A couple of years ago, my friend Nik Göke wrote a really nice piece at his blog, “Sometimes, the Work Is Easier Than the Workaround.” In the intro, he writes about trying to find a fast, technical, shortcut to scrape a bunch of text online:
The tool was pretty technical, so it took a while to grasp the basics. Eventually, I got it to load my favorite author’s index page, where all his stories were linked. Then, however, the tool required making complex workflows, and to top it all off, it only seemed to export to CSV, not PDF.
At this point, I finally decided the juice was no longer worth the squeeze. I sat down after lunch, sipped some coffee, cranked up the music, and went to work. One by one, I opened each article in a new tab, clicked the Evernote Web Clipper, chose the right output settings, and saved it.
It was the longer way to do it—had he found the right scraping tool, it would’ve taken a few seconds. So Nik took a longcut.
There are a few points that come to mind here:
The in-person edge: Whenever you can, try to meet people in-person. Building relationships at this level will be much more convenient than just over Zoom. The presence of in-person feels more meaningful, intentional, and powerful. In Ignore Everybody, Hugh MacLeod puts forward one such idea. He writes, “The people you trust and vice versa are what will feed you and pay for your kids’ college….Stop worrying about technology. Start worrying about people who trust you.” (More in this post.)
Uphill thinking: While AI is great for taking the efficient route—and maybe helping you take your work from 0 to 0.5—there are still a lot of decisions to be made. That’s why it takes a week to type out your favorite full-length book, but maybe a year to actually write an original book. At the Figma blog, John Maeda writes:
Humans are innately driven to take the adventurous, longer route. Our distinct traits of creativity, innovation, and uphill thinking compel us to explore the unseen, unheard, and untouched, even when it’s seen as rationally “wrong” by conventional standards…. This willingness to embrace challenges, endure setbacks, and choose “longcuts” over shortcuts underscores our unique capacity for uphill thinking. Even as AI excels at efficiently executing repetitive tasks, it remains rightfully constrained by our design for safety and lower risks, making it less suited for the daringly imaginative and transformative tasks that creatives undertake.
Sometimes, it’ll just be easier to write it yourself.
The muscle for doing hard things yourself: In an age where almost everything can be delegated—or, more realistically, abdicated—for a price, it’s counterintuitive to take on more work yourself. But that’s where a lot of value is too; sometimes, waiting the extra week—or even day—for someone to get back to you just won’t work. It might mean the difference between seeing an energizing idea come to life or having it expire. When you do something hard yourself, you remind yourself that you’re actually capable of it.
With all the shortcuts around us, the ability to longcut will be more scarce—and more valuable.
When I posted a version of the longcutting article at Forge, there were some really great suggestions.