Disciplined, Regular Practice

Nobody I’ve ever met wishes their shop time was more like Henry Ford’s assembly line. Most of us seem to pick up saw, plane, and chisel as an act of independence and individual creativity. We want to cultivate the ability to make our own stuff. Author Matthew Crawford has argued that manual crafts are “a natural home for anyone who would live by his own powers, free not only of deadening abstraction but also of the insidious hopes and rising insecurities that seem to be endemic in our current economic life.”

But we’re mistaken if we think we can shortcut this cultivation of skill with a new app or “life hack.” As we strive for agency, we can easily overlook a key element: the sheer quantity of material you have to produce to develop those skills. Remember the rule that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to develop mastery? We need disciplined, regular practice if we’re going to have any hope of mastery. And we need a lot of it. Radio host Ira Glass famously encouraged aspiring journalists to close the “gap” between their ambitions and current abilities by pushing through a massive quantity of production. He said, “the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month, you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap, and the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. . . . It takes a while, it’s gonna take you a while – it’s normal to take a while.” A would-be master always rolls up his sleeves.

–Joshua A. Klein, excerpt from “Finding the Groove: The Value of Batch Production Woodworking,” in Issue Eleven


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