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Shipping creative work

This is not the same as being creative.

In fact, they’re very different skills and emotional mindsets.

All humans are creative. Sometimes.

Creativity is a special sort of internal conversation, an opportunity to see a problem or a situation and then produce something that dances with it.

But shipping creative work is a cultural and professional risk.

One way to confirm this is to see how different something feels when it’s truly anonymous. If it doesn’t matter to you whether the work resonates with someone else, if there’s no way to tell and no feedback of any kind, then it’s far less fraught.

Realizing that there are two things at work here–the willingness to lean into problem solving AND the willingness to share it–it’s possible to focus on the part that’s holding you back.

Laser noise

Laser guns don’t make noise. At least in real life. In the movies, they always do. Phasers and ray guns and light sabers all manage to make distinctive sounds.

And we don’t mind. In fact, we expect them to.

The foley artist works overtime to create sounds that amplify our experience and fill in the gaps–because the experience is the point.

Does your project have a foley artist? Because it certainly has gaps.


The problem with becoming defensive is that our internal narrative gets in the way of expressing what’s actually going on. Because we’re imagining all the blame and shame and scorn that the other person may or may not be feeling toward us, we bring those feelings into our words and actions, and end up making a mess.

And the problem with being offensive is that the person we’re offending can no longer hear what we’re saying.

Communication lives between the two. We do best when we can describe the actual, the same way we might talk about the weather. Here is what is. Simply that.

Generative hobbies

Some people say “hobby” like it’s a bad thing. In a race for more, it seems as though doing something you don’t get paid for, something that requires patience and skill–well, some people don’t get it. They’d rather troll around on social media or watch a rerun.

A generation or two ago, hobbies were things like paint by number or candlemaking, or perhaps a woodshop. That’s changing. Not simply because computers allow us to be far more professional, but because the very nature of the output is different.

This might be the golden age for a new kind of hobby, one that’s about community, leadership and producing public goods, not private ones.

Because it’s so much easier to connect and because ideas multiply, the generative hobby gives us a chance to make a contribution, even (especially) when we’re not at work. Sharing ideas, leading, connecting…

Wikipedia is the result of 5,000 people working together to produce a resource that’s used by a billion people. The people who have contributed the most don’t work there, they work on it.

Jeff Atwood is transforming a long-lost and influential book into a modern tool for a new generation. Github is a professional tool, but it’s also become a clearinghouse for projects that simply exist to make things better.

It’s magical when it works. I’ve spent the last three months working with a cadre of people on a community project, and it’s been a highlight of my career.

Perhaps “generative contribution” is a better name for it. But I’m all for reclaiming “hobby,” because the way we spend our time is the way we spend our lives.

Time doesn’t scale

That’s why it’s worth so much.

Sure, you can outsource. You can look for shortcuts. You can hire folks. You can use mailmerge. You can even send it to voice mail.

But all of these time shortcuts fail to express the thing we want the most.

Your time, my time, their time–we all get the same number of minutes per day.

If you spend them on someone, they can tell.

Might as well quit

There’s a better cause right around the corner. It might not work. You’ll never be able to keep all the promises. It can’t last forever. We’re all going to die. It’s not perfect. Someone might steal your idea. There will be critics. You’re not ready. Someone else is going to do it. It’s not that important. It might not work.

On the other hand…

Now is better than later, and perfect is an illusion.

Act as if. Simply begin. Make things better by making better things. You can always improve it later.