Create, Ship, Repeat

January 12, 2015

I had a beautiful insight today about why we don’t finish creative projects.

One of the things I spend a lot of time and energy on prior to shipping something is determining whether it will be a success or not. I like to think I can see the future.

Here are two frustrating scenarios when we think we can accurately predict the success of something.

Scenario #1:

We’re wrong. For whatever reason, the project wasn’t as successful as we thought it was going to be, and now we’re left with disappointment, confusion and frustration because what “should” have happened didn’t. The tragic result of this is we don’t jump head first into something else, we wallow in our misery and feel bad for ourselves. We’re afraid of being let down again so we hesitate, instead of going directly back to the drawing board.

Scenario #2:

We’re right. For whatever reason, the project is a success, maybe it’s even a massive success. Everything happened according to plan and the results we’re off the charts. Since we thought it was going to succeed, we give ourselves the credit and make it about us. We figure that the reason it was so successful was due to our genius ideas and planning, because of course we really knew it was going to succeed the whole time.

Now what happens for the next project is instead of diving into the work and producing something, we tip toe around ideas, making sure we pick just the right one (since now we have the ability to predict the future). We carefully choose just the right idea, just the right everything, and the process is slow, methodical and painful. Then of course, one of our projects will fail and we will be devastated, because we thought we had figured out how to succeed.

Can you see how people do this? It’s a pendulum that swings back and forth between too cocky and self-defeating.

One way out is using a phrase I learned from Seth Godin. He says that before launching any project, he says to himself “this might not work”. It’s true, right? We really have no idea what will work and what doesn’t. If you talk to someone who has produced enough art they will tell you that sometimes it hits, and sometimes it doesn’t, and the truth is we as artist can rarely predict which will happen. It’s true for me, sometimes I’ll write an article and think “this is so incredible, everyone will want to share this”, and it’s a dud. Sometimes I’ll write and think “this isn’t bad, but it’s not my best work” and thousands of people will share it. We simply cannot know, and resting in this truth is such a relief.

When we rest in this belief that we can’t ever predict the success of a project we simply create something and ship it. That’s it. Our job is done when it ships, because at that point we’ve done the best we can, and it’s time to start creating again. We lose attachment to the outcome and instead focus on the process, which is all we could ever affect anyways.

Create, ship, repeat.

The simple life of a prolific artist.


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