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Issue 158: How repetition leads to greatness
Growing up, I wanted to be an artist. It looked a lot different than what I expected. I thought it would be creating paintings that you'd see at St. Peter's Basilica, eventually getting to the level of craftsmanship at the level of the Baroque greats like Bernini or Caravaggio. Instead, I make software. Even more abstractly, I work with teams to make software. Despite how serendipity took me in life, one thing remains important in my life—technique.
A technique is a way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution or performance of an artistic work or a scientific procedure. It’s different than a method, which is more process-oriented. As I started writing about technique, Sera Tajima, Founder of The Craft (and one of my former designers at Webflow), wrote about technique so eloquently as she reflected on ballet:
Dance teachers can say the most profound things.
Today the teacher said something along the lines of how "technique can be your prison or it can be your key to freedom."
That's so applicable to design as well.
It's similar to how I say junior designers use themselves to serve the technique and seniors use the technique to serve themselves.
It got me thinking how so much of my world view and habits are formed by ballet.
Tajima’s post is exactly how I feel about the importance of technique. Jenn Spriggs (now at Replit) participated in a Dropbox x Webflow Design Fika panel about navigating career journeys in December of 2022. The topic of craft came up, in which Spriggs shared a story from her fashion design background. The story was about how meticulous her manager was about the detail in presenting work, to the detail of consistency across buttons (just like software!). She described that rigor as something that propelled her throughout her career. When your technique serves to execute at high detail, people can focus on higher-level concepts beyond what they see in front of them.
Even today, as a geriatric software designer, I practice sketching. There are people on my team who do great work and don’t need me to, but everything goes back to the foundation of technique. I find myself every morning with a cold brew and pen; drawing lines to warm up any sketching sessions.
"I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times." —Bruce Lee
Technique is consistency leading to mastery. For me, the definition of craft is a great technique that results in high-quality outcomes efficiently. Growing in this is the only path to getting work on things at a higher level. In order Deliberate practice of a certain move or task develops a behavior you don't have to think about to execute it. Bruce Lee would have caveat his quote that the point isn’t to do the same kick 10,000 times, it’s to do each time even better. Amjad Masad, our CEO at Replit, talks a lot about progress. His message to us is that if we show progress and get feedback with tight iteration cycles, over the course of years our work is going to be so much better.
Technique is Intention + Deliberate Practice = Outcomes (High quality + effective).
Forming incredible techniques comes with practice. Good musicians don’t practice their cords during the symphony. Make time to practice. My former design and research team at One Medical would be tired of hearing me say this as I told them every day. Whether you’re working on writing better code, designing buttons, or knife throws in Call of Duty, be intentional about how you practice to develop technique.
Technique builds experience
People often perceive experience in terms of time, particularly the number of years you've done something. Though it can be a signal of experience, indexing on only that can be dangerous. Someone can have the same experience for 10 years and have, "one year experience, 10 times." The reason a tech lead on an engineering team can architect authentication systems is because she’s done it dozens of times. Not only has she done it dozens of times, each time it’s better and better. A football coach cannot run his team effectively if he does not learn to block and tackle. Good leaders have experienced the psychology and skills needed for their people to do their jobs.
As foundational skills get built up, you practice them at a higher altitude. This might be helping a team level up their foundational skills or architecting a path for the best possible outcome based on your skills.
Technique makes history
Some designers joke, "My job is making rectangles." Though the intention is playful, it de-legitimizes the craft. Making a rectangle in a vector-based drawing software or div in code is the first step to building something great. How great are you at drawing rectangles? Can you turn it into the personification of an idea that becomes the inspiration (or execution) of something the world has never seen? That, my friends, is the power of technique, and as Sera's ballet instructor said, be the key to your freedom.
Working in tech and software is still very early. Early computer and machine code is less than 100 years old. Masonry, farming, herbal medicine, yoga, ceramics, and metalsmithing are a few ancient techniques that have scaled to this day. The level at which your technique and skill are known is what makes the difference between what a hook shot is in basketball and what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s iconic Skyhook is.
In the appropriate HBO series, Winning Time, there is a scene I love where Kareem teaches Magic Johnson the Skyhook.
Technique, if you choose to commit to it over a long course of time, can lead you to the road of doing historical work—like Kareem’s Skyhook.
Designer Fund Launched a partnership program
I know this looks like an ad, but it's not. I'm friends with Designer Fund and want to personally promote this new opportunity and give it a prominent space.
If you’re a founder who values design, @DesignerFund Partnership is the best $500K investment and design support offer available for early-stage startups. Apply by September 22nd.
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Disco Conf 2023 is back → My friends at Maze have just launched the program for Disco Conf 2023! As a Disco Conf speaker alum, I'm really excited to see this free, virtual conference come back again this year, and to see the speakers who will take the stage for #DiscoConf23
We are hiring at Replit
Other great roles:
Kindred is hiring a Staff Product Designer → Annie Teng is incredible
This is not actually a mathematical formula. Take it a bit more figuratively.