The perks of being a capable novice

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2 min readApr 19, 2024

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👟 It’s Friday, and today marks the 127th anniversary of the first Boston marathon. Here’s Amby Burfoot, former editor of Runner’s World and champion of the 1968 marathon, on how he won.
Today: The dual smartphone system, AI fails, and Hofstadter’s law
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As we go into the weekend, I want to point you toward a few stories about trying new things — especially things you might totally fail at. Because that’s (part of) what the weekend is for, right?

My inspiration comes from passionately amateur skier, climber, rower, and mountain climber

, who introduced me to the concept of being a “capable novice.” Once you know the basics of a thing, it’s tempting to want to push yourself toward mastery — but why not just enjoy being mid? What’s so bad about being a novice forever?

Tripp includes this quote by Yvon Chouinard — rock climber, self-proclaimed “existential dirtbag,” and founder of $3 billion tech-worker-uniform-purveyor Patagonia:

“I’ve always thought of myself as an 80 percenter. I like to throw myself passionately into a sport or activity until I reach about an 80 percent proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession that doesn’t appeal to me. Once I reach 80 percent level I like to go off and do something totally different.”

One more post about trying new things:

’s whimsical illustrated guide to 50 tiny activities you can try this weekend, from painting a bird to writing a standup routine. If you’re into that, don’t sleep on Sophie’s 50 unsolicited recommendations (#8: an ergonomic kneeling chair).

Want to try identifying plants you see on walks? Sophie Lucido Johnson recommends a free app called Seek.

What else we’re reading

  • wrested time back from his smartphone by relegating all social media activity to a second, slightly dumber, phone. One phone for work and one for play?
  • A former Apple product designer lets us in on a (not-so-secret) secret about AI: It’s often wrong, but cleverly designed fallbacks keep us believing it’s infallible. Face ID often fails, but it just tries again. A takeaway for designers: “People ultimately care about outcomes, and tend to forget methods to achieve those outcomes, unless they were either super delightful or somewhat cumbersome.”

⏰ Your daily dose of practical wisdom (about time)

Hofstadter’s law: Everything takes longer than you think it will. To get ahead of it, cancel 20% of your plans.

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