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Practice is the key to getting better at everything. Ignore the concept of innate talent or gift. People who are good are good because they spent a lot of time practicing.

People who practice a lot usually do so because they’re interested in it. It’s not hard or homework for them. If there’s a gift, it’s the gift of interest.

Artists copy a lot. They don’t come up with stuff clear out of their heads. They look at a lot of things, keep a lot of references, and blend ideas together.

Most people who are famous are so not because they’re good, but because they’ve worked hard to become famous. It was important to them, so they did what it took to become famous. Being good at something is a small part of that, small enough that famous people aren’t usually all that good. Their time was better spent becoming famous. (This is the biggest lesson from this list. It basically implies that you can ignore people who have blogs and podcasts. Seek out the unknown experts in your field.)

Don’t make decisions based on money. Don’t stay at a job because the shares might be worth something, or because the company might get acquired. These things rarely happen and you can’t get your time back.

Everyone is totally winging it all the time. Confident people are just better at hiding it.

Everyone is totally winging it all the time. Confident people are just better at hiding it.

I don't think people really understand how true this is. I think we all might feel it, but to really believe that [insert name] doesn't really know what is going on is a revelation.

To wit, whenever given the opportunity to talk with someone who is or was in a large powerful role (Fmr Undersecretary of the Navy two weeks ago for example) I always ask them how confident they were, that what they were doing was the right choice, or how much they felt in control of a particular action/decision.

Across the board they all say they feel like they have very little control and are just doing the best with what they have.

85% of the population will listen to anyone who who talks with authority. Even in tech, when someone talks with authority, most people rarely push back. I know plenty of below-average programmers who formulated great careers by simply talking and talking and talking.

There's a subtle caveat here: true confidence is earned, not fabricated. If you try to bullshit your way through life you'll lose credibility and rarely be given the chance to get far.

I think your advice is most valuable to people who constantly underestimate themselves. I've worked around extremely capable people who do this, and it's frustrating to see how little they achieve because of it.

I think it's a blend. "Fake it till you make it" is a valid strategy in my experience, but only works if you genuinely want to be good/get better. You still have to eventually "make it" though otherwise you will run up against someone who has made it and they will see right through your faking.

The best is someone that knows exactly how capable they are in the moment - and how to reach beyond that when needed.

My favorite example of someone gradually working their way from rank amateur to accomplished professional through sheer volume of dedicated practice has to be the cartoonist Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade. Over the span of about ten years, you see his art style transform from what would pass for an average college newspaper comic into the richly expressive vision of a master illustrator.

Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content has had a similar journey. Very interesting to watch the transformation.

something very similar from derek-sivers: http://sivers.org/15-years

Would you mind to show us some concrete samples that show us what you mean?

Not Penny Arcade but here is an early xkcd: https://xkcd.com/6/

Contrast that against current xkcd: https://xkcd.com/1471/

And it doesn't stop there. He's done amazing things that stretch the concept of "web comic", like https://xkcd.com/1446/ or arguably his most famous work https://xkcd.com/1190/ "Time"


I don't think xkcd is a good example of practice making perfect. Many former xkcd fans think that the average xkcd comic became noticeable less funny somewhere in the low to mid hundreds. Part of it was the novelty being gone but part, I'd say, really had to do with the quality of the comic's writing.

The author's growing experience and confidence allowed him to pull off ambitious and genuinely imperative things like "Time", which improved the mean comic, but the median never really recovered.

Yes but we're not talking about how funny the comic is just the how good the illustration has become.

Instead of "genuinely imperative" I meant to write "genuinely impressive".

To me that recent one is an example of overdevelopment of the art.

I remember commenting on a different artist's rework of his old comic strip, about how the new strips looked too busy and that there was something beautiful and thematic about his earlier work. He replied that he also preferred his earlier work, but he just couldn't make himself 'stop that early' when drawing anymore.

Certainly in both cases there's a lot more skill in the later work, but it's interesting to note that overdevelopment is also a thing.

I agree and thought he peaked around 2004, e.g.:



The cartoon faces were more expressive with less detail than the current ones, but he was able to draw just about anything he wanted in a funny way, which wasn't the case in the beginning.

The non-regular-format pieces might be a better example. Here's a recent one:


I call this the Pink Floyd Effect.

>Everyone is totally winging it all the time. Confident people are just better at hiding it.

So skyscrapers and jumbo jets are built on guesswork, despite all the things that can go wrong in their design and construction?

I wish people would be more precise about what is meant by this, since it seems trivially false when taken literally.

We figured out how to build good skyscrapers and jets by building lots of bad ones and studying the failures. We stopped building skyscrapers that collapse and jets that fall out of the sky by amassing institutional knowledge, not individual knowledge. We developed processes and methodologies that prevent major blunders from making it into the final design, and mitigate the impact of minor ones.

If some element of guesswork wasn't involved, we wouldn't need massive safety factors, because we'd know exactly how strong and stiff to make things. If engineers could be trusted to avoid disaster purely through their own skill and expertise, then we wouldn't need building codes and inspections, we wouldn't need FAA regulations and the NTSB.

"Some element of guesswork" != "just winging it"

If 99% of the job is applying well-understood techniques to well-trod problems you have an intimate domain understanding of, and 1% is judgment calls you can't rigorously justify, that's not "winging it".

What I think is going on is that people think back to their work, only remember the 1%, and then casually conclude that "aw, heck, the whole thing is just judgment calls", which doesn't follow at all.

Many projects crucially depend on someone having that deep understanding, and their success proves that at least one person (and probably a lot more) aren't winging it. If people would just operationalize what this nugget of wisdom is supposed to mean, I think we'd find a lot more disagreement on what it means, or a much less surprising insight.

hmmm, sounds like a job for J.E. Amrhein (speaking about structural engineering, but broadly applicable to many engineering disciplines):

"Structural engineering is the art of molding materials we don't wholly understand, into shapes we can't fully analyze, so as to withstand forces we can't really assess, in such a way that the community at large has no reason to suspect the extent of our ignorance."

Again, "not fully/wholly understanding" != "lol just winging it".

If the New York City skyline is "just winging it", then it should no longer be reassuring to tell someone that "lol don worry we're winging it too".

I think your question is legit. It shouldn't be down voted. It doesn't apply to science and engineering disciplines because we humans have made those disciplines "human proof" by rigorous analysis and testing. Here when people say "winging it" is I think meant to point out that Humans are limited in their capacity to know everything about things ,especially predict the future yet people sometime act like they do know. "Winging" might be a coping mechanism we have to employ to stay relevant in the rapidly changing world. It may not have been true 100 years ago.

Thanks for the emphasis on the possibility and importance of rock solid engineering.

At times, information technology entrepreneurship seems to believe that no such thing is possible.

There's a joke about whether software engineers that write aircraft software would dare board a plane they've written software for..

I'm sure there's lots of places in skyscrapers and jumbo jets that the engineers in charge feel at least somewhat ashamed for, and are only there because they needed to "ship" and it was empirically shown to be "good enough" for practical purposes .. and then every once in a blue moon a plane crashes.

Similarly to how debuggers help us beat code into doing something "good enough" for practical purposes, but no one really understands what the code does anymore .. and then every once in a blue moon there's something like heartbleed.

Striving for perfection in a market context only sets you up for pain - since stakeholders rarely care about quality, they care about more money and less headaches now, consequences be damned. So everyone is just winging it.

Well, you could be very solid on the technical aspects of what you're doing, but realize that you're wining it in terms of whether your proposal delivers economically, ie how long it will take to implement or what cost savings will be realized. Being brilliant within the scope of your own specialization will only take you so far; you need to understand your colleagues and their constraints well enough to productively address resource conflicts and so on. If you're too competitive with your colleagues that can lead to zero-sum situations that fall short of collective potential even though everyone is sincerely trying to deliver the best possible result.

Not everyone is good at business != everyone in every role is just "winging it" (as the OP claimed)

I'm not talking about business or management.

I think the OP is speaking more strategically.

eg. When do you make the decision that it is the right time to build this kind of skyscraper or jumbo jet with this compliment of people etc...

I saw nothing in the OP's statement to clarify that context, nor have I seen it in any of the numerous other posts that repeat the same claim.

If there are a hundred non-obvious caveats, which people may even disagree on ... maybe it's not actually so wise?

At the very least, those who promote this claim should verify they're not confusing "use gut instinct when you have to make a judgement call" with "the entirety of coding, including iterating 1 to 100, is a judgement call".

I think these things are made in spite of people winging it. Everybody is doing the best they can, but we're all not going to get it right 100% of the time. Given that, there's processes and organizations in place to identify errors and correct them.

If you were running such a project, you would FEEL as though you're winging it all the time.

"It basically implies that you can ignore people who have blogs and podcasts. Seek out the unknown experts in your field."

Fully agree with this. But it seems not easy to find hidden gems. It takes time and energy to deliver what's in one's mind. Take this into account, what we can find is only a fraction of the real gems with lots of noises mixed with them. The best shot I can think of is to have some kind of small circle to exchange ideas and opinions. Another resource is reading books, I guess.

As for famous people's wisdom, they have way more access to information average people don't have. And the average quality is probably better. Just like what the artists do you mentioned, they do the same with information.

> But it seems not easy to find hidden gems.

Yup. Very glad to hear that you want the "hidden gems".

Finding them is a nutshell description of the purpose of my startup.

Thanks for the wording!

> Another resource is reading book

Absolutely. I've gotten high quality information from books. Sometimes it seems you gotta pay through the nose... but when you look at it, many of these books are refined down from the person's life in the field. That is pretty cool!

Practice is the key to getting better at everything. Ignore the concept of innate talent or gift. People who are good are good because they spent a lot of time practicing.

Very true. And even when it's not 100% true, we're better off pretending that it is. If you think you can learn something, you're much better off than if you think you can't. The latter attitude is self-fulfilling.

I like the practice bit. And if you enjoy something, and live it every day and do it all the time, you'll get good at it.

If you hate something, and you have to force yourself to do it, I wouldn't bother, and I'd look for something else to do.

That, and our whole system of fractional reserve banking is deeply flawed and is killing us, to the benefit of a greedy few.

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