Scarcity and Trade Secrets

Several times I’ve had people ask me why I give away all of my “secrets” by writing a blog. They ask things like, “Won’t that decrease the value of your work?”

No, it won’t. The creativity that I pour into my work is my own. The patterns, colors, concepts, and context are all mine. Let’s pretend that I become well known and my work becomes collectible. (I doubt that this will happen, by the way, just to be clear.) Protecting my methodology will not make it more so.

My work has always been obsessive with a million tiny details that make it work. Change even a few of the details and suddenly it’s not my work anymore. My printmaking will not be different from my weaving in this regard. I’m developing a methodology that will draw on many disciplines – software development, woodworking, robotics, and finally, a very specific and difficult type of printmaking. By the time someone has mastered the various aspects of my work well enough to duplicate it, they are much more likely to have ideas of their own. If someone gains all of those other skills and doesn’t have the originality to develop their own work, let them steal mine. By the time they master what I’ve already done, I’ll be doing something new.

This is the nature of creativity. The finished work is not the goal. The important part is the creative process that got me there and the journey of making something new. Creativity is not a scarce resource. There’s plenty more where that came from! The challenge is in constraining the creative urge to give me a reasonable chance of mastering the details of the constraints that I’ve chosen. Without narrowing my focus, I’d be all over the map and get nowhere. I know this from experience.

This lack of scarcity goes for any knowledge that I have come by. You want to know where the food and medicine plants in my area grow? Let me take you there. You want to know where I go to drink spring water year round? It’s a hike to get there, but I’d love to show you. I know that I’m not going to be around forever. If I don’t share what I know, the knowledge dies when I do.

Notice, however, the action verbs in the sentences above “take you there”, “show you”. If someone wants to “collect my secrets” I don’t have the time. That’s not how mastery happens. You can’t read my blog and become a weaver or a printmaker. You will need to practice. A lot! You can’t ask me to describe where the important things happen in these forests and then think that you understand. As much as our culture of consumption seems to disagree, nobody gains mastery of anything by watching YouTube videos.

And nobody is going to threaten to my meager livelihood just by reading my blog. I would LOVE it if someone took inspiration from my blog and started doing some of the things that I’m doing. We’d become colleagues, not competitors. I write a blog in the hope that somewhere, someday, someone will be inspired to follow their own dream of becoming a self-employed artist.