Photo by Barry Schwartz
“When you create something out of nothing, the first rule is to agree.”
That quote is taken from a conversation Tina Fey was having onstage with then-Google chairman Eric Schmidt about how improv comedy only manages to produce something understandable to the audience when performers treat each other in a way they understand as well.
Fey was describing how, during an improv, if you don’t agree with what has just been said to you, the performance pretty much grinds to a halt because the performers are interdependent in all ways, responsible to each other to connect the dots and make a coherent piece. To make work that’s any good, you have to give up a bit of control.
All creatives – even solitary types who would never step onto a stage – make something out of nothing and hope clients understand you’re in it together. Over the course of my career, it took some years to understand I had to generate agreement with myself as to what I produced, how I did it, why I did it that way, and get some clarity about the mistakes that made things grind to a halt.
For me, the result has been that I worry less about my ability to control everything because controlling everything is a fiction. My clients just want a good product, and are not so concerned about my control issues.
I’ve been reading all week about the late Steve Jobs, and the dominant theme in all the reporting has not been about the products he made, but the kind of person he was and particularly the process he used to develop those products. It looked like a crooked road, but it wasn’t really.
From his now famous 2005 Stanford lecture:
“If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”