India Uncut

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Only the learners survive

In an excellent profile of Andy Grove, Richard S Tedlow writes in Fortune:
Normally, our society observes a division of labor. Musicians don't critique, and critics don't compose. Quarterbacks decide on Sunday, and fans deride on Monday. It is the singular ability to inhabit both roles at once—subject and object, actor and audience, master and student—that sets Grove apart. And it's why, for everything that has been written by and about him, we have yet to appreciate his biggest legacy. Andy Grove is America's greatest student and teacher of business.
Quite. And I believe that the attitude of constantly wanting to learn new things about what one does is the key to excellence.

In all the professions that I've been in, I've constantly run into people who want to be writers. Now, everybody who wants to be a writer starts out, because he or she is starting out, as pretty bad at it. Some people then read a lot, and observe the craft of other writers, and write incessantly, and, crucially, are constantly self-critical. They're the ones who get better at what they do.

And then there are those who fancy the thought of being a writer, and who take the easy way out by deluding themselves that they already are outstanding talents, and that people who don't recognise this are either jealous or stupid, and publishers who don't publish them are either idiots or evil capitalists. These are the guys who'll write trash year after year, never get better, lash out at constructive criticism because it threatens their sense of self, and form close communities with other such people so they can all reinforce each other's 'genius' and bitch about the world.

They're also just the sort who'll point out that I have no credibility saying all this, and although that is a fallacious way to argue, they'll be right. After all, what have I yet written that is of any worth? So I'll shut up here and get back to work, and learning. Tra la!
amit varma, 11:11 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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