Performing seals and other such creative wonders of modern business


the last thing a fish sees by g-na I've talked about patience before, but I don't think I put enough emphasis on it. Everywhere I turn, it seems that the landscape is filled with people, overeager to see instant results without any major effort or understanding of the situation.

I get emails like this all of the time:

Hi Tara,

I was wondering if I could spare 30 minutes of your time, buy you a cup of coffee and tell you a little bit about our website. Maybe you could also help us with some quick solutions to building out a community.

Right. Somehow in that 30 minutes, I will magically be able to deliver you the answers that will unlock that community potential. Heh. I was contacted by a firm that could 'market' my firm and hook me up with 30-60 minute phone consultations for some extra money because there is "such a demand for quick advice". I watch people expecting innovative companies to launch after 6 months as 100% perfect and complete. I've seen people change entire business plans overnight based on a quickie answer from an 'expert' who has spent zero time with their product.

Why are we so impatient? How did we get to this place in the world where we think there are people with the magic potion? The secret key to everything?

I will admit that experience and knowledge of an area informs and speeds up the process of getting to an answer, but even the most experienced and knowledgeable require time to contemplate and understand new angles. In my experience, every situation is different and requires new knowledge and new experiences to inform answers. Anyone who says there is an easy formula to everything is not only naive, but will probably lead you very far astray.

It reminds me of Scott Berkun's FOO Camp presentation on the Myths of Innovation when he talked about the myth of the Eureka! moment. It's a common misconception that innovation happens in a single moment (i.e. Newton's apple and Archimedes' bath), when, in fact, it always takes years of experience, the involvement of many others, dozens and dozens of smaller innovations along the way, long periods of concentrating, studying and thinking about a problem, and, often, after all of this is in place, taking oneself out of the environment and thinking about something completely different (like taking a bath, for instance).

Yet, people continue to believe that creative types are able to perform like seals when called upon.

Let me tell you that this is the type of pressure that makes me feel very non-creative, and I'm certain that goes for everyone else in similar roles. I find, the best ideas come along when I'm in total flow, usually thinking about something else altogether or just experiencing something partially related. Sometimes it takes a couple of weeks, sometimes several months. It depends on the problem, how patient a client is, how close the product is to tipping into solution, how well I understand the users and how well I understand the surrounding environment.

One of the things I love about working with Ma.gnolia and why we use them as a shining example so often is because Larry is an extremely patient guy. He has never asked for Eureka moments. In fact, he'd rather just chip away and experiment here and there, tweaking and pruning and understanding what works more and more. He doesn't care if we are wrong from time to time. He doesn't judge our entire performance on mistakes. In fact, he understands that mistakes get us closer to success. Larry also doesn't need status reports and reviews and updates...he knows that everytime we sit down and talk, all of the things we've done, from a BarCamp over here to using another app over there has informed us in regards to a suggestion we come up with a couple of weeks down the line that will improve Ma.gnolia that much more.

Not too long ago, I had a great conversation with a gentleman at France Telecom's Orange division. He told me that there was no such thing as Research and Development in companies any longer. Gone were the days of hiring researchers and creative types to just learn and observe and innovate gradually. R&D departments today were being squeezed and pressured for quicker results and bigger returns on investment. Researchers are spending more time filling out weekly reports and logs and sitting through performance reviews than they are spending on academic readings and data collection. This leads to not-so-hot results. Lukewarm results lead to slashed budgets. Now, many companies are scrambling to try and understand why it is that they've lost their creative mojo and why they are losing marketshare.

And yet, while one half of the world seems to be growing more and more impatient, I'm amongst an amazing group of people who are leading the return to 'slow' movement. I'll betcha the tortoise wins this one again.

Of all of the creativity killers out there, I think that impatience may be the worst of them. Impatience leads to all sorts of other creativity killers like mistrust, micromanagement, short-sightedness, control and fear. These things lead us down the same path of mediocrity, rewarding those who perform like seals and punishing those who really care to take the time to really delve into solutions. Certainly, we need action and forward movement, but we must recognize the smaller steps are just as important to getting there as the big Eurekas. Without the small steps, there are no Eurekas.

I don't think this is the last you will hear of this as it is an issue that we face with our creative business daily and, from what I've observed, is an issue that many others face as well. Part of it comes down to education and holding steady to these principles, sometimes at the cost of losing business (which we have). Part of it comes down to learning how to communicate this non-process process in a way that doesn't compromise the creative flow. The biggest part of it is having our own patience to seeing the tides shift back towards the return to true R&D, creativity and true innovation.

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