Getting In Gear
Yesterday, I read some great advice from +David duChemin on getting in gear with an idea… any idea, whatever idea you’ve got today. This is something I’ve believed for a long time, but only really started to act on relatively recently in my photography. I posted some of my own thoughts on this on my Google+ stream, but I’m updating them here on the blog because not everybody is on G+… yet. 🙂
Ideas are great! They’re always beautiful and beguiling. They’re shiny and new, and never have any problems. And we can have as many of them as we want. Why? Because all ideas exist in that fake place called imagination. We’re often so much in love with the pristine beauty of our ideas, that it seems a crime to tarnish them by bringing them into contact with reality. I know I’ve been guilty of that!
We’ve all heard this phrase:
Good is the enemy of great.
The implication is that settling for something that’s less than excellent is choosing to be stuck with something that’s merely okay, and in so doing robs us of the exceptional. If we only pushed harder, if only we didn’t settle. And there’s definitely truth to that sentiment; sometimes we do settle when the right thing to do is to push forward that last little bit and really go for broke. Still, as a rule, worrying about “if only” is like crying over spilled milk. Or worse, not pouring any milk out of fear that it won’t be perfect, that the glass isn’t right or perhaps some milk might spill.
There’s a very strong counter-point that needs to be considered, to have a better balance in how to think about our creative ideas. I don’t know if anyone famous has said the following, but that’s okay — I say it. 🙂
Perfect is the enemy of good enough.
Hey, wait a second — these are our ideas we’re talking about here! We can’t sully them with anything less than the best! To make sure our ideas will work out the best they can, we look for the perfect piece of new gear, the perfect weather, the perfect inspiration, the perfect processing technique, the perfect opportunity, the perfect finances, the perfect team, the perfect location, the perfect deal, the perfect light. Really, the list of things that need to be perfect could be endless. Well, guess what? While trying to bring together all of that perfection, we’re not getting anything done. And other people who are willing to settle for “good enough” are getting it done.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Excellence and perfection are fine goals. I know I want my photography to be as good as I can make it at any point in time. That’s part of being a professional, and taking pride in my work. But excellence and perfection are just that — goals. Targets to be honored more in the reaching and striving for… not excuses for not taking what’s in hand now, and making something of it.
Like duChemin says in his post, which you definitely should read, “creativity needs to manifest.” Learn, improve, refine and perfect things however and whenever possible. But we should do it as we go, do it on the move. Get the rubber hitting the road, because it’s easier for us to correct course when we have some energy, when we’re in motion — not just sitting at a dead stand-still.
By “biasing towards action” (that’s duChemin quoting author Scott Belsky), we also learn a lot about what’s really important, and can spend time refining the things that truly matter to our work. Software people have a lot of catch phrases. One of them is “premature optimization is the root of all evil.” What it means is, we shouldn’t try to fine tune something until we know what’s really going on, because we’re just wasting our time. Getting our ideas into contact with reality is the best way to find out what’s really important.
That’s what I’m shooting for this year. Part of going up to Peace River for the month of February was related to this. Dan Wheeler was a great contact up there, and had some ideas. I had some ideas. We had the time to do it, and a couple of other things looked like they’d line up. Could we have sat around polishing the ideas some more? Sure! And perhaps if we had, some of the things we tried would have worked out better, or we could have thought of some other things to try instead, or in addition. But that doesn’t matter. I went up, we had a blast, I met some good people. And we got stuff done. For myself, I made some great photographs, met a couple of other contacts with actionable ideas, and a new set of possibilities got downloaded into my thinking cap. I know the same was true for Dan. How? By getting our boots on the ground and making something happen.
This concept isn’t a recipe for simply throwing caution to the wind and acting like a reckless person with no responsibilities. Quite the opposite… keep focused on making work. Understanding that the reason for getting in gear is that we’re going to a destination rather than setting out on aimless wandering, by definition we start with a goal in mind. The goal likely will change. It might increase in scope, or decrease, but either way it will evolve. Maybe it will even fail. But that’s okay as long as we try to make work where even failure is a valuable learning exercise, not a fatal disaster. So frame things in terms of the work to be produced, think about what resources will be “good enough” to get started, and have an idea how even a failure can be used to rebound even better.
And then get in gear, get creating! I’ll see you out there…
Do you have an idea you’ve always wanted to try? Do you know what you’d do with it if it succeeded? Do you know what it would take to start?