Archive for July, 2009


What I Know About Skill Pt. 1: Randal Gets A Fancy Haircut



I think skill is one of those concepts that people use as a matter of course but is actually quite difficult to nail down. Skill is–according to my Mac dictionary–“the ability to do something well; expertise.” In a sense that’s intuitive: a skilled cook is one who is able to cook many things and to cook them well; a skilled tennis player is one who is able to control a tennis ball well.

But skill is only intuitive–to me anyway–if you think about it in terms of the effect, the fact that the meal or the shot didn’t exist before and now it does. What does it actually mean about a person to say he is skilled? How do you break it down? What are all of the things that are actually different about a skilled cook versus an unskilled cook? I think that the most obvious answer would be that he knows more about cooking materials, tools, techniques than the average person does. If so, then does that mean that my Jean-Georges cookbook makes me a four-star chef? Errrr, probably not.

It’s a question I’ve thought and read about plenty, but I am always refining my answer. I’d even say that I don’t have a full answer yet but, rather, many disparate pieces of an answer. Individual ideas that I’ve collected from my education, experiences at work, and various books.

And so the question was on my mind the other day when I got myself a fancy haircut.

The unique thing about getting a haircut is that it is one of the only instances where you actually see every step of the process–from assessment of the problem to completion. That creates a perfect opportunity for someone interested in skill to make a few observations and apply his current understanding.

Over the next few posts, I am going to try to list the key things I know about skill, using the highly skilled Tina the Hairdresser as my prime example. In doing so, I think I can bring everyone up to speed on the current state of my thinking. I’ll include myself in that “everyone.” Like I said, my thinking on skill is currently a collection of ideas, and I’m not quite sure what I’d consider my bedrock beliefs right now. By listing all of the pieces, I’d like to come to some sort of picture of the whole. It should be something easily stated, a clear framework for a person to use in figuring out why he or she is struggling in picking up a skill or executing it.

So let’s get this started!

To be continued…


What Is Awesomeness, and Why Does It Need Its Own Blog?


AS11-40-5872_21Dec2008I was going to start this blog over the weekend, when I had some time free. But today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch, and I can think of no better expression of what I want this blog to be about.

In 1962, JFK gave a speech at Rice University defending the space program and reaffirming his goal of reaching the moon within the decade. The speech contained this gem:

“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

And of course, in the last year of the decade, Neil Armstrong took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

I marvel all the time at the fact that we made it to the moon. That thing, up in the sky, that thing you can point to and which seems to me more than a giant leap away…we decided we were going there, we figured out how, we corrected our mistakes along the way, and we did it.

This is what I think people mean by “awesomeness.” It’s skill, boldness, achievement, making the most of your life. The dictionary definition is “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear,” and I think that is one of the rare cases where commonly used slang has retained its original meaning. Awesomeness denotes an extremely impressive or daunting achievement, something beyond the common and which requires extremely impressive skill. Going to the moon or climbing the highest mountain–clearly awesome. Pulling off a complicated guitar solo or difficult rock-climbing move or any of the many other things people commonly call “awesome”–clearly awesome.

And, obviously, none of this is easy. If it were easy, it wouldn’t qualify. Acquiring the capacity is a confusing adventure.  Some people just jump in and seem to pick up skills and execute effortlessly; others similarly jump in but struggle fruitlessly. Clearly, these two people differ somehow in their approach.

And that’s where I’d like to help out. The major goal of my life is to explore the world of goal-pursuit, understand it the best I can, and share my findings to the seekers out there, helping them along the way. I can’t learn how to live your life for you–that’s always going to be up to the individual person–but maybe I can help by collecting observations, collating them, clarifying things. To borrow a teacher’s related metaphor, I’m acting here as a map-maker.

This blog is the journal of my explorations, where I note observations so that I might record them for later map-making and share them with others to see if they are seeing the same thing. Some of the things I’m interested in writing about are: life-goals, productive and unproductive relationships at work, self-correction, motivation; but I’m going to be exploring basically anything I come across that I think others might find interesting. Please feel free to disagree with my observations and conclusions anywhere along the way.

My hope as a map-maker is that you can look at your own world with the guidance of the map and figure out what you want to do in it, where the obstacles might be, and how you might want to deal with them. I want to see more moon-launches. I want to see great films and novels. I want to see incredible advances in science. I want to see awesome products come out of awesome companies.

My wildest hope is to help in pushing out the boundaries of what people consider impressive or daunting, so that today’s challenges become tomorrow’s childs play. And then we’ll just have to push out a little further to new, previously impossible goals. Why would we do that? Because they’re hard!

So go forth! Do something awesome! Then come back and tell us what happened while you were out there!

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