Thursday, October 28, 2010

The edge of the box

Lately, I've been reading Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin, and have been both challenged and intrigued by his perspective. Although his expertise is generally considered to be in the hi-tech industry, I've been benefiting from taking him literally when he uses the terms "art" and "artist" to apply to the work done in any (or every) industry.

Here's some snippets that, in the words of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, "have given me furiously to think":

"Artists don't think outside the box, because outside the box there's a vacuum ... Artists think along the edges of the box, because that's where things get done. That's where the audience is, that's where the means of priduction are available, and that's where you can make an impact." (pg. 102)

A readily available analogy for this concept is in writing. Writers introduce new concepts, new characters and new worlds but they do it inside the framework of written communication - grammar, plot, sentence structure and so on. Their creative efforts or art rely on the framework of the known. If a writer suddenly abandoned all rules of grammar and just threw words in any order or any tense onto the page, chances are very good that his/her intent would be lost. There would be no idea communicated, except in a purely visual sense. But even the visual arts follow certain conventions that give their work impact, to find that point of contact with their viewer.

Godin's addressing the idea that art must meet reality in order to truly accomplish it's purpose. In order to make an impact, it first has to make it out the door. He quotes Steve Jobs "Real artists ship" as the basic concept of impact.

Now, I've known this for sometime on a personal level - I produce better and more consistently when I have a deadline. Am I always 100% satisfied with what I've produced? No. But if my satisfaction is the key to moving it out, it will never get out. Let's face it, I can putz with a comma or an area of shading forever. The ship date keeps me focused.

Here's Godin's challenge:

"The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship ... Shipping is the collision between your work and the outside world." (pg. 103)
And it eventually becomes part of the process.

"When you first adopt the discipline of shipping, your work will appear to suffer. There's no doubt that another hour, day, or week would have added some needed polish. But over time -- rather quickly, actually -- you'll see that shipping becomes part of the art and shipping makes it work." (pg. 103)

That's the edge of the box. It means you can't rest on the direction of someone else for your daily involvement in your craft. It means paying attention to each step. Walking the edges of the box take balance, discipline and dedication. But creating on the edge of the box also means that your work can be both satisfying and have the impact you intend. And that's the point at which you become indispensable.

Step out and ship it.

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