hiring for quality (issue 8)

This is The Ordinary, my attempt to notice the unexpected joy, value, and rigor of ordinary things. New subscribers, welcome!

What you can expect from me (almost) every Friday:

  1. A very ordinary quote

  2. A roundup of very ordinary reads

  3. A brief and very ordinary note

  4. A very ordinary visual

- Ammar


An Ordinary Quote:

Because of the quirks of our human eagerness for the immediate reward, we are forewarned that what seems easy and straightforward is deceptively so; the roundabout is in practice a counterintuitive path—of acquiring later stage advantage through an earlier stage disadvantage—nearly impossible to follow.

The Dao of Capital, Mark Spitznagel

Some Ordinary Reads:

“Cutting Through to What Matters” (essay): A great essay about why professional chefs don’t use the Thermomix. “They are living in the stone age, almost literally! Their tools of choice are the controlled use of fire and the eight inch steel chef’s knife.”

“Three Big Things: The Most Important Forces Shaping the World” (essay): From Morgan Housel of Collaborative Fund. tl;dr: demographics, inequality, and information access. “The world is driven by tail events. A minority of things drive the majority of outcomes.”

“The Dao of Capital” (book): An excerpt from investor Mark Spitznagel’s incredible book about tai chi, forest economies, markets, and the roundabout nonlinear nature of existence.

An Ordinary Note:

Over the past ten years, I have had the privilege of learning from a few world-class writers, designers, software engineers, and marketers.

One consequence of this work has been to recognize the meaning of “humbling.” It is humbling to see a master at work, how little I know about anything, and the type of vision it requires to get on the path of mastery.

An achievement is not “humbling.” A view of how long the road goes is what’s humbling.

Another consequence of brushing shoulders with masters has been an enlightening observation:

Masters are intimately familiar with context.

They sweat the details, they sweat the big picture, they sweat their tools, they sweat their schedule.

Master programmers don’t just slap on new features and modules. They consider how these changes affect the stability, legibility, and coherence of the whole system.

Master designers don’t just make things “pop”. They consider how small changes in color, contrast, sequence, and hierarchy affect the meaning of the creation.

Master marketers don’t just maximize clicks and opens. They consider how changes in messaging affect the trustworthiness, story, and overall appeal of what they are selling.

Masters (and those on the mastery track) may seem to move slower than expected in the short-run.

If you’re not aware of this tendency, you may think they are incompetent or overrated. Surely, skill should be immediately apparent to the layman’s eye! So you hire someone else who promises better results in half the quoted time for a quarter of the cost.

This person makes quick progress in their first week. Maybe they distract you with technical jargon or entertaining flourishes. You think yourself clever for being so resourceful in hiring them.

But as days become weeks become months, the early lack of expected pace of mastery-oriented individuals blossoms into quality products that inspire and endure. Meanwhile, the overpromising, quick-fix salesman misses deadlines, forgets crucial details, and creates bigger, more expensive messes.

You can’t recognize the difference between the two if your attention grasps for quick results.

If you’re not accustomed to visualizing how a small thing grows, you’ll miss the entire story. Because while masters may seem to move slowly in the short-run, watching them work reveals a subtle hint at what is to come.

Watch Bayern Munich or Nadal practice. Watch Per Vognsen write a programming language. Watch Erik Kennedy redesign a website. Watch Jeff Watts paint. Watch Ryan Kulp build an online business.

The result isn’t just the final product. The result includes the entire process, the proof of work.

There’s a sense of inevitability when you pay attention to masters at work. And there are masters all around us that we can be learning from. It’s inspiring and makes me want to send off this email and get back to sweating the context.

An Ordinary Visual:

An illustrator draws Spiderman three times. In 10 minutes; in 1 minute; in 10 seconds: