Ship when it’s useful, not when it’s done

Something I have kept in front of me for the past six months or so has been this mindset:

Ship it when it’s useful, not when it’s done.

(I think it was Jason Fried who said it, but if not it sounds like something he would say.)

This metric of shipping when a thing is useful was what I kept before me when working on our Learn Ulysses course, the Plan Your Year workbook, and All the Things.

Shipping a product when it’s useful is a far more tangible metric for creating things and putting them out there.

Because — and let’s be honest — in the mind of the creator, a project is never done. There is always one more detail or element or idea that needs to be fine tuned or figured out.

So, instead of waiting until you’re done, step back and look at what you’re working on and ask yourself, Is this useful to others right now?

If the answer is yes, then ship it. If the answer is no, fix it.

Ship when it’s useful, not when it’s done

Little Things Add Up: The Effect of Details in Aggregate

It’s the little things, in aggregate, that can make the difference between something being exquisite and delightful, or else being full of friction.

When done well, the little things add up to make an overall positive impression. And, on the flip side, when ignored or done poorly, the little things add up to leave a negative impression.

This is why “good enough” can be the enemy, and why implementing many features poorly is actually a worse plan than implementing a few features very well. Though the princess slept on many mattresses, just one pea under the whole stack ruined her night’s sleep.

* * *

A few years ago I was replacing all the flat slab doors in our home with new 6-panel slab doors. A slab door is just the door itself — I wasn’t replacing the jambs and frames, which means for each door I hung I had to cut out the grooves for the hinges. These are called mortises, and I used a router to cut them out.

Over several weekends I worked my way through the house, doing one door at a time. And as I did, I became acutely aware of all the shortcuts the previous owner had taken when they were framing and painting the doors I was now replacing. All the doorknobs had paint around their base, the door hinges were painted over, and so were the strike plates.

After I had hung about half the doors, I began to understand why there was so much sloppy work I was replacing. When you’re in the middle of a project like this it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the little to-do items, and thus begin cutting corners in order to speed up the completion of the project.

As I was routing out each mortise and measuring the spot for each new strike plate, I felt the temptation to sidestep a detail here or there. I’d have to remind myself that I couldn’t take a shortcut — not even once. What would seem like a negligible issue in the moment would soon snowball into another sidestepped detail and then another, until there was an overall feeling of sloppy work.

When you’re in the middle of the project, you think, “well, a one-off here and a one- off there is not the end of the world.” But shortcuts add up, and those little details — for the good or for the bad — come together in aggregate and make the difference between something that is either exquisite, ordinary, or poor.

When I was done with my project, the difference was significant. Just as the sloppy work on the previous doors and knobs and hinges had added up to exude an overall “cheap” feeling, having new door knobs that weren’t tainted with paint slops, new door hinges that were clean and not painted over, and having doors that were free from scuff marks, all added up to an overall “classy” feeling that was greater than the sum of the parts.

And so, when you’ve committed to not take shortcuts, you quickly learn that sweating the details is where most of the hard work lies. Like I’ve mentioned before, it’s that 80/20 rule: 80-percent of the project gets completed with the first 20-percent of effort, and then it takes the remaining 80-percent of the effort to complete the final 20-percent of the project.

But it’s worth it because in these details lies the overall feeling of the product. The underlying “truth” of our product is found not in the feature set but in the details we implemented well. The details make the design.

* * *

This article was from my book, Delight is in the Details.

I wanted to share it with you because it serves as one side of the coin.

When it comes to our goals, our projects, and/or our businesses, it is important to sweat the details.

However, there is another side to the coin: perfectionism will kill your project. We’ll get into that next.

Little Things Add Up: The Effect of Details in Aggregate

Speaking of Jeff Sheldon, here’s another fantastic post he wrote just recently.

Jeff has become a good friend, and it has been exhilarating watching him push the Ugmonk brand to the next level the past couple of years. Not only has his skill for product design improved, but the way in which he presents and sells his work has simplified. That alone is a magnificent feat!

As I find myself in a similar situation with The Focus Course brand — seeking to improve how we present and sell our products — keeping things simple and avoiding complexity has proven to be a huge challenge and an uphill battle. Things just naturally want to become more complex than they need to be.

Posts like this one from Jeff that share some of the behind-the-scenes lessons and mindsets related to business development are so helpful and encouraging.

8 Things Jeff Sheldon Has Learned from 8 Years of Ugmonk

Books On My Shelf

Books on my Shelf

My next course is about showing up every day, doing your best creative work, building an audience, and earning an income.

Right now the working title of the course is “The Creative Life”.

Because ultimately, this course is about developing the mindset, habits, and resources you need to do your best creative work.

But more on all of that another time…

When putting together a course or a book or a class, I have two huge components that underpin all the content and training:

  1. My own experience, stories, and wisdom.
  2. The experiences, stories, and wisdom of others.

At best, I have only a very small glimpse and perspective. So I lean on the wisdom and perspective of others.

Here are a few of the books that have helped me show up every day, do my best creative work, build an audience, and earn an income.

Books On My Shelf

Creativity, Confusion, and Community

This past weekend I rented a car, drove 4 hours to Tulsa, bought a new (to me) family car that I’d found on Craigslist, and drove it back.

To accompany me on the road trip, I loaded up the audiobook version of Creativity Inc..

creativity inc on audiobook

I began reading it on Kindle about a year ago, but only made it to chapter 5. I’ve been wanting to dive back in, and this was a great opportunity.

There is so much gold in this book.

One particular tidbit that stuck out to me from the chapter on Honesty and Candor.

People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process. It is the nature of things — in order to create, you must internalize and almost become the project for a while, and that near-fusing with the project is an essential part of its emergence. But it is also confusing. Where once a movie’s writer/director had perspective, he or she loses it. Where once he or she could see a forest, now there are only trees. The details converge to obscure the whole, and that makes it difficult to move forward substantially in any one direction. The experience can be overwhelming.

If you’ve ever begun working a new project, learning a new skill, or the like, and you get into it and feel completely overwhelmed, lost, and confused — don’t freak out.

As Ed Catmull says, it is the nature of things.

How do you press through that feeling of overwhelm?

For one you keep going. You keep showing up every day, making choices, and doing the work. With patience, you will find clarity.

Secondly, you need community. People who can give candid advice, encouragement, and feedback. People who will level with you and keep you accountable to your goals.

Creativity, Confusion, and Community

Take it Apart, and Put it Back Together Again

show-up-white-board

What you’re looking at here is some white board scribbling that represents the first module of my next course.

The white board is so messy and random, you might think this was our very first whiteboard session for Module One.

Actually, this is the fourth whiteboard session we’ve had like this in the past two weeks.

This is our process of taking things apart and putting them back together again.

I’m working on a new course that’s about doing your best creative work, moving from hobbyist to pro, building and caring for an audience, and making a few dollars from your creative work.

Right now the course outline consists of more than 90 individual sessions within 6 modules. Plus worksheets. Plus interviews. Plus easter eggs.

That is a massive amount of content. It’s too much.

Who has the time to work their way through all of that?

That’s why we’re trying to distill the outline down to what is most essential.

And it starts by taking apart each module and asking: What is the single most important takeaway here?

  • What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to do their best creative work?
  • What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to move from hobby to pro?
  • What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to define and build their audience?
  • What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to steward their audience and give provide value?
  • What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to make an income from their creative work?
  • What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to build and sell their products?

For us, we’re still in the preparation phase on all of these modules. We know all the surrounding ideas, mindsets, tactics, and tools. I’ve been writing about this stuff for years.

The aim right now is to get the outline clear so we can get to work on putting the pieces in place.

How do you edit an outline?

You take it apart and put it back together again.

You question your assumptions and hypothesis.

You try writing it out in a way that makes sense to your grandparents.

Then try writing it so it makes sense to your neighbor across the street.

Then you re-write again with your ideal customer in mind.

You make sure you’re answering all the questions and challenges your ideal customer is facing.

* * *

The above photo represents the fourth time we’ve taken apart this outline and put it back together again.

First we started with sticky notes on the whiteboard.

Then we moved the sticky notes onto posters on the wall. (We needed the whiteboard back.)

Then I re-wrote it all onto note cards.

Then we went back to white board drawings, which you see above.

We keep taking apart all the pieces, looking at them, asking why they’re there, and then putting the whole thing back together again.

Each pass we make at the outline things become a bit more clear.

Once we start taking it apart and putting it back together the same way, then it’ll be time to start writing.

If you’re interested in going behind-the-scenes at the creation of this course, and getting early access to the content, we’re looking for pilot course members.

There are some pretty great benefits, which I’ll share later.

Sign up over here to get on the list, and I’ll let you know once we open the doors.

Take it Apart, and Put it Back Together Again

Creative Goals (Part 6)

Pre-S. This is part six in a series on creativity and entrepreneurship. You can find the previous articles here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

There are two types of creative goals.

  1. The first type of goal is the goal a project that you’re building. Something you’re making. A goal of something that does not exist and that you are in process of creating.

  2. The second is a goal related to your creative output. Your skill set, your talent, your ideas, inspiration, motivation.

The two go hand in hand. Each one needs the other.

Because, as we’ll dive in to next week, quantity leads to quality. The more you do the work and the more you learn by shipping — then, in turn, the more you will grow in your skills. And, the more you grow in your skills the more you’ll be able to reach your goals for the work you create.

Loving the Process

How much do you enjoy the journey of creativity?

What if there was no end result? What if it was just a process of day in and day out. Showing up and showing your work?

Are you content in the creative process?

Are you content with your creative process?

When I think back to the building and launching of The Focus Course, what I remember most is the whole story and all the work leading up to the launch.

It started with a few dozen podcast episodes for the Shawn Today members. Those episodes turned into chapters of a book that never got published because I changed my mind about the book and began creating an online course instead. I mapped the whole thing out on my floor with index cards. I then led a small pilot group through the course using an email list…

That whole process, that year-long creative journey, was so much fun. It was exhilarating.

The launch of the Focus Course was just a one-day event. One day.

Then, I went back to creating. I started working on the next version of the course.

Baby

Perhaps what’s most difficult is that feeling of overwhelm when you’re on the threshold of a new project and you see where you are right now and you compare it to where you hope to go, and it feels unsurmountable.

Ira Glass explains this so well. Take a few minutes to watch this video:

Remember this: start with the simplest step first.

You never outgrow that bit of advice.

No matter how advanced you are in your craft, how much experience you have, etc. You always have to start with the first step.

As a creative person, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the end product. You have this idea — this clever, beautiful, amazing thing you see in your mind. And you want to make that. Anything less is unacceptable.

The problem, however, is that this clever, beautiful, amazing thing you see is completely unreasonable as the first version.

The first version is the baby version…

It’s small. It’s naked. It’s crying at first contact with the real world. It needs to be nursed and continually cared for and swaddled. It poops its pants whenever you’re not looking. It won’t even let you sleep through the night.

But with proper care and feeding, your baby will grow up. It will mature. And, over time, it will learn to stand on its own.

If you’re in it for the long run, be encouraged…

Starting small isn’t something you “settle” for. Rather, it’s the proper way to get going. And when you commit your time and energy to your creative goals, you will see progress.

As we’ll talk about more next week, a commitment to quality is what gives motivation to show up every day. And showing up every day — that quantity of work — is what leads to creating with quality.



Read the next article here »

Creative Goals (Part 6)

Who, What, Why, How, and How Much

Consider the components to a creative business (or any business, really), and here’s what you get:

Who, What, Why, How, and How Much.

  • Who is your (ideal) customer or client.
  • What is the product or service you’re creating or providing.
  • How is a combination of your resources as well as your business plan (as in: how are you going to do the work, and how are you going to connect your product with your customer).
  • How Much relates to the value you’re providing to your customer as well as the price you’re charging them.
  • Why relates to the motivation, vision, and values of the work you do.

Two sidebars before we get started:

  1. This doesn’t just have to relate to indie entrepreneurs and start-up CEOs. It can relate to in-house designers, freelance developers, and more. Say you work for a design firm or a recording studio. Your “who” is your boss — your company. Your “How Much” is your salary.
  2. I used to think you had to start with why. But as I’ve been reading through Cal Newport’s book, I’m realizing that most of us start with what. In fact, Newport argues that you starting with why is actually bad advice. In short, it’s in the process of doing the work that we get much-needed experience and clarity about the sort of work we want to keep on doing, and in that process we are able to build up the relationships and resources we need in order to do the work that matters most to us.

That said, let’s break down the Who, What, Why, and How Much a bit more. I’m going to use The Focus Course as my example.

  • Who: My ideal customer for the Focus Course is someone who is eager to learn, do their best creative work, and has energy to move the needle forward in their life. Though I created the course so just about anyone can work through the 40 days of assignments, the person I most have in mind is someone who already has an internal drive to make changes in their life.

  • What: A self-guided, 40-day course that gives you insight and clarity into your values, goals, stress points, and distractions and then gives you an action plan for doing something about it all.

  • How: I built the course itself by writing every day, working with a pilot group to test and review the contents, and then working with a designer and developer to create the website that hosts the content.

  • How much: The price of the Focus Course is $249; the value, though it varies from person to person, is (I hope) much, much more than that.

  • Why: I’m someone who is naturally spontaneous, distracted, and seems to always have more ideas than time. In my early 20s I realized that I needed to get a grip on how I spent my time and energy or else I’d never make meaningful progress on the things that were most important to me. The ideas and tactics of The Focus Course are things that I myself have used and taught for more than a decade and I wanted to create a fun and even better way way to clearly teach these things to others.

Here’s a sketch I made (don’t laugh) to show how these elements interrelate with one another to form the components of a sustainable business.

Business Components

As you can see in the chart above, when your product and your customer connect, then value is created and exchanged. It’s at this intersection that your business model exists. You have something of value to offer, and others are willing to pay for it.

Additionally, if your product or service is something that aligns with your own personal values and goals, then when you sell to your customer you’re also giving expression to your vision.

There is immense satisfaction in providing something of value to someone else in such a manner that also sustains the ongoing providing of more value. Consider the converse: when our work and actions don’t align with our vision and values, it can be a huge drain on our morale and motivation.

This is what a sustainable business model is all about: doing work you’re proud of, providing value to others, and having a means to continue doing that work. It’s what Walt Disney meant when he famously said, “We don’t make movies so we can make money; we make money so we can make more movies.”

The money serves a two-fold purpose. For one, it gives some measure of validation to our work because money is a neutral indicator of value. If nobody (as in, literally not one person) is willing to pay for what it is you’re offering, then it’s probably not valuable enough (at least not yet). When that’s the case, simply go back to the drawing board to find a different expression of your creative idea or find a different market (or maybe both).

For his book, So Good They Can’t ignore You, Cal Newport interviewed successful entrepreneur, Derek Sivers. Newport asked Sivers about what it was that led to his entrepreneurial success. Derek replied that he has a principle about money that overrides his other rules: ”Do what people are willing to pay for,” he said. “Money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, you’re aiming to be valuable.”

Derek Sivers — By aiming to make money you are aiming to be valuable

Secondly, money allows us to buy food, pay the bills, and acquire the tools and resources we need in order to keep making art and doing work.

The whole goal of Walt Disney’s movie making business model was to sustain their creative outlet of animating and producing films. It wasn’t about the money for money’s sake — it was about doing work they loved and enriching the lives of their audience. And by selling their work they could keep on making more movies.

For most makers, it’s not about the money. It’s about the creative work. There is (most days) joy in the journey and satisfaction in being part of a creative community. And there is the dream of adding value and enriching other people’s lives.

* * *

Again, from So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Newport writes that “people who feel like their careers truly matter are more satisfied with their working lives, and they’re also more resistant to the strain of hard work.”

While there are many dynamics which contribute to the feeling of a career that matters, one of them is the realization that the work you do is valuable to others. As Sivers said, by aiming to make money, you’re aiming to be valuable.

* * *

Further Reading

Who, What, Why, How, and How Much

For Kinfolk, Rachel Eva Lim interviewed Yale researcher, Mei Tan, about creativity and it’s great:

How do you scientifically define creativity?

We define it as a set of skills that allow an individual to produce something that’s both novel [original] and task-appropriate [useful]. It can be argued that originality and usefulness may vary depending on situations and cultures, so therefore a universal measuring stick for creativity would be impossible.

I love that definition. Creativity is a combination of originality and usefulness; something unique and something helpful.

The Creative Impulse

Whole Brain Creativity

Are you a right-brain person or a left-brain person?

Right brain folks are more artistic, feeling, intuitive, and creative — they like to find solutions by making connections and trusting their intuition. Left brain folks are more rational and logical — they like order, data, facts, guarantees, and reliability.

But there is more than just left-brain or right-brain types of people. There are actually four types of thinking (or learning) styles.

The two researchers in this are that I’m most familiar with are Ned Herrmann and Anthony Gregorc. Gregorc created what he calls the Mind Styles Model. Herrmann created what he calls Whole Brain Thinking.

If you break the two hemispheres down even further, as Ned Herrmann, Anthony Gregorc, and many others have done, then you get the four quadrants of the brain. Each of us has a dominant quadrant that we think and learn from — a way of thinking and percieving the world that is most natural to us. But each of us can use all four quadrants.

Herrmann - Whole Brain Thinking

Herrmann uses colors to define the four quadrants: Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow. Gregorc’s quadrants each have a name based on the way people perceive and order information: Abstract Sequential, Concrete Sequential, Abstract Random, and Concrete Random.

Gregorc’s AS, CS, AR, and CR quadrants correlate to Herrmann’s Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow quadrants pretty easily.

  1. Blue (Abstract Sequential) is where logical, analytical, and technical thinking happens. Blue thinkers are the ones making sure we don’t value form over function because they are rational and care about performance and analytics. They are objective, thorough, quantitative and technical. They’ve probably got a mental calculator ready to go, which is why they tend to be engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc.

  2. Green (Concrete Sequential) is where people are detailed, organized, administrative, reliable, and structured. They are tactical, and tend to be project managers, bookkeepers, and administrators because they value control, structure, reliability, and tradition.

  3. Red (Abstract Random) is where you find emotional, expressive, interpersonal, and spiritually-minded people. They are compassionate, perceptive, and sensitive. They care deeply about people, and they have the ability to read the emotional temperature of a room right when they walk in. They tend to be teachers, trainers, charity workers, and musicians so they can help others and frequently connect on a personal level in and through their career.

  4. Yellow (Concrete Random) is where creative, artistic, and conceptual thinking happen. These people are usually visionary and risk taking and tend to become entrepreneurs, artists, and strategists. They value spontaneity, risk, beauty, design, and fun. They are also excellent at recognizing patterns, and have a strong ability to form connections between two or more seemingly contrasting ideas.

If you’re at all familiar with these (and other) styles, then you know that I’m grossly oversimplifying the science behind these things. And I bet Gregorc and Herrmann wouldn’t be too happy with me comparing their two models so closely. (But I can’t help it. I’m a strong Yellow thinker, so I like connecting ideas and finding patterns.)

But I’m not here to do a deep dive on the science of learning, thinking, etc.

What strikes me about the whole brain model is that it highlights the different joys and challenges of creativity.

Each of us are dominant in one of these four quadrants. You, dear reader, have some strength and some weakness of all four quadrants of learning and thinking style, but one of them is your most dominant. Do you mostly thrive on: Facts and logic? Form and Safety? Feelings and relationships? Or future ideas and concepts?

However, for us to do our best creative work — work that matters — we have to operate out of all four quadrants.

Operating out of all four quadrants looks different for everyone because everyone has one or two quadrants that they are strongest in and then a few quadrants they are weaker in.

If you are a strong “Yellow” thinker, then having visionary creative solutions is probably a natural part of your everyday life. But you may have trouble when it comes time to execute on your ideas.

Or if you are a strong “Green” thinker, then you can whip up a plan while the coffee is still brewing. But you may have trouble seeing the big picture, or understanding it’s significance.

We will always naturally operate out of our dominant quadrant. But our best creative work must flow out of all four quadrants. We need to have a desire to problem solve (Blue), we need to have enough structure and organization in order to show up every day (Green), we need to have empathy and emotion toward others and a desire to help them (Red), and we need care about creating and making (Yellow).

In addition to our own individual need to think and work using all four quadrants, we can also benefit greatly from having people around us who are dominant in different areas. If you are a strong red thinker, then get someone who is blue to work beside. While you may have friction at first (you will see them as being cold and calculating; they will see you as being too talkative and sentimental), you will actually bring some healthy balance to one another and make more progress as a team.

The challenge is to operate out of the areas of our brain that don’t come naturaly to us. Are your creative solutions intuitive? Do they solve a problem? Are you able to show up every day and do the work? Are you trying to serve and delight others?

To do work that matters, answering ‘yes’ to just one or even two of these is not enough.

In the same way that our best creative work flows from all four quadrants, it must also flow to all four quadrants for it to be effective in reaching others.

Whole Brain Creativity

Creativity is a Gift

Doing our best creative work is a fight.

It strikes me this morning that I’ve been saying this often over the past few years. (Maybe it’s becoming my motto or tagline or something.)

I love how Steven Pressfield puts it. In his books — especially The War of Art — he talks at length about that great enemy called resistance.

Pressfield writes that “any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity,” or, “any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower” is sure to elicit resistance.

When you set your sights on doing something of value and something meaningful, rest assured you will face resistance.

If you’ve ever spent so much as a one minute trying to create something of value and substance, then you know first hand that it is a fight to be and stay creative.

But what I love about the fight is that it’s self evident.

If you find yourself facing fear, doubt, shame, difficulty, perplexity, and/or overwhelm when you sit down to do the work then rejoice! All that resistance means you’re trying to do something worthwhile. The resistance is proof that you’re on the right track. Don’t quit.

Seriously. Don’t quit.

But quitting is not what I’m here to talk about. The advice to not quit is common. It’s good advice. You and I need to hear it every day. When I set my watch for 30 minutes, put in my earbuds, shut off the outside world, and make myself write for half an hour I have to remind myself that I’m not allowed to quit.

As a creative person you need boundaries.

You need space to think. You need time to focus on the work at hand while your mind stares up to the stars, discovering new worlds and ideas.

You need time to yourself.

You need at least some level of autonomy to call the shots and draw a line in the sand.

But I have found that in my process of setting up boundaries that help me do my best creative work, a seed of selfishness and narcissism can plant itself.

Don’t let that happen. In the fight to do our best creative work, narcissism is not the destination — generosity is.

Why? Because creativity should, by definition, bring life. You’ve taken something that did not previously exist and now it does.

Which means your best shot at doing your best creative work is to do something that will bring life to others.

As you focus on doing your best creative work, don’t get so absorbed in your own thoughts and your own world that you cease to be generous, kind, outgoing, helpful, and selfless toward others.

Creativity is a Gift

You Have Ideas

What you need is more bad ideas.

You know the drill. It’s late in the morning on Saturday and you’re outside mowing the lawn.

Or maybe you don’t mow the lawn. So, say it’s a Monday evening and you’re taking a walk through the neighborhood. Or it’s Tuesday morning and you’re taking a shower.

And then… bam! You have an idea. Seemingly out of nowhere.

Awesome. But why aren’t you having more ideas in more places?

I think we put far too much emphasis on the when, where, why, and how of good ideas. We should talk more about the when, where, why, and how of bad ideas.

We all need to have more bad ideas. More crappy first drafts. More embarrassing design mock ups. More failures. More awkward moments.

Something I mentioned in my article yesterday was about how this world we now live in, where everyone has the internet in their pocket, is totally new. Nobody has ever lived like this before.

One of the things that comes with having the internet in our pocket is that we can share moments and slices of our life with the world. But most of us are sharing the highlights. We share the best photos of the grandest places. Which is fine. But it also can cause a slight sense of disillusionment.

Gee, everyone I follow on Instagram lives in the mountains or on the beach and eats incredible food. I live in the suburbs and had a tunafish sandwich for lunch.

When we see other people’s beautiful Instagram lives and fine-tuned Pinterest taste, we think they live like that 24/7.

It can be challenging when we start to overlap the perfect and curated “world” we see through our smartphones and the messy and challenging world we live through our own eyes and skin.

That’s why you need to have more bad ideas.

Ideas are good for the soul. They’re good for your creative imagination. They’re brain food. They help you build motivation. But it’s not just good ideas that build motivation — bad ideas do this too.

When was the last time you had a real whopper of a terrible idea?

You’re probably embarrassed to even recall. As if having a bad idea is the same as farting during a fancy dinner.

It’s not the same; not the same at all. We need bad ideas. You need bad ideas.

Out of ten thousand ideas, only one of them might be truly great. If you sit around waiting for the great one, how are you going to get it? And then (well, this is a topic for another post, but what I’m trying to say is that) once you have a great idea, that’s only the very beginning — doing something about it is what matters most.

How to Strengthen Your Creative Imagination

So here you are. Standing at a place that is “Not Amazing” and you’re trying to get over there to “Amazing”. There is no shortcut except to go through the mud of “Not Yet Amazing.”

I want to have more bad ideas, more terrible first drafts, more embarrassing design mock ups, more failures, and more awkward moments.

While that may sound like the worst Christmas List ever, what it actually means is that I want to try harder and have less fear of failure. More bad ideas, more terrible first drafts, and more failed attempts, means more work created.

All that said, here are some thoughts about ideas, and why I think you should try and come up with more (bad) ideas every day.

Ideas are a commodity

If you think ideas are rare it’s because you’re not used to coming up with any.

The more ideas you come up with then the more ideas you’ll come up with. I love how Jonas Ellison put it:

Never be stingy with your ideas. Don’t say you’ll save them for another post, another story, another day. Put it out there. Circulate your ideas freely so your mind can generate new.

Amen.

Since ideas (especially bad ones) are a dime a dozen, there’s no fear in giving them away and sharing them early and often. In fact, a bad idea in your hands might be a great idea in someone else’s. That’s because…

People are Greater Than Ideas

In Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull writes about how people are far more important than ideas. Saying:

If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better. The takeaway here is worth repeating: Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right.

Catmull also writes about how ideas are not singularly, perfectly-formed things. They’re half-thoughts. What-ifs, hunches, gut feelings, whispers of a dream, foggy afternoons.

That’s why…

A Bad Idea Does Not Reflect Your Talent, Character, or Taste

If you’re in an environment where you are afraid to share a bad idea, you need to change that environment. Don’t despise your own bad ideas and don’t despise other people’s.

We put so much emphasis on only having good ideas that we’ve assumed this posture where all ideas should be acted on. That’s silly. Just because you’ve had an idea doesn’t mean it now must be cared for and built.

Feel free to have lots and lots of horrible ideas and then throw them out. Give yourself freedom to have bad ideas. Give everyone you know — your friends, family, co-workers, bosses, peers, strangers you meet while standing in line at the coffee shop — permission to have bad ideas.

In fact, why not just…

Start With the Worst Idea You Can

I dare you.

Seriously, why not?

What is it you’re stuck on right now? What is the worst possible solution to that problem?

Coming up with a bad idea is so much easier than coming up with a good one. Start with the worst idea you can and let that build your momentum.

Bad ideas become the stepping stones to good ideas.

As you get more comfortable coming up with many ideas all of the time, you’ll learn to adapt this very important rule, which is…

Don’t be a Slave to the Tyranny of a New Idea

Ever feel like you have more ideas than time? I hope you do.

Having too many ideas is not a dilemma. The dilemma is to have no ideas at all.

We think having more ideas than time is a dilemma because new ideas are exciting, and we feel obligated to act on them and do something about them.

Don’t feel obligated. It’s okay to let good ideas die. You don’t have to act on every idea you come up with. Don’t give in to the tyranny of a new idea simply because it’s new.

As I said, and as I’m sure you are aware, there is something more important than coming up with ideas: finishing them.

If you have more ideas than time, that’s great. Focus on what you can do now. Believe me when I say that…

Great Ideas Come Back

Last fall (October 2014) we completely re-designed and re-booted the Tools & Toys website. I brainstormed with my team, worked with our designer/developer (Pat Dryburgh), and we made something awesome.

About 5 months later I stumbled across a page in my notebook from almost two years ago. On the page was a list of goals and ideas for Tools & Toys, and the list was filled with the exact same outline of goals and ideas that we’d just implemented. I had written it, forgot about it, and two years later when I was starting over “from scratch” those ideas came right back and I didn’t even know it.

But two years can be a long time to wait on an idea. Sometimes an idea won’t let you go. You know the ones I’m talking about. And so, in those cases, try to act quickly because…

Ideas Demise Over Time

When an idea truly grabs ahold of you, keeps you up at night, and wakes you up early in the morning, then it’s time to take action.

You know what I’m talking about. If and when you can, act on those best ideas quickly. When they grab ahold of you like that, it means they’ve got life on them.

When an idea has life on it like that…

Listen to What Your Idea Wants

Eventually the idea will take over. It will begin to think for itself. It will have its own needs and wants.

Listen to it. What does it want? What other ideas are branching out from this original one?

This happened to me as I was writing my book, The Power of a Focused Life. I spent 5 months writing the first draft. Then as I was doing research and working on the second draft I realized that this idea wanted to be different than what I originally imagined.

In response, I turned the book upside down, pulled it all apart, and re-wrote everything from scratch to create The Focus Course instead.

I never would have built the Focus Course if I hadn’t first started with the book. I needed to be in the midst of that project before I could see where it was ultimately headed.

It’s a rule of the universe of creativity that…

Action Brings Clarity

Once you start moving and acting on an idea, then you begin to get clarity about what the next step needs to be. It’s okay not to have it all figured out before you begin. Just begin, and let your feet take you.

Challenge: Come up with 5 ideas today

Or 7 if you’ve had your coffee; 10 if you’re feeling brave.

Below I’m sharing with you my 10 ideas for today. This is a list that is building off another idea I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while about doing a bunch of podcast miniseries that each focus on a very specific topic. Here are 10 topic ideas:

  • Kansas City coffee shop reviews
  • Short stories about inspirational and fascinating people
  • Working from home
  • Debt and budgeting
  • Writing
  • Meaningful Productivity
  • Photography
  • Making coffee at home
  • Book reviews
  • Parenting

* * *

The ability to solve interesting problems is an integral part of doing our best creative work. And doing work that matters means having the guts to try things that might not work.

If we’re a slave to every single new idea then we’ll never have the focus to finish a single thing. And if we’re afraid that our idea might be a bad one, we’ll never even get started.

* * *

Today’s article is a part of my countdown to The Focus Course. If this article hit home for you, then I believe you will love the course. One of the primary goals of the Focus Course is to help you strengthen your creative imagination, find margin for thought, and do your best creative work.

The Focus Course

You Have Ideas

Fear, Not Money

What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to doing work that matters?

A lot of people say money. As in, a lack of money.

A lack of money can certainly be an obstacle. But it can also be an excuse.

It’s awesome to have the funds we need to give us the time and other resources that will help us do work that matters. But if we say we can’t do anything meaningful because it’s not our full-time job, that’s fear talking.

Now, there are cases where money truly is a debilitating issue. I have friends and family members who just can’t seem to get ahead — at times they feel as if they’re drowning. Money problems can be extremely demotivating, crippling, and depressing.

However, right now I want to talk about those who see money as their biggest challenge to doing work that matters and yet have never stopped to consider if there are alternatives. Or perhaps you see the paycheck as a validation of the work you’re doing — you need the promise of income as a pat on the back that you’re doing something valuable.

But the truth is…

Money is a tool, not a validation

You with money may have an advantage over you without money, but it’s not a guarantee. At the end of the day, what money does is buy opportunity.

  • Opportunity of time: if you had a million dollars in the bank to pay all your monthly living expenses and to pay someone else to handle all the menial tasks of your life, then you could spend all your time working on your craft. But even if you had all the time in the world, it doesn’t guarantee you’d choose to do meaningful work.

  • Opportunity of collaboration and community: if you had a million dollars, you could hire a team to work with. But even with a hundred million, there’s no guarantee that you’d be able to hire an all-star staff of hard-working, kind, fun, brilliant, self-starters who all get along.

  • Opportunity of networking: if you had a million dollars, people might invite you to their fancy dinners, and ask you to collaborate with them. But even if so, there’s no guarantee that the right people will notice you

  • Opportunity of research and discovery: if you had a million dollars you could buy all the books you need to learn up on a subject, travel somewhere to a conference to meet new people and learn new things, and more.

  • Opportunity to use better tools: if you had a million dollars you could buy the nicest camera, the fastest computer, the highest quality paint brushes. But even then, there’s no guarantee that the tools at your disposal would empower you do to work that matters.

If money is your biggest challenge to doing your best creative work, ask yourself what advantage or opportunity it is that you’re looking to money to solve. Once you figure that out, ask yourself if there’s a different solution to your challenge.

If you say you need money so you can have more time to do the work that matters to you, and yet you’re watching an hour of TV every day, then money’s not the first problem. How you’re spending your time is.

If you say you need money to afford the right tools, yet you go out to eat every day and have a monthly car payment, perhaps you should assess your spending and budgeting.

The real obstacles are fear and not being willing to sacrifice

I spent four years writing shawnblanc.net during evenings, weekends, and lunch breaks before I was able to quit my job and take the website full time. Jason Kottke had been writing online for 7 years before he quit his job to take kottke.org full-time. Myke Hurley spent four years podcasting before he was able to take his passion full-time. John Gruber wrote Daring Fireball on the side for 4 years before making it his full-time gig.

In short, it takes time — years, usually — before doing the work you love can get to a point where it is also the work that pays the bills. But sometimes, it never pays the bills.

Are you willing to show up every day for 4 years?

Talking to a friend about this just this morning, he said that he doesn’t think it’s about money at all — it’s about how much people are willing to sacrifice to do the work they love. People don’t want to give up all the things they need to give up, so instead they place the burden of action on having more money.

* * *

In her book, The Crossroads of Should and Must, Elle Luna writes that there are four obstacles to doing our most important work: Money, Time, Space, and Vulnerability.

While money, time, and space are the reasons given most often for not choosing Must, there’s another fear that’s far scarier and spoon about much less.

Choosing Must means that you have to confront some very big fears. It will make you feel vulnerable.

Doing our best creative work day in and day out is difficult. As anyone who writes, draws, or takes pictures on a regular basis can tell you, thinking and creating something awesome every day can be hard and frightful.

I don’t want to minimize how helpful it can be to have a financial safety net in place, nor how frightening it can be when you’re barely scraping by. I’ve been in debt, I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck even though I didn’t have to, I’ve survived on less than minimum wage, and I’ve had enough money to take a year off if I wanted. In all those seasons, there were still challenges and fears that I had to press through in order to do work that mattered.

Elle Luna also writes: “It is here, standing at the crossroads of Should and Must, that we feel the enormous reality of our fears, and this is the moment when many of us decide against following our intuition, turning away from that place where nothing is guaranteed, nothing is known, and everything is possible.”

With all kindness and tenderness, let me challenge you: If it’s mostly about the money, then perhaps it’s not about doing your best creative work after all. If you see money as your biggest challenge, perhaps you’re not being honest with yourself.

Fear, Not Money