The perks of being a capable novice

The Medium Newsletter
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2 min readApr 19, 2024


👟 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
Harris Sockel

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 Ryan Tripp, 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: Sophie Lucido Johnson’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

  • Gaurav Dahiya 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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Edited and produced by Scott Lamb, Jon Gluck, and Carly Rose Gillis

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