A theme has been threading itself through my thoughts the past two weeks - Work Hard. Be Consistent. Wait.
I attended Adobe's 99U conference last week. There were some great presentations, but the two that really struck me were by the co-founders of Good Fucking Design Advice and the host of Design Matters.
"I swear that I will never accept another’s standard for success, as I set mine one measure higher.” This is a declaration included in the GFDA pledge and the crux of what Brian and Jason, founders of GFDA presented. The co-founders shared their story of a conversation they had, as they considered how they could improve their communication with their students at Kent State. The outcome of their discussion was a website featuring design advice, using the word “Fuck"
As a surprise to them, there was a ton of interest and the demand for printed interpretations of their advice. They went to work selling t-shirts and posters, which was also a success. As a result, they had to figure out how to make the t-shirts and posters. The duo went to work trying to find solutions for t-shirt printing and screen printing. The shirts weren’t hard to figure out, but the poster was a different story.
There were a few possible printer solutions, but when it came down to it, they only found one person who could provide them with the screen to hand print the poster and they only had a few days until the date they committed to delivery. It was risky and going to be hard to pull this off.
They could have responded in a couple of different ways:
- Told the customers that the orders couldn’t be fulfilled by the deadline and that they’d get them at a later time.
- Found a cheaper, poor-quality printing solution.
- Gone into hiding.
They didn’t take any of those paths. Instead, they worked for 48 hours straight, printing hundreds of posters, by hand. When the guy they found to cut the posters down, made a mistake and cut one side an inch too much off the right side, they threw away half of the posters they’d printed and started over. Printing hundreds of more posters, by hand.
Taking shortcuts wasn't an option. They had pride in their work and they put in the effort to make sure that what they delivered was something they’d be proud of.
Debbie Millman then went a bit deeper on a similar message, sharing her experience building the Design Matters podcast. Debbie has been publishing the Design Matters show for over ten years. There are over 300 shows. Design Matters started with her investing her own money for production and publishing. After a couple of years, she got real audience interest in the show. Let me repeat that - AFTER A COUPLE OF YEARS. It took several years before she got any real recognition for her show and she had some incredible people on the show from the start.
if you’re anything like me, you work on a project for a year or so and then look around and wonder why no one is talking about how amazing the thing you're building is. Debbie reminded me that it doesn't work that way, “Anything worthwhile takes time.”
This is a message also illustrated in Julia Child’s book, My Life in France, which I was reading during my trip to the conference. It took her years and years and overcoming several objections to write and publish Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She put incredible attention and care into the book, going over every recipe dozens of times or more. The people who published the book didn’t even think it would sell that well. But it’s one of the most well-recognized and respected cookbooks ever written. She cooked every day. She loved her work and she worked really hard at it. Even when she didn’t want to. Even amidst half a dozen moves around the world and in small, cramped kitchens, and when she was sick and when her husband was sick.
Back in Colorado, as I sat and listened to a panel of accomplished writers discuss their careers and their process, at a Salon hosted by The Lighthouse, all of these ideas coalesced. Each of them said the same thing when asked how they make time for their creativity. They just do. They show up and make it happen. They get up early, they write in the between-moments of their lives where they might otherwise waste time on social media or watching TV, they read to improve their craft, they think about it constantly, they make sacrifices.
The past two weeks have been a great reminder—there isn’t a shortcut to great work and success. It’s simple, work hard, be consistent, and then wait.