On Cutting Corners

I’m increasingly convinced that that the innate desire to care about the work I do being good is the most important ability I can cultivate. Output from the people that I admire is consistently of exceptional quality. And I suspect what is common among them is that they simply care enough to do a good job.

I do not possess this super-power yet. I consistently half-ass things. I cut a lot of corners. While I am fairly proud of some things I’ve done, I realize now it is mostly pride in having the idea and seeing it through completion. It is never pride in having done a good job at it.

I suspect this is the single biggest change I need to make to reach the next level.


From a blog post on robertheaton.com

As soon as I lose pride in something, I stop caring about it being good. Its only value to me is as something that I one day won’t have to do anymore. It always starts with the cutting of one small corner, but that’s all it takes. Pandora’s Box is open and the feature is infected. I cut the next corner with only a faint pang of remorse, and after that I don’t even notice the corners anymore.

Paul Graham in Hackers & Painters

When people care enough about something to do it well, those who do it best tend to be far better than everyone else. There’s a huge gap between Leonardo and second- rate contemporaries like Borgognone. You see the same gap between Raymond Chandler and the average writer of detective novels. A topranked professional chess player could play ten thousand games against an ordinary club player without losing once.

From a Stripe job description

You care about details and are excited to keep pushing your work until is pixel-perfect. At Stripe, we welcome diverse perspectives and people who think rigorously and aren’t afraid to challenge assumptions.

Rigorous thinking is a side-effect of caring about something dearly.

Bret Victor found himself in the middle of a Master’s programme that he couldn’t get himself to care about. He exited the program early by writing a thesis that was genuinely good and cited hundreds of time. He didn’t half-ass his way out of the program.

Jan 2021. Built with Tailwind and Jekyll.