Master Your Fucking Craft: The Mistake of Practice

By March 26, 2018Article

 
by BRIAN BUIRGE

 (original article at GFDA.com
Filed Under: Article

Practice does not make perfect. It’s not going to make you better. It won’t help you master whatever that thing is you really like doing. I’m fucking sorry, it simply doesn’t and it won’t. Whoever told you any of that was either lying, or—at best, misinformed. In reality, practice can even make you worse.
In my position at GFDA I have the great fortune to meet, talk with, and teach a lot of eager people who are hungry to get better and can’t figure out why their growth is stagnant (or at the very least, not progressing as rapidly as they would like). The problem many of them have in common is they’re just practicing—and they’re doing it all wrong. The practice of mistakes is a mistake of practice.

Most people really like to engage themselves in two types of practice, both of which can feel really great, and unfortunately neither of them will ever help to make them better.

The first mistake of practice is, people focus on the things they already know how to do. It seems simple enough, but really— if all you’re doing is repeating the things you can already do well, you will never grow.

I used to see this all the time when I was teaching at various universities across the US. Let me give you an example of a scenario I’d see all the time in the design classroom: I’d have a student who struggled through a project making mistake after mistake and ultimately, finally, the student would manage some kind of a breakthrough. Perhaps they found a really great color palette, or maybe they discovered a beautiful combination of typefaces. Whatever moment they discovered, inevitably they would attempt to use the exact discovery again in their very next project. Early on some students will attempt to pass this off as their “style.” I call this “lazy.” They’ve also completely missed the point. The lesson wasn’t the end result of “look, these two typefaces work really well together!” The lesson was, “look at what the serendipity of the process brought you.”

The other serious mistake people make in their practice is mindless practice. I see and hear about this more in the professional realm (though it certainly plagues students just the same). Practicing professionals get into the grove of working a typical 9–5 job and they start running on autopilot. This can be particularly bad because the repetition of day-in and day-out work can really solidify bad habits. The more ingrained these habits get, the harder they are to break later on. Years go by and before they know it, their work begins to look dated, and they become disconnected with current technology and professional practices. They engage in a practice of self-obsolescence.

So if practice isn’t the way to mastery, what is? Deliberate practice is the path to mastery.

Deliberate, mindful practice is quite different. It entails considerable, precise, and constant efforts to do something you can’t do well—or for that matter, can’t even do at all. It involves taking risks on a regular basis. Risks will lead to the growth and development of you and your skill sets. It’s not easy, and quite frankly a lot of times it’s very uncomfortable because there’s ALWAYS a sustained period of mistakes, failures, false starts, and fucking up that occurs.

Our egos frequently get in the way of this kind of intentional practice. The ego doesn’t like the rawness of the unknown—but see—here’s the thing: Creativity is valuable precisely because its products are unexpected.

Learning to accepting risk—moving forward when we don’t know what’s about to happen—is a necessary component of creative problem solving. Easy, safe, and expected can rarely be innovative, long lived, and thought provoking.

Easy, safe, and expected can rarely be innovative, long lived, and thought provoking.

In order to grow and create more meaningful and dynamic ideas, we have leave behind the safety of what we’re already good at and the safety of mindless practice. If we’re going to truly call ourselves creatives, then we have to learn to take risks and be able to deliberately sit in the discomfort of the unknown daily.

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