Playing by the rules

When you start playing chess, you know nothing except how the pieces are allowed to move. Beyond that, you’re helpless and you lose every game. You have no basis for selecting one move versus another.

Then, to raise you up from helplessness, somebody teaches you some “rules” for selecting good moves. Move a center pawn two squares first, knights before bishops, knight on the rim is dim, castle as soon as possible, don’t move your queen out early, don’t trade a rook for a bishop. You absorb these rules and now you can beat the helpless people.

As you gain more experience, you realize that the “rules” aren’t rules at all, because chess is too complex, with too many positional variables, to reduce to “rules”. The better you get, the more you realize these elementary “rules” are hogwash, useful only to people who haven’t developed their own ability to distinguish good moves from bad.

Turns out it’s the same deal in Web publishing. It’s too complex to reduce to a formula. If you actually want to win, you have to develop a much better facility for identifying good moves, trying new ideas and learning from them. The “rules” only get you one step beyond helplessness, and rote copying of other people’s moves dooms you to finish behind them.

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