If your ideas aren’t on paper, they don’t exist. If the project doesn’t ship, it doesn’t exist.
This simple mantra, which I likely learned from the software industry, should make us think twice about the rewrite and that one last proofread. It should also make us consider how long we’re willing to spend with the white rabbit named Research.
Many academics spend lifetimes on research and most contribute rather insignificant work in the larger economic spectrum of the world. The scariest part? Most of the work of academics never reaches the world—it stays in some sort of note format locked away in a filing system. And if it ships to people, it ships to the academic’s colleagues who also don’t ship very often. This is one of the many highly wasteful endeavors that drives the university system. At the heart of this problem is fear. The question, “What will my colleagues think?” controls the lives of many people in the world. We should call this what it is: it’s sad and it’s an excuse. (That last thought is highly influenced by Seth Godin and Steven Pressfield.)
Indeed, editing is translating and writing is rewriting, but economics are always at work. When I think about an editor or writer’s time, I’m not just concerned with what is or is not getting done; I’m considering the long-term effects of the current focus. Time is the one asset we can never get back. We can always make more money, but we can never get more time. If we spend energy on x today, will y be more important tomorrow? Have we spent the adequate energy thinking about y today? Will x or y have longer economic viability?
Perhaps the single greatest mistake an editor or writer can make is choosing the wrong project. How you spend your time articulates your values.
The creative is, by nature, alternating between ideas and thoughts: Input comes from all directions. But the creative, even a group of creatives, will eventually run out of time. Time, whether we like it or not, will dictate reality. Saying “no,” then, becomes our most important decision. Neither x or y matters if they don’t reach the world. (And working on both simultaneously can keep both from reaching the world.)
Putting ideas on paper is always the first step, but economics should always dictate which ideas get executed. Shipping something to customers makes it exist in the real world. Until that happens, it’s all just a game we play.
What are you going to ship this week?