The Ugly Sense

deʃhipudeʃhipu wrote 06/27/2019 at 10:54 • 3 min read • Like

So you have made something. A drawing, a design, a device, a tool, a piece of clothes, a decoration. Whatever. And you see that it's not good. It's ugly, crooked, flimsy, brittle, and doesn't work well. Congratulations! You have the most precious and useful talent of all: the ability to tell when things are bad. With this talent it's only a matter of trying a lot of different approaches before you will be making masterpieces, because each time you will be able to tell if the thing you changed made it better of worse.

This is not a common talent. In fact, it's pretty rare, and it's even more so among the people who make things, because such a discouraging thing! Whatever you make, it's bad in some way, so why keep making things? So many people with this superpower simply give up, unaware that they are wasting a gift.

Of course there is more to it than just thinking you made a bad thing. To make this useful, you have to learn to tell what exactly is wrong, why it is bad. This takes training and effort, but it's already much easier than the first step, which many people can't even make. How do you improve things if you don't know they need improvement in the first place?

If you embrace your talent, after a while you will start to see patterns. You will be able to categorize things into different kinds of bad. Some of them are just sloppy, and could be improved if done with more effort. Others try to do too much at once, and would benefit from more focus. Yet others are too formal and stilted, and need a more relaxed approach. Slowly, you will get more familiar with the million ways something can be bad, and then it's only a matter of time before you also start to see how to fix it, and eventually, how to make it good from the beginning.

I first noticed the phenomenon when drawing. I was always annoyed when people praised my drawings, because there was always something obviously wrong in them. And I always had problem praising their drawings in turn, because there was something even more obviously wrong in them as well. And shocking, nobody seemed to see it. People would just tell me I'm so negative and unkind. So eventually I stopped showing my drawings to anyone, and avoided commenting on other people's drawings. But I didn't stop drawing, and eventually I would get good enough to be able to avoid most of the mistakes.

There is also a flip side to this talent. Sometimes, often by accident, you draw a line that is just right. It's perfect, and you can sense it. It radiates rightness. You can then embrace it, and build upon it, while discarding the other, not so great attempts. The ability to instantly see that something is good seems to be the flip side of the ugly sense, they both come together.

So celebrate and hone your ugly sense, and use it for good.