I was skimming through George Leonard’s little book Mastery the other night and ran across this quote:
… the essence of boredom is to be found in the obsessive search for novelty. Satisfaction lies in … the discovery of endless riches and subtle variations on familiar themes.
This is a theme I’ve written about several times before. For example, see the post Six quotes on digging deep. I often think about one of the quotes in that post. Richard Feynman said that
… nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough …
In the post God is in the details I talk about how that applies to statistics. Rote application of statistics is mind-numbingly dull, but statistics can be quite interesting when you dig down to the foundations.
When I was in new faculty orientation years ago I remember a chemistry professor exhorting us to volunteer to teach freshman courses. Most people want to teach the more advanced courses, but he said that some of his best inspiration came from teaching the most foundational courses.
Focusing on basics is hard work and few people want to do it. George Leonard describes this as America’s “anti-mastery” culture. Seth Godin uses the image of a starving woodpecker in his book The Dip.
A woodpecker can tap twenty times on a thousand trees and get nowhere, but stay busy. Or he can tap twenty thousand times on one tree and get dinner.
Sometimes I feel like the woodpecker tapping on a thousand trees, staying busy but getting nowhere. But then I also think about a line from W. C. Fields:
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.