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On Craft and the Human Condition

In Deep Work, I tell the story of Ric Furrer, a general blacksmith who runs a forge in Door County, Wisconsin: a rural idyll near Lake Michigan’s Sturgeon Bay. He works in a converted barn whose doors he often keeps open to the surrounding farm fields to vent the heat, his hammer blows echoing for miles. He makes a living with architectural metal work, but he’s known for his rare mastery of ancient weapon forging techniques. I came across him in a 2012 Nova episode in which he recreates a viking sword using crucible steel (see above).

In Deep Work, I write the following:

“Ric Furrer is a master craftsman whose work requires him to spend most of his day in a state of depth — even a small slip in concentration can ruin dozens of hours of effort. He’s also who clearly finds great meaning in his profession. This connection between deep work and a good life is familiar and widely accepted when considering the world of craftsmen.”

As I then elaborate, there’s something about mastery that resonates with the human condition. When we observe someone successfully apply a hard-won skill — an athlete, a writer, a leader, an adventurer, a musician —  we become rapt, our admiration unmistakable. We also, crucially, tend to feel a moment of inspiration in which we experience a compulsion to pursue something noteworthy ourselves.

I take such intuitions seriously, as they tend to point us toward the things we deeply need. The conclusion here being that the incremental but upward road to mastery — whether it’s in some professional endeavor or hobby — is fundamental. A quick tap on a glowing screen can conveniently banish boredom in the moment. To instead redirect that instinct toward your equivalent of Furrer’s blacksmith hammer, however, can be transcendent.

10 thoughts on “On Craft and the Human Condition”

  1. Wanna share this article to my twitter and notice that you don`t have that. And it`s good. These days, especially when quarantine began, we all isolated, and tend to absorb information a lot much than ever. It challenge for me now how to understand when enough is enough. Also apps is built as infinitely stream, you can`t push against the end, you see the same all over again. What a time we living – you have unlimited knowledge but it`s harder to understand what you really need.

  2. Completely agree. Deep focus activates the prefrontal cortex where many good things are localized. I interviewed a blacksmith in the rural Sierra foothills in the early 1990s. Ric Moorhouse was, and is, one of the most cheerful and happy folks I know. I’ll never be a videographer by trade, but I deeply enjoy watching YouTube interviews with top Hollywood video/audio people on Indy Mogul, Curtis Judd, and other channels.

  3. When I was eight in 1950 my best friend Bill and I (he’s now a retired pharmacist in San Jose) would climb in a big refrigerator carton and sing “Tea for Two,” “Good Night, Irene,” “Sweet Violets,” and other top hits of the day. The arts are a fantastic way to suck the joy from focus. E.g., refugee women living in dire conditions in Africa, getting together to make gorgeous indigenous textiles.

  4. Without any doubt, we are living an unprecedented situation due to the global health emergency. Being at home all the time has put me to the edge with social media and overwhealming share of information. I think we can all use some extra guidance on strategies to apply digital minimalism in these very strange and stressfull times!

  5. I build the prototype of a complex polygon table and new mesh lamps on my terrace in the sun. Was encountering that my is no longer needed. The magic lies in fulfilling 50% physical work (can also be cleaning your place) and cognitive work like I start to build my website for selling art pieces and layouting a catalogue or pushing my new professional instagram.
    I personally experience this time for an universal much needed pause to fundamentally readjust and tie all open ends related to my design profession. Thank you Cal for guiding us.


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