What it Takes to Cross the Taste-to-Creation Gap


Ira Glass

It is much easier to develop good taste than it is to create great products from it. To do something that stands out we should build a tremendous body of work. “You'll hit gold more often if you simply try out a lot of things,” says This American Life's Ira Glass.

Making something that is interesting comes with a hard process. The problem, he says, is that nobody tells us when we're getting started —there is a gap between our taste and our creations. It s far easier to see in our mind's eye what something should look like, than it is building the ability to actually make it.

Says Glass:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have.

We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Finding the way through is not simply a matter of putting in the work, although that is important. 

It's rather counter-intuitive, but this works and scales to other aspects of life, like relationships with family and colleagues, for example. We need to love what we do —rather than try to find something we love, then do that— then engage deeply with it to make it work.

Doing deep work is about finding pockets of uninterrupted time to work on improving our skill, which includes thinking about the problem, while producing something that may not be up to our standards taste-wise. Cal Newport says gaining a deep understanding of how success in our chosen field actually works is critical.

Most of our work today is knowledge work —things like writing, entrepreneurship, even taking a business to the next level. The process for us then is to understand what matters and how to get good at it, so good they can't ignore us, to paraphrase comedian Steve Martin. How do we find the time? We improve our odds by minimizing shallow work, and increasing bursts of deep work.

Skill comes from deliberate practice. In Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin says Deliberate Practice is designed to improve performance. This is practice that works through repetition, relies on constant feedback for improvement, and takes us out of our comfort zone.

Because it's hard and mentally demanding, deliberate practice requires a good understanding of our goals to ladder the steps necessary to get there.

We often misunderstand creativity, thinking it is something we have or don't. But creativity is a learned process, which evolves with our understanding of how to work to develop better ideas while increasingly our capacity for uncertainty. We can create more by getting better at it.

Deliberate practice makes for better and for pushing beyond the obvious to arrive at new creations. As Steve Jobs said:

“When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there.

But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions.

Most people just don't put in the time or energy to get there. We believe that customers are smart, and want objects which are well thought through.”

It takes persistence and grit to make the company and business better. Often, the biggest obstacle is the gap between what we envision and what we can produce starting out. Crossing the taste-to-creation gap involves learning to separate our self from our product, and developing habits that keep us producing.

This is where love comes in. Because we need to trust ourselves to see it through while softening our grip on our ideas if they don't serve us.