Jason Fried

September 3, 2021

Tricks of the trade

Yesterday I was pruning trees with our landscaper. This was an aesthetic exercise — aiming to find a better balance of leaves, branches, light, shadow, density, open space, shape, etc. Part of this process was also getting rid of suckers, crossing branches, and limiting general verticality. We wanted the trees to look more relaxed and open, while feeling natural, not manicured. It's active, iterative, and hugely satisfying work.

While we were cutting branches, I noticed him reaching down into the soil and smudging the cut ends with soil. "What's that about?" I asked. "Ah, this helps hide the bright cuts so they don't stand out," he said. Smudging some soil on the cut wood helps mellow the color of the exposed wood and blend it into the surrounding darker bark. It was purely aesthetic, and temporary, but it was definitely an improvement. It lent itself well to the aim of making things feel natural. Bright bare spots didn't feel natural.

It was a trick of the trade.

For as long as I can remember, I've loved tricks of the trades — little things, gleaned through experience, that only people in the know, know. The trick the plumber does to better seat the toilet in the wax ring. The trick the finish carpenter does to hide the brads along the way. The trick the body shop does to better blend the touch-up paint into the existing paintwork. I find it all so fascinating.

Tricks of the trades are like instincts. They're passed along in the trade's DNA, from mentor to mentee, on down the line, across generations. They represent a special degree of knowledge called know-how.

It got me thinking... I should start a podcast that explores tricks of the trade. Quick interviews with people who know something — through experience — that most people don't know. Little tiny things that make a big difference in the outcome — stuff that nearly feels like magic. I'd love to learn about the tricks themselves, but also who they learned them from, and what it felt like that first moment when that trick clicked.

Will I start this podcast? I don't know! But maybe you can help. If you know anyone I should talk to — and maybe it's you — drop me an email at jason+trickstrade@hey.com, and, depending on the response, I may reach back out and set up an interview.

Let's see what happens.

About Jason Fried

Hey! I'm Jason, the Co-Founder and CEO at 37signals, makers of Basecamp and HEY. Subscribe below to follow my thinking on business, design, product development, and whatever else is on my mind. Thanks for visiting, thanks for reading.