Make Great Stuff

Rahul Mathur
@ rahulmathur2501

Another day, another donut. I’m sitting in front of my screen with a half-finished draft of my next piece. As usual, my brain isn’t working. I decide to take a break and switch tabs. YouTube shows up.

6 min video by Jack Conte on Making Great Stuff. Hmm, sounds inspirational. I could use some of that right now.

Jack Conte starts talking about why he started Patreon and compares his experiences as a creator and a tech entrepreneur. Interesting stuff.

The video ends 6 minutes later and there’s something about it which is compelling me to write about it. I can’t figure out what it is. Sure, he has a great story but that’s not it. What is it about this video that’s resonating with me so strongly?

10 days and 5 drafts later, I finally figured it out.

Shitty stuff has its place.

Using Tom Wujec’s Marshmallow Experiment as an example, Jack talks about the importance of failure in making great stuff.

The Marshmallow Challenge is a design exercise that teaches us about creativity and innovation. Participants have to construct a structure with spaghetti and marshmallows in a given amount of time. These participants consist of various groups - engineers, MBA's and young students. Guess which is the best performing group? Kindergartners!

Kindergartners don’t sit around planning or arguing, they just make stuff. And then the stuff falls apart. And they rebuild it again, till they’ve made something that actually stands. This points to an important milestone in the process of creativity.

The shitty first draft.

A shitty first draft seems to be a common thread among people who’ve made something great.

Unfortunately, sticking through the initial shitty period isn’t so easy today. Social media has made comparison with people ahead of you inevitable. Anything we do or hope to do goes through the litmus test of seeing how others have performed. Writing an article? People should be raving about it on Twitter. Putting up funny content on Instagram? It’s not funny till you at least have 100k followers. Anything less than this and it's not your thing.

While useful if done in limited amounts with the intention to learn, social comparison introduces a pressure to perform.

This pressure can be counterproductive and can make us (me!) feel like quitting after a couple of shots at goal. I’m still making shitty stuff and this urge shows up every now and then.

Making great stuff then, seems to be a journey and not a singular act in time. By accepting what I write isn’t going to be great for a while, I remove the pressure to be successful immediately. It also prevents me from fantasising about how 'cool' it would be to make something lots of people like.

This fantasy introduces the need for a dopamine hit, i.e. social validation. If it doesn't come, my drive to stick with the activity takes a hit. In accepting that social validation isn't coming any time soon, I'm forced to question my love for writing. Would I do it for its own sake? Even if the validation never comes?

Doing this has allowed me to focus on the intrinsic joy that writing gives me. It’s made it easier to work to publish. I’m not there yet, but it’s a start.

Make Great Stuff. But don’t expect to make it the very first time. That’s the place for shitty stuff.

P.S. There’s lots of other interesting things that Jack Conte talks about in this video (like the similarity between Creators and Entrepreneurs). 10/10 would recommend watching it. Here’s the link.

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