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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.

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