The warning that creative people are given is, once your product is done, that’s when the real work begins. Now you have to go to market to promote and distribute and sell this thing, ostensibly for the rest of your life. Good luck and godspeed. It’s one of those entrepreneurial lessons you learn very quickly. Not only do you need the desire and skill to build the boat, you also have to sail the damn thing. Around the world. Forever. Because building it was the easy part, sailor. As soon as you finishing something, you must immediately ask, now what? Those two words, now what, describes the first ten years of my career as a writer. It was exhilarating and rewarding, and most of all, seductive. Because when you're a young creator, it's very hard to resist the cultural pressure to scale your ideas.
SHIPYARDING — Getting the maximum level of fulfillment from the minimum viable execution of your ideas
The world tells you a lot of lies about how big you need to be, and there's a part of you that feels like you're betraying your talents by not taking them on a trip around the world. Ships in harbors are safe, but that's not what ships are for, right? Just because you're good at something doesn't mean you need do it all day. To quote the popular scripture, what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul? The question every creator has to ask themselves is, does your definition of success include scaling? And if so, are you really cut out for that type of work? If you are, then good on you, mate. Go forth and multiple. However, if you're not that kind of person, or don't particularly like how it feels to become that kind of person, then there are other options to consider. Because if you don't want to do it, but you can't delete it, delegate it. It's basic management, and it's a viable option. Create the machinery around your work that will take it to market under your minimal supervision, but not with your direct involvement. Of course, that option is a risk. You still have to build the boat, assemble the crew, bid them farewell and pray they don't drown or get gobbled up by sharks. Which they might. And if they do, that's on you. Therefore, here's a different question. What would be the minimum viable execution of your idea that would create the maximum level of fulfillment?
This concept transformed my relationship to my creative work. It finally occurred to me that I could retain all of the joy of making things, without having to do battle with the dark and agonizing world of scale. And in the process, I could reach less people more deeply. For example, my product development and innovation gameshow is not critically acclaimed, widely distributed or globally recognized. But it brings disproportionate joy to me and my friends when we play it together. We breath the same air together for an hour, laugh until we cry and make memories that we cherish forever. That's enough for me. That's enough for them. The project doesn't need to be bigger. Now, if this thing organically grows and spawns larger iterations in the future, awesome. But that's a nicety, not a necessity.
Seinfeld's dark but delightful joke comes to mind. Dying is going to be fantastic, think of all things you’re done with. But why wait until we're dead? Why not give ourselves permission to be done with all those things today? The only death might be dying to the culturally sanctioned world of scale, the one we inhabited for a long time, but no longer need to be a part of. The tepid mass of flotsam that used to take up our time can just float by as we breathe in the sea air, enjoy the sunset and start building on the next boat. There is no more now what. Do you have a big furnace to keep feeding that barely keeps you warm?
Find more joy in the artistic process
Give yourself permission to work small
Resist the critical pressure to scale every idea
Work at a pace that’s sustainable over a long career