“Fake it till you make it.” I am not really a fan of this saying. I especially don’t like it when you apply it to art. I prefer the motto of Russell Wilson.(Seattle Seahawks QB) The separation is in the preparation.(Go Hawks!) This week, we’re going to discuss the importance of learning the fundamentals. What we’ll talk about holds true not only for art, but any major undertaking in life. I’m not saying that you need to know the fundamentals of every single thing you try to do, but if you have no knowledge of the subject, you might be sabotaging your future success by skipping the hard work, practice and time it takes to understand the fundamentals first.
My focus on fundamentals started when I was seven years old and began playing football. I had to learn how to tackle, block, hold a football, throw a football, run, all before playing in the first game. Every year I played I added new elements to my skill base, while continuing to practice the fundamentals every day. Eventually, it led to reading what the offense or defensive formation was right before the play started, and my body moving into the places it need to be without much thought.
Every year the coach would talk to us about how important fundamentals were. Did I really have any idea what the coach was talking about at the time? Not really. But as I got older and started pursuing other passions, I realized how valuable understanding core fundamentals was. I realized how much easier it was to learn and succeed when I had a solid foundation of basic skills. It’s something I continually try to instill in the kids that I now coach.
In today’s fast-moving world, people give up far too quickly on learning the basics. They see someone else doing the same thing and getting better, faster results, and they get impatient to see the same from themselves. This is where people sabotage their success. They don’t realize that this actually results in less overall improvement and slower progress. If you stick with learning and practicing the fundamentals, the progress might feel slow in the beginning, but the rate of improvement afterwards will be immense. Before you know it, the person you saw getting better and faster results will be the one asking how you got so good.
There is no trick. It takes practice, hard work, and time.
We can also be victims of our own ego. I know it’s hard for me to admit when I don’t understand something I’m trying to learn, and I assume it’s the same for others. In my experience, it’s usually because we’re trying to take shortcuts to get a desired result. Unfortunately, this often leads to little understanding and a lot of frustration. So take a deep breath, swallow that big lump in your throat called pride, and figure out the fundamentals.
A good example of how learning fundamentals can really help you out is the interview for my first job in gaming. A recruiter contacted me about a car research position at Turn 10 Studios because he saw the VR racing game that was listed on my resume. I told him it had nothing to do with cars and that I really wasn’t much of a car nut. I thought that would be the end of it, but he called me back a couple days later to tell me he got me an interview.
I thought, “Well shit. I know jack about cars so how am I going to pull this off?” I wish I still had the job brief, because it went something like, “Are you a car nut? Do you live and breathe racing? Do you know how a VTec engine operates, and what the Corkscrew is? Do you know the fastest way around a race track?” My answers to those questions were No, No, No, No, and kind of.
But here’s what I did know. Working on a video game researching cars is far better than digging ditches, and I had two days to become a knowledgeable car nut. It was also clear that the guys who wrote that job brief were serious about cars. Luckily, I’m incredibly good at researching and I spent the next two days living and breathing cars, knowing that even if I didn’t get the job, I’d at least gain some knowledge that I could apply when working on my own car.
I started with the questions posed in the job brief and quickly realized I wasn’t getting anywhere. I asked myself, “what do I really know about cars?” It was just about nothing. What I did know was that I stick the key in the ignition and that turns on the engine. The engine transfers power to the transmission, which transfers power to the wheels. So I wrote down what I knew, and what I thought I needed to know, and formulated a plan to research.
I started with the engine, and broke down everything about its operation. This yielded a page of important terms, and then I researched formulas for how these things are calculated. I got deeper into the details as I continued my research which I wouldn’t have been able to understand if I hadn’t first gotten down the basic concepts of how a car works.
After getting a good grasp on cars, I had a little bit of time to research race tracks. I took a fundamental approach to this topic as well. I researched all the different turns and filled my head with racetrack details. Finally, it was time for my interview.
The guys walked out and introduced themselves, letting me know they had done some research on me as well. They knew I wasn’t a car guy, that I was an artist, and they had no idea why I was interviewing with them. They said they would set me up with the art guys, because my stuff did look pretty good to them. They asked if I still wanted to do the interview. At this point my confidence was nearly destroyed, but I was going to give it a go because they were going to set me up with the art guys anyway, so what the hell.
The interview was everything I had prepared for. Nearly every question they asked me was something I had researched and wrote extensive notes on in the past couple days. The few questions I didn’t know, I felt okay admitting that I wasn’t sure, because I knew I could figure it out pretty quickly. By the end of the interview, we were talking like old friends. I showed them the notebook that had all my notes and gave them an idea of my preparation strategy. After a week of interviewing car nuts, it was an artist that answered all the questions the “car nuts” should have known.
The separation is in the preparation.
The point of the story is to reinforce the notion that understanding the core fundamentals will take you so much farther than guessing and picking at the surface of the subject. Moreover, the information you gain from understanding the fundamentals can stay with you for the rest of your life as useful knowledge. Not to mention you will look smarter than you really are, which in my case, led to a design job rather than a research job, and a bunch of great friends.
Fundamentals are the key. Do you have a story about how learning the fundamentals of a subject has saved your bacon, or got you far better results than you expected?