The British philosopher/theologian G.K. Chesterton once said that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.  Chesterton meant this as a defense of the amateur or generalist over the specialist, but I want to take this thought down a bit of different path.

If something is worth doing it is worth doing badly, because only in doing it badly will you ever do it well. Do you want to learn how to test APIs? You will have to do it badly at first.  You won’t be very good at it. But if it is worth doing, it is worth doing badly so that eventually you can get good at it.  Do you want to learn programming or scripting? You aren’t going to be very good at it when you start, but if it really is something worth doing then isn’t that ok?

We don’t like doing things badly, but the world needs more people who are willing to not be very good at something. When we stop worrying about how we look and start embracing failure as the path to learning we can get somewhere with the things we want to learn and do.

So step out and doing something worth doing. Do it badly. Get better. Do it again and again.  And don’t forget the point that Chesterton was originally making – sometimes it is in the mistakes and imperfections of the amateur ‘doing it badly’ that we get the most profoundly human insights and results.  Don’t be afraid of the mistakes you will make. You might just change the world.

Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

4 thoughts on “Some Things are Worth Doing Badly

  1. I enjoyed the interview with David Epstein on the EconTalk podcast, and based on your post, I’d be willing to be you would too. There’s a good discussion on not being very good at stuff (and even giving up on it) as a path towards getting better at stuff.

    Cheers!

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    1. That does sounds like something I would find interesting! I’ll have to look it up. Thanks for the recommendation.

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  2. I think it goes further than that, especially in testing. If you only ever test an application from a position of knowledge, then you won’t see how it behaves when you do anything wrong. End users will start working with an app as inexperienced users. They will do things wrong. A good app will help them when they go wrong rather than just fail terminally. So doing something badly isn’t just a good idea, it ought to be a requirement.

    “Einstein was noted for his simple and child-like approach. For all I know, I may be even more simple and child-like than Einstein.” (Bob Shaw)

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