Barack Obama on Craftsmanship


Obama’s Craft

Last winter, I posted a quote from Barack Obama where he discusses his commitment to honing his craft. Earlier this week, we received more evidence of this presidential craftsmanship.

With three minutes and twenty seconds left in his interview with Marc Maron, (released Monday), Obama said the following:

The more you do something, and the more you practice it, at a certain point it becomes second nature. What I’ve always been impressed with about when I listen to comics talk about comedy is how much of it is a craft. Right? They’re thinking it through, and they had a sense of when it works and when it doesn’t. The longer you do it the better your instincts are.

A strong endorsement for the simple pleasure of putting in the hours to do something well.

(Image from Humans of New York.)

25 thoughts on “Barack Obama on Craftsmanship”

  1. Please spare us. Obama is a sleaze. He’s already surpassed Carter as the worst post-WWII president. That’s hardly surprising. He spent 20 years in corrupt Chicago politics without inconveniencing a single crooked meter maid.

    What’s worse he doesn’t care. He wants to trash this country.

  2. Cal – Regardless of his politics, Obama is a good example of deliberate practice. Hey – it takes a lot of deep work to learn how to sound that smooth in speeches!

    Michael – I don’t disagree with your sentiment. That said, I think your dates are wrong. Obama didn’t spend 20 years in Chicago politics (before becoming president, he didn’t have 20 years experience in really anything…).

  3. Good morning –

    Thanks for the post. This is a particularly timely example given yesterday’s eulogy. I was thinking essentially the same thing, watching him craft his message and build off the energy of the crowd. It was striking watching his oratory following all those preachers. It’s interesting watching someone like Jon Stewart, and then seeing ministers from churches who use call and response prayer. People like these are similar examples of craftmanship.

  4. Cal, I am really disappointed in the blog these days. Your anecdotes are cherry picked and twisted to suit you logic. It would be really nice to see some original content dealing with the logistics of research and studying. Just hammering on about ‘deliberate’ practice doesn’t help. Also, it would be nice to hear instances where people’s attempts at deliberate practice have gone wrong. As you must know, being a scientist, research isn’t all about the successes, its mostly about failure.

    • Your expecting gold nuggets every week? Give him space, sometimes he deliberates on a certain point for a time, in this case its having patience to hone a craft

  5. Regarding podcast nuggets, do check out the end of June episode of Adam Savage’s podcast. He talks about diving deep to learn something and calls it the “Rumpelstiltskin effect.” That is, once you know enough to know the name of a thing you solve the mystery surrounding it. For savage it meant learning the name of a type of glass bottle lip.

  6. I think the post is about his view about the importance of deliberate practice, and not about his politics. Cal is making bold moves with postings that touch religion and politics, without talking about religion and politics, hoping the readers are mature enough appreciate the idea, without falling in close minded ideological/theological/historical discussions (not even debates).
    I think that politics and religion are fields that Cal has not touch much, but I’m sure it would be possible to find several examples of successful politicians (of any party) who clearly benefited from applying aspects of deliberate practice or deep work. Actually some of this be seen nowadays, and specially in the upcoming elections. Many politicians hire image managers who train them about how to behave in public, how to move, how to speak, etc. Charisma, natural for some, can be developed with constant training.

  7. The idea of “second nature” is interesting. In some ways, the longer you work at something, the easier the basics are, but your knowledge of the domain also increases — and you see ‘the goalposts are further away,’ so to speak.

    How do you think people at Obama’s level can perform deep work – besides continually expanding their knowledge by reading and taking apart the strategies of their colleagues (and competitors?)

  8. The more you do it and you become better at it, the more chances are to develop a passion about it. In this case, passion comes second…unlike many people would have thought

  9. On the theme of craftsmanship, there is an interview of Eddie Murphy where Byron Allen asks him if he would ever consider doing stand up comedy again. Eddie replied he probably would not because to come back now would mean a whole LOT of work. Playing small clubs, condensing the last 20 years of his life into a humorous act, and all the other activities that he feels he would need to do to hone his craft and be ready. He estimated that he would need about 1 1/2 to 2 years of trying things out, failing on a small scale, refining his act before he would feel ready to go out to a large audience and be “successful”. I thought it was interesting, especially considering Eddie was one of the most successful stand up comedians ever. The video is on YouTube and he begins talking about the work required at about the 22:00 minute mark.

  10. Interesting. But I don’t think it requires Obama to say “The more you do something, and the more you practice it, at a certain point it becomes second nature” in order to persuade anybody. This is common sense.


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