The Art of Strengths Coaching

C is for Concentrating On Your Craft

There are many ways to do fine work. One approach is to concentrate on your craft, do creative work and get concrete results.

Sometimes this can also be a way of coping during difficult times. A person may find solace in pursuing their craft and doing work that inspires both themselves and other people.

There are many definitions for the word craft. Originally it applied to making things by hand. More recently it has expanded to include other activities that involve the pursuit of excellence. One definition is:

To create or make something with skill and careful attention to detail.

This often involves a lifetime quest. The aim is to learn, develop and master the skills involved in carrying out your work.

Dave Gamache wrote an excellent piece on this theme for the lifehacker website. Here is an excerpt from his article.

Craftsmanship: Doing what
you love and doing it right 

Craftsmanship is doing what you love and doing it right. No matter what you do – designer, baker, electrician, architect, author – your job is your craft.

Learn to think of your work as practice towards becoming an absolute expert at what you do. Craftsmanship is not a destination; it’s a life-long discipline.

Craftsmanship is universal. Designing a product (or site) shares the same core values as any other craft.

Quality, passion and experience are still the ingredients, the difference is the outcome.  

Love your craft everyday. Designing a product, web site, or workflow shares the same core values as any other craft. So design the simplest, most delightful product you can.  

Watch people use your product and make it better for them. Improve your work by learning from others and from your own experiences.

Dave Gamache

Looking back, can you think of a situation when you pursued some of these steps in your own way? You may have done this when doing a piece of work as an artist, writer, teacher, gardener, singer, leader or whatever.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you concentrated on your craft, did creative work and got concrete results.

Describe the specific things you did to follow these steps in your own way. 

Describe the specific things that happened as a result.

People sometimes start following this path early in life. They begin by throwing themselves into a particular hobby or interest. They get into the habit of doing this activity deeply and well.

The next stage comes later in life. They settle on a particular passion they want to pursue. They then aim to follow certain principles and master certain skills to achieve their picture of success.

Pursuing this path becomes a lifetime journey. They may aim to become the best they can be as an artist, athlete, teacher, designer or whatever.

Alan Cooper, a pioneer in modern computing, has described some of the qualities involved in this journey. Below is an excerpt from a keynote speech he gave at the Interaction Design Association conference in 2008. You can discover more via the following links.

Alan Cooper Talk

Alan Cooper

An insurgence of quality

Best to market, particularly in high tech, comes about only through craftsmanship. And craftsmanship is all about quality

The goal of craftsmanship is to get it right, not to get it fast. The ultimate measurement of craft is not speed. It’s quality. It’s a pure measurement. And a delightful measurement.

Craftsman – craftspeople – do it over and over, until they get it correct.  

And in their training, in their apprenticeship, they build things over and over, learning how to do things correctly, so they can bring enormous expertise to create successful products, and thus the training of craftsman is a long and drawn out personal process. 

People who pursue their craft sometimes go into what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called a state of flow. They become so absorbed in the activity that time goes away. They flow, focus, finish and, as a by-product, find fulfilment.

Different people do this in different ways. Malcolm McCullough described some of the steps that people take in his book Abstracting Craft. Below is a brief excerpt from the book.

This quality of engagement is personal. If you are like most people, you probably work well only when your attention is focused on the task at hand.

Something must draw your interest. This might be the pleasure of handling a material. It could be the concentration required not to ruin a piece of work.  

At a more abstract level, it could be the intricacies of solving a problem, whether technical or conceptual. It could be the anticipation of a finished product. It might be the ambition to succeed, or the fear of failure.

Or it could simply be the calming effect of routine, based on soothing motions, habitual expertise, and a sustaining commitment to practice.  

If enough of these engaging qualities are sufficiently strong, nothing will distract you from your work – the hours will fly by, and you might not even hear the phone ringing. 

Concentrate on a craft that
you care about pursuing

Seth Godin, the marketer and blogger, believes that it is important to focus on the things you really care about. Taking this path is more likely to produce excellent results. Here are two pieces that he wrote on this theme. You can find the originals via the links at the end of the pieces.

When we care enough, we raise the bar

Starting at the age of nine, I played the clarinet for eight years. Actually, that’s not true. I took clarinet lessons for eight years when I was a kid, but I’m not sure I ever actually played it.

Eventually, I heard a symphony orchestra member play a clarinet solo. It began with a sustained middle C, and I am 100% certain that never once did I play a note that sounded even close to the way his sounded.

Practice is not the answer here. Practice, the 10,000 hours thing, practice alone doesn’t produce work that matters.

No, that only comes from caring. From caring enough to leap, to bleed for the art, to go out on the ledge, where it’s dangerous. 

When we care enough, we raise the bar, not just for ourselves, but for our customer, our audience and our partners.

It’s obvious, then, why I don’t play the clarinet any more. I don’t care enough, can’t work hard enough, don’t have the guts to put that work into the world.

This is the best reason to stop playing, and it opens the door to go find an art you care enough to make matter instead. Find and make your own music.

As Jony Ive (Designer at Apple) said:

“We did it because we cared, because when you realize how well you can make something, falling short, whether seen or not, feels like failure.”

In search of your calling

I don’t think we have a calling. I do think it’s possible to have a caring. A calling implies that there’s just one thing for you, just one thing you’re supposed to do. 

What we most need in our lives, though, is something worth doing, worth it because we care. There are plenty of forces pushing us to not care. Bosses, systems, bureaucracies and the fear of mattering.

None of them are worth sacrificing something as important as caring.

You can discover more via the following links.

Seth 1

Seth 2

Looking ahead, what is the craft that you care about pursuing? How can you translate this into a specific project? How can you keep doing creative work? How can you get the desired concrete results?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to concentrate on your craft, do creative work and get concrete results. 

Describe the specific things you can do to follow these steps in your own way. 

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result.

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