If I only had a few more hours... or a couple of more days...
How long does a creative idea take? I was on a very long flight overseas last week and managed to watch a documentary about the rock band Coldplay. The only reason that I mention the flight part is because I can't - for the life of me - remember the name of the documentary (thank you, jet lag!), but it was about the making of the album X&Y (which was the follow-up to their massively successful release, A Rush Of Blood To The Head). X&Y was a tough album for the band to make. They not only had issues with getting the songs just right, but they struggled with producers. The story goes that in this delay it, it caused their record company's (EMI) stock price to drop because shareholders were expecting the album to be released in the fiscal year prior to when it actually hit the shelves.
You never know when a great song is going to hit you.
What would you do if you were an artist? If you were a songwriter? A painter? an author? Do you wait and wait for inspiration to hit hard? Do you work non-stop to develop your ideas until they are finally ready to be produced? Do you have to be an artist to think like this? What about the work that you do? How do you meet your deadlines? Are they realistic? Is there too much scope-creep? Do you think that the final product would have been that much better if you had just had some more time?
Deadlines... and the finish line.
What surprised me most about this documentary was what lead singer, Chris Martin, had to say about the album and getting things just right. He talked about simply getting it done. It wasn't about whether or not shareholders were happy. It wasn't about the problems they had with finding the right producer to help them actualize the songs. In all of that, the band had always set a very firm finish line, and they were constantly working towards that finish line. What was publicly perceived as them just taking their own, sweet time in the creative process could not have been further from the truth. They were writing the album with a finish line set in their mind and they weren't going to fall short of it.
Creative work is not open-ended.
Staring off into the sky. Taking naps. Going for a long walk. Travelling for inspiration. All of these things may inspire the next creative breakthrough, but unless you are setting up your projects with firm deadlines and a clean finish line, odds are that your best work will never see the light of day. There's no doubt that Coldplay has unlimited flexibility to do whatever it needs to do to get the best results, but something tells me that if they moved that finish line just a little bit closer, they would still have had the same level of success. Could an extra week of writing and editing have made my first business book, Six Pixels of Separation, sell more copies? Maybe, but the deadline (and the finish line) ensured that it was going to get done, and it ultimately helped me structure the process in a way that made the entire project come together.
Love your deadlines.
Too many people lament the deadline. They see them as evil. As stifling the creative process. As making the work suffer. I don't. The finish line is a part of the process and, in many cases, this means that the work is going to representative of our best thinking in the framework of when the work is due. Does this mean we can create an opus in twenty-four hours? Some may be able to, but we're also talking about having realistic deadlines and credible finish lines (fully recognizing that it's not always possible to even get that). The moral of the story? When there's a big project that has to get done, always keep that finish line in mind. You're not just trying to create something magical. You're trying to create something magical in time for that finish line.
There are too many great things that never get produced because people think that even having a finish line is detrimental to the outcome. How sad.