Paul Graham: Professionalism Just A Fad

Paul Graham’s stuff often annoys me, but I enjoyed this article a lot. He points out that one of the worst places to get work done is at work, and that professionalism is inferior to amateurism in most important ways, and other good paradoxical stuff.

He also spouts some ideological nonsense, but I’m sure my intelligent readers will be able to sort that stuff out. :)

Bad Is Good

One of the ideas I’ve been interested in lately is the idea that you don’t necessarily need to worry about becoming “competent” before you do things, because “incompetence” can be advantageous as well as disadvantageous.

Competence as an unqualified, universal advantage is part of the mythology of our culture. But competence is only ever competence according to a particular standard of measurement, or competence in a particular way of doing things, and sometimes competence itself can get in the way of innovation. You know the “right” and “wrong” ways to do things and you don’t think of doing them the “wrong” way.

Part of the mythology is “you have to learn the rules before you can break them!” That old saw is a bulwark supporting the myth of competence. You see, even if you point out that some great artist or engineer or something doesn’t follow the rules, you can say that he is only allowed to break them because he knew them perfectly first, and therefore knew how to break them.

Except it isn’t true. Some people learn the rules and follow them, some people learn the rules and break them, and some people never learn the rules, they are always making up their own rules all the time, and never necessarily staying with any given set.

I want to start keeping track of instances of “bad is good” — incompetence as an advantage — when I see it. It doesn’t even have to be a matter of competence — I’m interested in situations where something we might think was a disadvantage turned out to be an advantage.

Here’s today’s post on that topic — David Anez apparently created the subgenre of “sprite” webcomics inadvertently.. He wanted to do a traditional drawn webcomic, but did not own a scanner, so he did some temporary filler comics using video game images until he could afford a scanner. Turns out that people liked those comics a lot better than his “real” comics, and there are now many imitators.

I don’t follow any sprite comics, but the large number of people who do suggests to me that there is something to them. Sometimes….. bad is good.