Master the ABCs, not APPs.

It happened again. A once rapidly rising social media platform—the hyper-locally focused, anonymous chat-oriented Yik Yak—bites the dust. A victim of its own fundamentally flawed service model, the once white-hot tech star (with a reported ~$400 million valuation at its peak) burnt out and was snapped up by Square for just $1 million.


A sad story that serves up a sobering message.


Alas, poor Yik Yak. And Vine, iTunes Ping, Orkut, Xanga, Friendster—you get the drift. Each of these attempts at scalable, sustainable social community building is dead, has pivoted, or relying on deep-pocketed life support. The reasons why are many, varied, and not going to be debated here. But I’d like to make a larger, more personal point: the importance of mastering technique, not just tools.


The Google giveth. And the Google taketh away.


I truly believe one thing: if you don’t own it, it’s not yours. The truth of that statement has been proven over and over again by our search overlords, Google. They more or less killed RSS with Google Reader—and then killed it too. And don’t forget other Goognitiatives like Google Video, Google Browser Sync, Google Buzz, plus an entire graveyard of others.


I’m not saying Google can’t or shouldn’t shutter whatever they want to, but am trying to make a bigger existential point: Any tool, even ones your career depends on, can be removed from your toolbox at any time (just ask the artists formerly known as Vine Stars.)


Want to build a car? File a steel bar.

I remember watching a documentary about one of the top German automobile manufacturers (BMW or Mercedes Benz?). It showed how the company onboards new employees: by having them manually file a bar of solid steel—for a solid week. Eight hours a day, with a hand file, trying to get a perfect 90-degree edge on a bar of steel. As I recall, the goal of that kind of ‘wax on, wax off’ tedium was to impress upon those new employees several things.


1. You have to meet steel where the material lives.

2. You can’t force it, but you can shape it.

3. Tools are to be mastered and respected, but are only as good as the hands (and brain) that wields them.


By the end of that week, each new employee develops a cellular-level understanding that there is a right way to do things—and that’s what the brand expects.


I’d argue there’s even more to be learned from that story. Things like discipline, diligence, respect for craftsmanship, and attention to detail. But for me, the #1 takeaway was this: master the technique, regardless of the tool. Tools can, and will change, but first principle level techniques (e.g., in cooking; frying, broiling, baking, et al) are forever.


Said another way:

Don’t confuse technique with software key commands.

Software key commands change. Techniques don’t.


Remember when Apple first released Final Cut X?


IMHO, the ensuing consternation from pro-editors was all about key command level concerns; the inevitable user interface changes that infuriate the expert user. But its first principle level techniques of editing changed not a whit. Try this: Watch any contemporary movie with the audio off. Pay attention to the techniques used to transition from scene to scene as the movie tells its story visually. Now do the same thing with Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925).



The editorial techniques used then are the editorial techniques used now. What’s the difference between a box office bomb and an Academy Award? Talent all across the board from screenwriter to end title designer, all dedicated to one fundamental focus: communicating story. 


What defines a master carpenter: tools—or technique?


Antonio Stradivari crafted the world’s greatest violins with only the most rudimentary of hand tools. Would he be better off with a modern CNC milling machine? I highly doubt it. The fact is, all the brand and app names mentioned above don’t matter. To focus solely on optimizing for ‘Social Platform X’ is to court your obsolescence. Video did not kill the radio star, just as radio didn’t kill live performance, and TV did not kill movies. But not being able to effectively communicate your story? That’s deadly.


Storytelling transcends channel and platform.

Want to future-proof your career? Learn, and continue to develop, the first principle techniques of your craft, knowing that the key commands will take care of themselves. And never forget, it all in service to achieving one disciplined goal: presenting a story people actually want to engage with.


In other words: 

Master your craft’s ABCs, and let the APPs take care of themselves.


– D.P. Knudten > Chief Collaborator > COLLABORATOR creative


©2017 D.P. Knudten / COLLABORATOR creative – all rights reserved