“Real Artists Ship”

I read the book Steve Jobs when it came out, but it is now that I’m finding the time to reflect on my impression of how ‘real artists ship’.

The book is a fantastic read detailing how Apple came to be what it is today, focusing on the life of Steve Jobs as a visionary yet very complex man. It is a rollercoaster of ideas and emotions you will agree and disagree with. It is a great business book, product design book, computer science book, and a story of following your heart to keep your dreams and ideas alive. Whether you like Apple or you don’t, most of us still pay attention to their launch dates. One of the biggest impressions I took from the book was the power of shipping your ideas.

Best described by Andy Hertzfeld’s contribution to a diary about the launch of the original Mac, the computer that changed everything: (you can find the complete diary entry here:   http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?story=Real_Artists_Ship.txt )

“The sun had already risen and the software team finally began to scatter and go home to collapse. We weren’t sure if we were finished or not, and it felt really strange to have nothing to do after working so hard for so long. Instead of going home, Donn Denman and I sat on a couch in the lobby in a daze and watched the accounting and marketing people trickling into work around 7:30am or so. We must have been quite a sight; everybody could tell that we had been there all night (actually, I hadn’t been home or showered for three days). Finally, around 8:30 Steve Jobs arrived, and as soon as he saw us he immediately asked if we had made it. I explained the formatting bug to him, and he thought that it wasn’t a showstopper, which meant that we were actually finished. I finally drove home to Palo Alto around 9am and collapsed on my bed, thinking that I’d sleep for the next day or two.”

So many times I’ve had this feeling, studying late nights before a test, before the presentation of a project, or the launch of a conference or a product. The power to ship your art, your product, your idea, or create your organization is most valuable when it reaches the hands of someone else. Most times we are afraid of what the world will think, what our peers will say, and the risk of getting our idea rejected. As artists, most of our work is done to overcome this fear.

The Space Outside the Box: We’ve all been told by a teacher or an employer to “think outside the box”, but thinking and living outside the box is a vacuum of space that can suck you in forever. You can have great crazy ideas to build a time machine and ways your team is going to change the world, but if it doesn’t get done and shipped, it won’t have the impact you have imagined. So many times we are working on amazing projects that are so far outside the box that they won’t ever get finished. And we hide in that space clearly knowing they won’t get finished. Something finished and shipped is more valuable than something that won’t ever see the light of day. A lot of times our art ends up lying in a box somewhere, unseen. Because we never had the courage to ship it. Shipping can be posting your art on the wall, or hitting the publish button on your blog; letting the world see it.

It is important to know when to pull yourself back in the box, working around timelines and calendars. Pulling yourself back is part of your art. When you respect timelines and discipline yourself to ship, it will feel like a compromise, that your art is suffering. But it is not. When you incorporate the shipping date as part of your art it will make it that much stronger.

Shipping regularly is a skill and part of the art. While the art and projects we do are never really finished, they still must ship. I encourage any artists to ship regularly, and you will begin to change the world with one project at a time.

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