Thursday, July 24, 2014

On spreading yourself too thin

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For the second time in a relatively short span, I've received the same advice from two different people: don't spread yourself too thin.

It should be noticed that I've been receiving that same advice from friends for the past 4 or 5 years, but these last two people were not my friends, as in they didn't know of my propensity to throw myself into things. They were just faced with one of my bursts of creativity and reacted according to their know-how.
I should also say that these advices were given in totally different manners as well as totally different contexts: the first began with a destructive punch to the gut followed by a careful call for regroup; the second was more of a "look that's all nice and dandy, but here's what I think you should do" moment.

The message however was the same:

I know you have a lot of ideas, that's great! And I know you want to do it all, which is also great! It shows both creativity and initiative! But when you go for all of it, you're spending a huge amount of your energy and you're probably not going to be able to do it all at once. Or at least not as well as how you intended. The End Product is going to be below your standards, you'll get frustrated and that's going to expend even more energy, which in turn will impact your next ideas... you can see where this is going right?

Yes, I could. Of course, this is all very interesting and obvious and an homage to Captain Common Sense. The problem is: how do you solve this? Do you focus on just one or two great ideas and put the others on ice so you can concentrate on making the chosen ones your shining glory? Won't the frozen ideas lose their relevance over time? Or do you maybe go around distributing ideas like a creativity santa? Can you trust others to follow up on your precious concepts and brilliant contributions? And destroy them? A really epic idea can be made useless if handled by a less-than-able person.

As it happens, in both cases the proposed solution was the same: to concentrate on that one, or those two ideas that could really shine and make them awesome. None of them however said anything about the others that aren't picked for the starting line up. And I never remembered to ask, because that's me.

I can see the merit in focusing on just two or three ideas and working them into jewels, but as you can see, in the previous paragraph I was talking about one or two, and now I'm talking about three. When I start thinking about narrowing my focus I imediately run for the hills. When I start boxing my creativity outbursts I get hampered and start losing that ability to blurt out ideas, as random as they are.
And besides that, every one of these ideas are my babies: of course you'll have your favorites, but it'll be goddamn hard to choose which one to sacrifice for the bigger brother to live in prosperity.

What I realized was that my biggest problem resided with the fact that I just couldn't let go. In all honesty, I don't know if it's "Lord of the Rings Syndrom" (mine, my own, my precious!) or if it's lack of confidence in others.
Once, in a conversation with Rui Cordeiro, a portuguese reference on gamification, I asked this question about letting go of your ideas while still claiming ownership, to which he said "isn't it all for the greater good? so what's the problem in letting go? and if you're worried about quality, make sure you hand it to the best guy (or girl) you've got and keep checking in for guidance. and if you tell everyone about it, it's going to be known whose idea it was in the first place.". I was feeling pretty childish right about then.

So, my conclusion was that, in hindsight I could focus on just two or three ideas to really make them shine (just the one is impossible for me, I'd get bored out of my mind!) and with the rest of them I decided on a mixed approach: I'd share some of them with others, not the second best ones, but still ideas worth pursuing, or ideas in which my contribution wouldn't be that essential, while keeping the second best ones on ice until I found a rockstar that I really felt could lead them to victory.
Does this mean I think of myself as a rockstar? No. What it means is that it's so hard for me to trust another person's work, that in order for me to do that, that person has to be really really good.

Fact of the matter is: despite knowing all of this, I keep needing to hear this advice. I keep having these moments of epiphany that in fact feel like deja vu because I've been here before. But the ideas keep coming, and I keep wanting to do them all, so I keep finding myself spread too thin. Creativity is a dangerous "power" if left unfocused.


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