On Typing Faster than JK Rowling: The difference between task and craft
Csikszentmihalyi's model for flow is challenging, because it forces us to reconcile the realities of our environment.
Am I doing work that is both meaningful and consistent with my innate hard-wiring? It's important to reflect on this. Frequently.
Where do I fall on the chart in my day-to-day interaction with my work? Do I live in a land of boredom or anxiety? This is a critical conversation to have with myself. Life is too short to live long stretches in either place.
Increase your challenge or increase your skill set. Ultimately, increase both.
New Skills: Tasks or Craft?
Here's the primary question: How do we learn new stuff? Acquire new skills? Move toward the increasing challenges of work (and living in this world)?
There's a difference between knowing how to make a YouTube video with iMovie and understanding the craft of filmmaking. When it comes to learning new skills, it's helpful to differentiate between tasks and craft.
Sometimes we need to learn a new task. In this category, I put basic assignments which can be mastered quickly. This includes understanding the fundamentals of a piece of software, or learning the tools for project planning, or how to pull a perfect shot of espresso. The "task" category includes anything I can master over a measurable period of time with measurable results. We all need to learn tasks for our work. With the whirlwind of change in the world of technology and business, we should be learning new tasks all the time.
Anxiety in the workplace is often alleviated by simply learning a new tool (task).
I know a lot of people who can create a basic spreadsheet in Excel and populate it with data in such a way as to be useful.
I know a couple of people who are Excel wizards - masters at the craft of data.
Learning a craft differs from learning a task in that it is not measurable. And, even for the masters, there is always room to improve and grow.
Sometimes, when we fall into the anxiety quadrant of Csikszentmihalyi's model for flow, learning a new task isn't enough. We actually have to get better at a craft.
Novel Writing, For Example
I'm writing a novel. And novel writing is not easy, as I've discovered. I have an idea for a story, and I know how to string sentences together in a relatively compelling manner. I know how to use the Scrivener App.
So, thus I began. Then, about 12,000 words in, I hit a major roadblock. I stopped. I didn't know what to do.
I began to procrastinate and avoid. Anxiety.
My problem is not that I don't know how to write (i.e., string words and sentences and paragraphs together in a compelling manner). I know how to use word-processing tools. My problem is the need to know and understand more about the craft of story-telling.
I read and study more about the complexities of storytelling, how story works, and the elements of story.
During that learning process, I simultaneously realize I must write more, not less. Defeat anxiety by facing it head-on, and doing the thing. At this point, quantity over quality (which goes against my general impulse) is critical.
Learning craft is a complex and iterative process. It's ongoing.
I'm learning the craft of storytelling with words. Stephen King, Malcolm Gladwell, and JK Rowling are also learning the same craft, but at levels exponentially beyond me (for now).
Though, it's possible to type faster or know Scrivener better than they do.
That's the difference between tasks and craft. Sometimes we have to learn both. But, over time, as we gain mastery of both skills and craft, our work will move to a place where skills and challenge align.