a zinger: Was it worth doing?

The first two questions alone are worth the price of admission. They address art at a level that can be tested directly against real-world values and experience; they commit you to accepting the perspective of the maker into your own understanding of the work. In short, they ask you to respond to the work itself, without first pushing it through some aesthetic filter….

But it’s that third question — Was it worth doing? — that truly opens the universe. “

Keep building (lots of) stuff!