Artful leaders ship early and often

What I did on my summer vacation

When our family goes on vacation, invariably I bring a few books to read.  At first, there will be mindless fiction, allowing me to decompress and put work aside.  Eventually, I find my way to a new non-fiction read, designed to create new connections and insights I can bring back to my day job.

Seth Godin’s Linchpin was my 4th of July reading this summer.  I had asked a colleague what book he would recommend and he didn’t hesitate.  “Given what I know about you, and how you think about your work, you need to read this book.”

I was intrigued, and added it to my Kindle for a leisurely read.  What I did not expect was for it to light a fire that would last for months.  A fire that bed rest and surgery could not put out.

Think of our work as art

The first premise of the book is about making ourselves indispensable in our work.  If we think back over recent years, as technology accelerates, more work is automated, outsourced and eliminated.  Making ourselves indispensable is the only fight against becoming obsolete.

So how do we become indispensable?  By becoming artists.

If anyone asked me whether I considered myself creative, for years I would have said “no.”  I focused on process, tools, and problem solving.  I thought of those as logical, practical pursuits.  No art in the mix.

However, what I realized over the years, is that HOW I do those things is very creative.  Looking for unconventional solutions, that fit into the time and budget restraints of the day, defined my success.  I began to see how much creativity was interwoven into everything I did.

What made it even more clear, was looking around at others doing similar work.  I looked different.  Like I was a duck surrounded by swans.  I walked different.  I talked different.  I was out of step with the rest of the flock.

Ducks are not swans, but their difference may be what makes them stand out.While I told myself I was okay not fitting in, and that I was doing the right thing, it still rankled.  Who wants to be a duck if you could be a swan?

Reading Linchpin, I began to see these relationships in a very different light.  Not fitting in and continually looking for new ways to do things is exactly what being an artist is about.  It’s the very thing that will make us indispensable as the nature of work changes – artists change with it.

Overcoming fear to ship

There are many roadblocks that stand in the way of our transformation to artists.  One of them is the root of most others.

Ourselves.

We stand in our own way.  Often, it is fear that holds us back.  Fear of overstepping our capabilities.  Fear of not fitting in.  Fear of losing our jobs.

Ironically, it is by working past this fear that we are able to stretch our capabilities and build new skills.  To create a new tribe of like-minded people, focused on making things better.  To making ourselves indispensable.

Moving past the fear takes focus on one thing: shipping.

Shipping means getting something out the door.  Whatever it is that we want to do or make better.  It could be a product, service, deliverable, book – anything.  We need to set a date and we need to ship, before our internal voice uses fear to stop us.

After reading this book, I had an epiphany about my blog.  I envisioned a new interactive website.  Within hours and days, I had wireframes, a color scheme, logos and badges.  I was on fire.

Then my health took a dive.  I tried hiring some assistance and couldn’t justify the expense with mounting medical bills.

The fire that burned so brightly kept nagging at me.  It receded, but would flare up periodically to remind me “I’m still here.”

I knew the flame would not rest until I shipped.  Yet there were very real obstacles standing in my way.  Aren’t there always?

Making progress over perfection

My second surgery was in late August.  Suddenly, I had time on my hands and fewer distractions filling my mind.  The flame burned so brightly, I could not let it go.

I committed to shipping.  I was determined to finish the website by the time I went back to work.  While I had no idea how I was going to get it done, I had time to figure it out.  So I got to it.

Video training, online forums – you name it and I found ways around every challenge and roadblock I encountered.  And there were many.

I pushed through and built the foundations of the site by the time I returned to work part-time.  With the return came a refocus to my day job, and lingering health issues.  The shipping slipped as lingering action items were put off.  There was always another reason to delay.

Two weeks ago, I dusted Linchpin back off.  I reminded myself of the importance of shipping.  Within days, I went live with a pre-launch, requesting feedback from friends and family, who could help me find any issues my customers would encounter.

The pre-launch was the same day as my full-time return to work.  A week later – after my first full week at work for many months – it went live to the world.  I shipped.

It isn’t perfect.  There are still things I want to change and improve.  Little tweaks here and there.  Ultimately, was anyone but me going to notice?

It was fear holding me back.  Fear that it might not be received well.  That someone would see those little misses as big gaps.  Fear of being done and moving on to the next commitment.

Nothing is perfect.  We can always improve.  We could delay “done” forever.  Instead, we need to ship early and often, learning as we go.

Recurring successes shut down the fear.  When shipping becomes a habit, we don’t even hear the fear because we get into a routine of progress over perfection.

Becoming a linchpin

I would recommend Linchpin to anyone that wants to build something new, dares to be different, and/or wants to produce something and continually runs into delays.

The book will motivate you to stay the course when you feel like a duck surrounded by swans.  To push forward in the face of obstacles and tell fear to shut up.  It may even help you realize that your differences, the ones that make you feel out of step among others, are the very thing that makes you an artist.

Embrace your art and become indispensable.