Nov 06 2012


There is always a tension between Theory and Practice. These two separate realms are connected through a process of abstraction and application. To explain this relationship by way of theory, Theory deterritorializes Practice, and Practice reterritorializes Theory: a Theory which is a becoming-Practice and a Practice which is a becoming-Theory. To explain this relationship by way of practice, Theory is abstracted Practice, and Practice is applied Theory.

There’s an age-old problem with this particular relationship: those who specialize in Practice often claim that those who specialize in Theory are detached from the ‘real world,’ ie, the world of Practice. Those who specialize in Theory often claim that those who specialize in Practice have no fundamental understanding of what they do, and this leads to contradictory, incongruous practices.

There’s a third kind of person, though: one that embodies the becoming, the abstraction/application process. These people are a conduit, fundamentally bridging the two worlds. There’s a certain art to explaining just the core of Theory in the words of someone who Practices, and there’s a certain art to combining the essences of Practices and presenting it to those who Theorize. Building this bridge is an act of creation, of building, an opening of space.

Some people are great at Ivory Tower intellectual stuff, and others just don’t really care. It sucks, because those who are doing could be way better at it if they just knew some theory, and those who love to philosophize all day might be more understandable if they’d just actually do something sometimes.

The only way you can get these two camps to talk to each other is to figure out what the theory says that provides value to those who practice. Practice-ers are ruthlessly focused on value, so to get through to them, you have to speak their language. On the flip side, theorists understand that practicers don’t care too much about the theory, but love seeing their thoughts to go good use, and can appreciate when practicers stumble across flaws in their thought. So demonstrating how practicers produce contradictions in the theory can be really useful to theorists.

If you’re this kind of person, accept that you’re in many ways a jack of all trades, but a master of none. Of sorts, anyway. Theorists will sometimes hate you for not grokking every last detail and reference, and practical people will argue that you don’t do enough useful things. Don’t listen to either of them; you know that you’re part of neither camp, so it makes sense that they both find ‘flaws.’ You’re awesome because you know a bit of both, and can facilitate communication which makes both better. A force multiplier.

You have to remember that while you’re building things, there’s an underlying set of rules that you’re implicitly following, but it’s more important to act than it is to memorize a bunch of rules, and try to analyze what you’re doing according to them. If all you do is think all day, you’ll never get anything done. Things may go wrong, but you can always fix it later. Other people can sit around and theorize about what you’re doing, leave them to it.

Mental masturbation is fun and all, but when all is said and done, developing a culture of shipping is one of the most important things you can do. Those who can’t do, teach. History is written by the victors.

On occasion, you’ll run into someone who can actually explain complicated theory stuff to you in an accessible way. If you find someone like this, make sure to hold onto them closely, as they’re really rare. But they can help provide you with some insight that will really boost your productivity, without having to invest all the time in figuring out all that wankery that the priests of theory love.

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.” - Yogi Berra