Bees, Experience, and Craftsmanship

The following is an excerpt from an email I sent to DeveloperTown in March 2016. 

This week I purchased bees for the farm. It's a bit scary for me. But Patrick decided that bees would be this year's farm experiment. (That's the last time I let him choose.)

You know the security questions for username and password verification on websites? The ones where they ask, "What's your greatest fear?" Guess what my answer to that is? Bees.


Like with any new animal experiment, I have to immediately read four books on the topic before I feel like I'm even remotely prepared. Bees are no exception. I've already read most of Beekeeping for Dummies and a few months ago I started listening to a beekeeping podcast.

Yup... There are beekeeping podcasts. God bless the internets.

In the Beekeeping for Dummies book, the author makes an interesting point around getting started. The book covers everything you'd ever want to know: bee biology, the hive, basic tools, lifecycle, selling product, etc. Some of it's actually awesome. Did you know that bees breath out of a bunch of little holes on the sides of their bodies?

In the "Getting Started" section, the author mentions that, for most beginners, no matter how closely you follow the "instructions" for getting started with bees, it's likely that for the first few years you're going to fail. He points out ten or so small nuance mistakes you will likely make, even though you're "taking all the right steps" that will likely result in the death of your hive. And he then points out that those are simply ten out of hundreds of those small mistakes.


This is experience. It's the difference between knowing the "steps" to doing something, and then getting the actual desired results from following those steps. It's the same with many nuanced tasks (think baking, playing music, or fishing). You might know exactly what to do, but that doesn't mean it will work.

The crappy thing about experience is that there's only one way to gain it. You have to do that thing. You have to plan to make mistakes. To fail. And to learn and grow. That means, if you want to raise bees, you have to be ready to kill a lot of bees through trial and error. (This process sucks for the bees. But this email isn't really about them.)

Think about what differentiates DeveloperTown from our competitors. Many consulting firms do work with startups. Many many more do work with large companies trying to launch new products. All consulting companies sell their "processes" and their "people." And we're no exception: "Hire DeveloperTown, we have a killer process refined over a 100+ projects, and we have a team of people who specialize in the art of the start."

That's not much different than the pitch other consulting companies make.


In 2008 Richard Sennett published a book entitled “The Craftsman." In that book he lays out his theory for what sets the craftsman apart from the "average worker." For Sennett, craftsmen "complete their work with abandon and always want to do well for their own sake.” For him, the craftsman stands for “the special human capability for committed conduct”.

The fundamental idea for Sennett is that expertise (aka experience) - not accomplishment - is what differentiates the craftsman from the "average worker." Many people accomplish tasks and projects, but not everyone gains purposeful experience in doing so. It's the craftsman who thinks about growth through experience as a "way of life."

Back to bees... If you want killer honey, I've read that you need to move your hive throughout the summer. You need to expose the bees to different types of flowers, trees, and conditions at different times of the year. If you want "okay" honey, you can just get bees and figure out how to not kill them. But if you want truly great honey, then the creation of truly great honey has to become a "way of life."

You have to beecome a craftsman.

What will truly differentiate DeveloperTown in the long run? Are we here to knock out client projects, and maybe gain some experience for our resumes? Or are we "completing our work with abandon" and being purposeful in the way that we learn so we can get better and better at the "thing" that we're specialized in? Do we really view our role in "the start" as a special thing?

We aren't always craftsman all the time. I'm trying to learn to be a better leader. I have a lot to learn, and I'm trying to take a craftsman's approach with my learning. But I'm not trying to be a craftsman in all aspects of my life - with other tasks. I don't think that's possible.

In most ways, my experience is average. In some ways, my experience is special. When it's purposeful, it's not just "accomplishment", it's growing me to become better at my core.

I think we are craftsmen at the start. And I believe we can (and will) get better at it. But to do that, we need to become purposeful in our learning. That means we need to be purposeful as individuals, and as a team.

In the coming months, as we look to better define our processes for innovation and how we build products, an underlying part of that process should include defining how we learn and adapt. I think this type of learning is easy to do as individuals, but it's much more difficult to do as an organization. And it's really hard to make it a "way of life."

But I'm looking forward to the challenge...

Have a great weekend,