It is one of the phrases I've heard a lot recently, even more so from designers. Of course that might be because I’m very much involved in the design community. It's an interesting thing to say or even think, and I can tell you I've been guilty of saying it several times.
My standard answer to myself and others usually is: "Yes, you could have done that, but you didn't." But let's dive into some more details of this statement.
I often like to look at things around me, in particular things that seem successful and with a slightly judgmental tone I say: "Yeah, I could a have done that too."
Now generally, there is nothing wrong with saying this statement. Maybe it means that you indeed see yourself capable of doing something like it and you have all the intention of doing it. We could say you have a healthy amount of self confidence. In that case it might be enough to have this thought for yourself in silence and use it as a motivator to do greatness in the future.
From a lovely book I found online called "Mummy I could have done that"
But in most cases, we say "I could have done that too" in a slightly judgmental way. We say it because we're jealous that we didn't think of doing something like it before someone else did it. We also say it because we can't fully grasp the work behind and completely underestimate the process or invisible complexity behind. Of course we wouldn’t admit that.
The more simple the idea, the more simple the product or the piece of art, the more likely we feel that we could have done it too. That's why modern art is probably one of the main reasons for you to think that you could've done it too, even though, you're far from being an artist. Let alone an established one.
Okay, but why do we think that we "Could have done it too?" Well, there are a couple of different reasons that come to my mind:
Nr.1: We tend to judge things by their complexity & production value
In particular when we see something simple, all we see is the final product. The more simple it is, the more we pretend to understand its production process and we assume to know all the work that went into it. So we immediately judge it and think we could have done it too. Of course, in reality that’s rarely the case. Everyone who has ever come up with a simple solution knows that it's one of the hardest things to accomplish.
We generally like to assume that, just because something is simple, it was also simple to produce and create. Therefore, we think that “I could have done it too”.
Nr. 2: We tend to judge things based on how satisfied we are with ourselves
The more unhappy I am, the more likely I am to say things such as: "Lol, I could have done that too." - I say it because I'm not satisfied with my own projects and to distract myself. I may be stuck on my own projects, hate my job or just can't seem to finish this particular side project. I'm jealous of everyone who ships and gets shit done, especially if these ideas seem to be almost too stupid to be true. (Case in point, modern art)
Modern Art is simple, some people think it's even too simple. By Tom Friedman – Big big Mac
Okay, so these are in my opinion two main reasons why we quickly like to jump to conclusions. But let's look into the second part.
As I mentioned above, the best answer for YOU or ME is always the same. I could have done it, but I didn't. And the most important part here is "But you didn't".
You could have created this piece of art, but you didn't.
You could have made this app, but you didn't.
You could have written this article, but you didn't.
But why didn't you? This is the magical question. Here are some reasons:
1. You didn't do it because you know less than you think you know.
Which means, just because you see the most simplistic and beautiful end product, doesn't mean you know the struggle on getting it done. We're often underestimating the work and details that go into certain things, because they seem to be invisible to us.
This is true for most design pieces, and especially apps. We love to think that just because we can design or program that we "could have done it too", but in reality, things aren't that simple. Because otherwise, you or I would've done it already. So the true reason why you didn’t do it is because you actually lack the necessary skills or ability to combine them. Of course we don’t fully admit that to ourselves, but it’s pretty much the reason we didn’t do it.
2. You didn't do it because you simply didn't have the guts to do it.
This is different from the one above. Because technically you possess all the technical skills to do it, but you didn't do it. It's specifically the case for modern art. There is a lot of successful modern art out there, like a plain black canvas for example, which you think you could have easily done in 5 minutes. You have the colors, you have the canvas and most likely you should be able to just paint it black. So from a pure production & skill perspective, there is very little holding you back. But the point is, you didn't do it. And you didn't do it because you neither had the idea, the guts, or the meaning behind to back up such a piece of art. In most cases when it comes to something such as modern art, it's a matter of guts, meaning or perspective.
3. You didn't do it because you just didn't do it.
Now this one is simple. You didn't do it because you couldn't bring yourself to do it, for whatever reason. Maybe you had the exact same idea a year ago, but you didn't see the value in it, or you were too lazy to get it started. Most of us didn't do it because we might not see the full potential at first, even though we had the exact same idea. But as we know, “Ideas are cheap, because everyone has them.” Execution is what counts, but often being our lazy selfs we forget about that and then get angry when we see someone who actually executed on an idea we already had years ago.
In the end, I believe there is something good and bad in saying "I could have done that too." Saying it in itself I personally believe is a negative trait, but if you follow up with one simple question:
"But why didn't I do it?" - That's where the magic comes in. This is where we open our mind and we start asking questions. This is where I find out that this simple thing isn't as simple as it appears. This is where I find out that the only reason I said it is because I've been stuck on all my projects for months, and I'm frustrated. And I don’t like being frustrated.
Now I'm not focused anymore on "I could have done that too" but I'm focused on "Why didn't I do it" and "Let's do it!!". It’s just a simple little switch in my mind that helps me become more productive based on what used to be a negative trait.
Do you find yourself thinking or saying “I could have done that too” a lot? Let me know @vanschneider on Twitter. If you don’t have Twitter, I understand that, it’s madness on there. Lucky you. (: