On Technical Skills

In this week’s newsletter I discussed how creatives often confuse the lack of knowledge with the lack of ability.

In a nutshell, I suggested that – before you go assuming you lack even the capability of learning how to properly organize and manage your business’s finances, marketing, legal matters, calendar, correspondence, etc. – you think about the extent of the technical skills already under your belt.

Because – beyond talent and creativity – there isn’t a medium out there that doesn’t require in-depth technical knowledge in order for an artist to fully express her or himself in that medium.  The success of your creative work proves you have the capability to master technical skills. Which, at a basic level, are no different from the technical abilities necessary to operating a business. It’s just that most of us only learned the specifics of one skill set.  All we usually need is more knowledge.

But sometimes we need something more.  Call it passion or curiosity – without it to propel you, more knowledge won’t matter.

To illustrate the potential consequences of ignoring the science of art and neglecting essential technical skills, I briefly related the story of potentially burning down my school’s ceramics studio because I hadn’t taken the time to learn how to operate the kilns correctly.  I set off the school-wide fire alarm system with a memorably large phoomp of flammable gas – and was very lucky that no one was hurt and the building didn’t catch fire.  Needless to say, it brought down my grade in Kiln Theory.

Truth be told, I have a bit of a phobia about flammable gases.  I mean, I don’t even mess with our backyard grill or camp stove.  But I could have gotten past that if I had still been passionate about what those kilns made possible for my work; if I hadn’t already been losing interest in my medium.  That phoomp really represented the beginning of the end of my career in ceramics.

That year I had become more and more interested in traditional painting.  I was making ever-simpler pots just to have surfaces to decorate and it mattered less and less to me that they were functional vessels, let alone vessels at all.  So what was the point of learning kiln theory and glaze calculation?  Why practice lighting the kilns?  I mean, yawn.

Thinking back on that time, I am struck by how much the technical skills we’re willing to master shape our work and careers.  Is our chosen specialty as much about talent and aesthetics as the processes we’re willing to engage in?

And is it the same in business?  Is the success of our enterprise as much about quality of our work as the entrepreneurial skills we are willing to learn?

And if you aren’t interested or willing to learn certain technical skills, does that mean – metaphorically speaking – you are studying in the wrong department?

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