Impressing people is easy, pleasing them is hard

Nicholas Chen monday, april 4, 2022
essayphilosophymusicguitarpersonal-reflection
I used to throw around a lot of big words and complex philosophical ideas. This wasn't neccessarily because I wanted to impress people - I was genuinely interested in those topics and wanted to play around with them. Still, it had that impact.
Even the most humble person enjoys the feeling of impressing others, and I am far from the most humble person on the planet. At the end of the day, however, it's an empty pleasure. It's also pretty annoying to the people around you.
Recently, I've started playing the guitar more, and I've noticed a similar dynamic. It's actually very easy to impress people that don't know how to play an instrument, because a layperson cannot easily distinguish what's easy and what's difficult on an instrument.1
If your aim is to impress people, it's easy to get complacent. Learning to name-drop a couple philosophers and knowing the basics of their ideas is enough to make most people think you yourself are a philosopher. Playing the notes of the scale at a fast tempo is enough to convince your friends that you can shred.
Being able to impress people is fun! At a certain point, however, it begins to feel pointless. At some point, you have to aim to do something great, not merely impressive.
What is the line between "impressive" and "great"? One answer is that being great means being impressive to other people who also practice the craft. For example, no philosophy major would be impressed by someone with a surface level understanding of Kant, and not many guitarists would be impressed by someone capable of playing a scale.
This is partially true, but I think it's still missing something. There's a lot of complicated songs that nobody really likes, and there are very simple songs that everyone loves. The same is true of ideas, of code, of art or of any craft, really.
I think greatness is making things look easy. This is true of good interface designs. It takes a lot of skill to sweat the details, but the end user doesn't really think about that. They're rarely ever impressed with the designer; they just know that they're pleased. The same could be said about music. Between John Mayer and your average metal shredder, the latter probably looks more musically impressive to a layman. However, I'm willing to bet your average person enjoys John Mayer than heavy metal.
Granted, John Mayer is a really great guitar player. A really impressive one, you might say. Being impressive is obviously a good thing! But between being impressive and being good, prefer the latter.
Going forward in life, I want to internalize this more. When making something, I want to aim to please people, not to impress them. The less they think about the craftsman, the better. personal-reflection exegesis
Footnotes:
1. This is compounded by the fact that different things are easy/difficult on different instruments. For example, playing arpeggios really fast is not difficult on the piano, but it takes pretty good chops to be able to execute on a guitar.
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edited 2 months ago
I feel like this connects to Impressing people is easy, pleasing them is hard - it's easy to make a design that impresses people initially, it's difficult to make one that pleases them subtly enough to want to keep coming back to use your product.