Skip to main content

run fast, run deep

If you're not in a hurry, craft work can be deeply rewarding.

In one sense, there's the reward of praise and artistic respect which comes when you concentrate on high quality and unique, interesting design. There's also a sense of satisfaction in the work. After all, when it's done right, crafting is difficult, painstaking work. And there's the mental growth that comes from the hard, sustained thinking that goes into the finished result.

Focused thinking is usually associated with knowledge work. Craft work, being both spatial and creative, tends to meander. There are many people who take sewing down that wandering path, but it doesn't have to go there. Done well, crafting -- especially sewing -- can be as taxing as engineering, especially since they share some common principles (think analytical topology, for example).

Time, Cost, Quality: Choose Any Two

From project management, I've learned that time, cost, and quality are the three-legged stool of stable projects, and only two of them can be maximized at the same time. The variable cost of craft work is how long it takes to get something done. Call it the "performance penalty." With most crafting, the work is usually assumed to be pretty slow, so the performance penalty would be high.

This is why pursuits like sewing are usually considered a hobby. Yes, you can make beautiful things, at high quality, that will sell for much more than the cost of materials, but you'll never get paid back for your time. Worse yet, you can't physically make enough items to earn a living, let alone accumulate wealth.

Okay, then, explain the late Bob Ross. If you don't remember him, he's the guy with the beard and afro that painted on PBS for many years (you can still YouTube his shows). He showed us all that excellent quality can be achieved quickly: He could produce a $100 landscape in less than an hour, by minimizing the performance penalty.

How did he do this? Deep practice and standardized techniques, driven by the need to get his paintings done and cleaned up in a military lunch hour. He developed his tools and skills up front, and then got better and better, so that each unit took a little bit less time, on average.

Who Asks the More Beautiful Question

My own incentive for learning to sew faster is more financial: I'd like to make a very nice living from my sewing -- enough that I don't need a day job. Yes, it's a common dream, and yes, I might not succeed, but I'm going to put everything I've got into trying. And to may way of thinking, the first step is to change my focus by changing my questions (thanks, Anthony Robbins).

If I change the focus from "doing high-quality craft work" to "quickly producing high-quality craft work," I might be able to pull this off. It's all about where I spend my brain power. It can be wasted trying to manage each individual sewing project as a unique, one-off delivery; or, it can be concentrated on templates, tools, and repeatable techniques for producing a range of quality products.

In other words, there's deep work here, but most of it happens before the sewing ever starts, by creating tools and techniques which will make the basic design easy to reproduce and simple to vary from piece to piece, without making cookie-cutter products.

Only time will tell.

Popular posts from this blog

getting good

A few weeks ago, I shared some thoughts on deep work and how it applies to my sewing. After a busy season of stuff, and some random blog posts, it's time to commit.

I'd mentioned my hunger for a good Every Day Carry (EDC) bag, one that will keep everything with me. It was a rational response to caring for a terminally-ill sibling when I was growing up. My passion for self-contained organization followed the skills that developed from that difficult time. All this came together, recently, in a laundromat.

Preparation, Meet Opportunity
Our washer's out, so until we find a replacement we like, we're doing the coin thing. Very early Saturday is the best time; last Saturday, it was the very best time. A group of German students were in the laundromat, trying to get all their clothes washed up and stuffed in rucksacks for the rapidly-approaching flight home.

Since I speak German, and they were chattering nervously in their native tongue, it was fair to warn them that I under…

not goals

Sometimes, when you get sleepy early, it isn't because you're really tired, but because your brain needs the bandwidth to figure something out. 
Last night was one of those nights.

Yesterday, I was contemplating the difference between modern achievement theory and modern medicine. It wasn't an odd thing, because in my day job, I am in medicine, work for a medical services company, and maintain an internal wiki to educate people who support caregivers.
This morning at 2:30 AM, I woke up with a couple of epiphanies; thought I might share them here.
Goals are Broken When trying to achieve things, we set goals; then we measure deficiencies and set deadlines for changing those deficiencies into adequacies. If I make it sound dull and unexciting, that's because it is. It's a lot of work, and 100% of the time, when we're working toward goals, we are inadequate by our own measures.
One modern not-a-guru describes it this way: "A plane is off course 100% of the time! But…