In Smartcuts, Shane Snow looks at seemingly overnight successes. Many people point out that overnight success is actually the result of years of hard work. However, tons of people put the same years of hard work in and don’t achieve the same level of success. A lot of times, wild success comes through putting hard work in along with taking a different route—a smartcut.
David Heinemeier Hansson created Ruby on Rails and is the co-founder of Basecamp. The 37signals blog has been an inspiration through my career. I appreciate what Basecamp’s leadership has done in highlighting the importance of work-life balance.
(If I had a sidebar: Basecamp comes from 37signals, originally a design agency co-founded by Ernest Kim. Ernest made Kicksology in the early 2000s. I’ve always been delighted by Basecamp having a historical connection to Kicksology. My friends would go to Kicksology to learn about the latest sneakers, and I would go to learn about the latest in HTML table layouts. The design holds up remarkably well 15 years later.)
Rails provides scaffolding for web apps. You could build on top of that scaffolding confident that smart people have made initial decisions for you. You might know better solutions for certain parts, but the defaults provided a great place to start.
“You can build on top of a lot of things that exist in this world,” David Heinemeier Hansson told me. “Somebody goes in and does that hard, ground level science based work. “And then on top of that,” he smiles, “you build the art.”
With a framework in place you can focus on the things specific to your idea. If we had infinite time it be fine to Tinker. But we don’t so focus is important. Once you know the goal then you can work towards it and also keep an eye out for any lateral moves so you there Astor.
Siegel cared more about his long-term journey than his short-term paycheck; she screened every offer through the lens of, “Will this help Jimmy get SNL one day?” He said “no” to television sitcoms, “no” to acting jobs that might take him too far away from SNL.
Great lesson on focus and an abundance mindset. It depends on where you are in your journey but you don’t have to say yes to every single opportunity. It’s important to learn to say no to those good-not-great opportunities. Having an end goal in mind makes that filtering more straightforward.
One of the ideas in Smartcuts that stuck with me was the value of calculators early on in math education:
The overwhelming majority of academic research about calculators indicates that leveraging such tools improves conceptual understanding. By learning the tool (calculator) first, we actually master the discipline (math) faster.
Tooling has become so important in web development. When I learned HTML, I made a page that had a single sentence and I was fascinated that I could just change the text. It’s different today.
WIth the right tools, you can put together a very basic app in one day. A novice won’t know exactly what’s going on underneath the hood. Still, the end product is more interesting than a page with a single sentence.
Let’s say you had one month to learn something, you could 1.) learn CSS from the ground up or 2.) jump into learning a CSS framework. Learning from the ground up, you’d probably have a good understanding of CSS. However, you probably couldn’t put a layout together as robust as what you would get through a framework.
Success is measured by your goal. If your goal is building something quickly, it might be better to use the framework and spend the majority of time talking to users. If your goal is to become a web developer, the ground-level understanding is more important.
Rails grew popular quickly because it helped developers build things quickly. Authentication is taken care of, where writing this yourself would take an eternity with no experience.
The most popular Rails resource is probably the Michael Hartl tutorial. He introduces tools early on. Tools which you’ll eventually use if you want to make anything production-ready. In that book, learning Ruby is the means to the end. In that case, the discipline is building something useful with Rails.
Smartcuts also covers the power of constraints.
Constraints made New York City an architectural marvel. Manhattan Island’s narrow shape forced the city to build up, to rethink and renew; it impelled architects to reinvent stone buildings into steel skyscrapers.
Started reading through Sprint and it reminds me how important constraints are for creativity. My current constraint is one page each day. One of the best things I took away from design sprints is learning how to time block creative activities. You hit the end of a block and continue moving on with what you have.
You just have to be ruthless about moving on. The end result of the process is more important than polishing during any single step.
Moving on can be difficult if you’re working alone. With no outside facilitator, you just need to trust your plan and know that following the system will work. That said, it takes a few attempts to make sure the system works in the first place. When you see success with the system then you’ll build up belief in it.
I’ve iterated on my system for writing daily posts. There were many small failures along the way, but I trust it now. If I want to finish a post in an hour or two, I can do that.
The next step is taking what I’ve learned in creating a system for quantity and begin creating a system that helps me improve the quality of writing. I’ll keep my eyes open for a smartcut along the way.