Monday, September 28, 2015

The only constant

I have been in the embroidery business for twenty three years.  I learned an awful lot during the first few years, both about doing embroidery and about the design process.  As time moved on, I started seeing consistencies both in the nature of the embroidery being done and in the requests made by clients.  Eventually, there was very little that I hadn’t seen and I became an ‘expert’ in the industry. 

Malcolm Gladwell and others have written about the time that it takes to get good at something.  Gladwell says that 10,000 hours are needed to become good in “Outliers: The Story of Success” (2008, Little, Brown and Company).  That is the equivalent of around five years of practice if a skill is practice full time.  I had a lot of hands-on machine and design work and got pretty darned good at it. 

Experience is important in the development of expertise.  That probably happens because both words start with “ex”.  Experience teaches you that there is an upper limit to the number of times that the phrase ‘Wow, I’ve never seen THAT before’ can be used.  Eventually, everything begins to relate and experience steps in with ready solutions.

After a time, we Experts become a little bit complacent and arrogant.  Over the past two decades, I have already tried most of, if not all of, the various materials and tools of our trade.  Newbies that enter the business and who want to talk about all the really great thread colors, the self-inserting needles, the magic hoops that automatically align when you throw the laser on them, and all of the other items designed to slow you down while putting money in someone else’s pocket have already been out there.  Some things work and most don’t.

Experts, though, can become close-minded. 

The fact is, everything around us changes.  Expertise is only good if it is current.  I’ve had to learn that and re-learn it so many times now that when someone says, “I will rely on your expertise to choose the colors for this design”, I cringe.  The converse is, when I learn something new these days, it becomes a grand victory.  It means that, for at least a short time, I know something that maybe someone else doesn’t know. 

I have to be careful these days.  I am too willing to say “It can’t be done” or “We don’t do that” and I’ve learned that things have changed so that maybe we CAN do that.  There actually are ways to reduce the puckering in a design placed on a lycra-laced nylon fabric (going all technical on you now).  And here I just assumed that it was not possible because, after all, embroidery is always embroidery. 

My job keeps changing, too.  The current position that I hold is that of policy-writer and enforcer.  This means that I am ultimately responsible for the development of internal working systems and then of distributing them to our staff.  That is, by the way, something called management.  I have absolutely no idea what I am doing most of the time, so things have changed once again. 

It’s time to go back to work again.  I need another 9,287 hours in order to become an expert at this new job.