The Cornerstone

Nico's little corner on the web

Deconstruction

Generally speaking, deconstruction means to take something apart. It’s a word derived from the Latin prefix de- (which generally implies inversion of word it is attached to) and construere, which means to collect, to arrange, to pile up, or to build. Besides the philosophical or literary use of the word, Merriam-Webster defines deconstruction as such (see 2):

deconstruction: the analytic examination of something (such as a theory) often in order to reveal its inadequacy

In the context of this post, I’m using deconstruction as the direct opposite of construction — to take something apart — a practice that sometimes has the effect of revealing inadequacies, as noted in the definition above.

We humans have the capacity of deconstructing impressively difficult concepts into smaller, more digestible pieces of knowledge. It’s a skill you’ll pick up in life no matter what it is you do. No matter what your job or personal hobby or inclination, you will construct — and you will deconstruct things. As far as mastery goes — you can only achieve mastery when you yourself start building things, and take them apart again, so that you can improve what you built later when you inevitably start re-construction.

Our ability to perform deconstruction is what makes us very capable as human beings. It’s gotten humanity as far as it has — as generations of us have lived on this planet, we’ve gotten incrementally better at things. We’ve passed knowledge on, and we all learn through deconstructing stuff, even if isn’t our own stuff. (That’s where it gets really educational!)

Sometimes, though, we focus too hard on wanting to perform deconstruction, that we forget one important rule:

A certain amount of construction is required before deconstruction becomes a possibility. For example, this is true in writing, where fictional worlds do not will themselves into existence from one day to the next. But this rule applies more widely to almost everything. That’s right: we tend to forget that the process of construction and deconstruction applies to many things around us.

As humans, often, we want to leap before we’re ready. As we grow older, we know what battles to fight and what battles to skip or run away from. That’s why we give up on things. Things that seem too hard. Too difficult to grasp. Too much of a time investment.

We can’t do everything. Sometimes we give up because of self-imposed boundaries, sometimes it’s because we simply are not genetically fortunate as the other guy (or gal). Sometimes we just don’t find the courage to keep going. But we are pretty good at trying things, as long as we don’t give up. As long as you keep constructing — whether it’s building, creating, imagining… construction takes us to interesting places.

But it’s deconstruction that actually teaches us stuff. Sometimes deconstruction happens naturally. Things fall apart. Things get destroyed. Sometimes we take things apart to see what we did wrong, sometimes we leave things be. Sometimes we aren’t good at deconstruction. That’s why we work better in groups, sometimes. For example, talking to each other becomes a means of deconstructing preconceived notions, ideas — generally: things that you created.

The way I see it, every great mind or person that you may find inspiring started somewhere. Always from humble beginnings. Literally. That’s where everyone starts. Some humans are more humble as they get better at things than others, but all started right there, at the (metaphorical) place where no construction has ever taken place. It’s just that some of us forget what it was like to be at the starting line.

Even the best of them all had to learn. Fail. Build. Construct. Whatever you want to call it. It’s a simple rule. In order to build something great — either in terms of scale or complexity — you need to start at the beginning.

So maybe you’ve forgotten. Maybe you don’t approach a particular problem this way. That’s fine. But consider the angle, for a moment.

Right now… If a problem you’re having trouble solving is too hard, or an idea you want to explore seems to complex, you always start by breaking it down. By doing so, you can hit foundational issues without ending up with a massive technical or practical debt at the end of the journey (or regret). Haphazardly stringing together things without considering the big picture will often lead to disappointing results. But there’s a small chance it’ll lead to wonderful things. In my experience, flying off the seat of your pants always teaches you wonderful lessons. Lessons that are necessary to start getting good at doing the groundwork for later construction.

This applies to creating a fictional world, to managing your personal life, to coding. The process of flying by the seat of your pants is what we call learning. Mastery is putting the pieces back together.

But here’s the thing.

You will learn things by failing. You will learn through the failings of others. You will build — and yes: You will fail at building.

Perhaps that is the single most important lesson here: we also tend to forget that failing, or the idea of collapse — where a construction fails to be of sufficient quality — is also a key part of life.

So go forth, and construct. Yes, things will collapse. You will re-construct. In case things do not collapse, your or others will deconstruct what did not collapse, and construct something even better.

There’s no reason not to try.

Don't be afraid to be standing at the starting line.