Keep making things
Secretly, we’re all scared of being rejected. Whether it’s unrequited love, an unappreciated gift, or making something that people don’t want.
After I published my first book, I was fearful of the first review. When the review came, it took me seven days to get the courage to read it. It wasn’t nearly as critical as I’d feared but the critical bits still hurt.
The challenge for us, as creators, is that the critique hurts whether we’ve done a good job or bad.
It’s hard to remember that creating isn’t about us. It’s our purpose to give; and a giver needs a receiver. The receiver is free to do whatever they want with the gift: they can reject it, return it, abuse it, or put it on a shelf.
On the path to making something great, you’ll make many things that aren’t that good. That’s ok. You’ll also make good things that aren’t appreciated. Don’t get down: history is filled with examples of artists who struggled even when they were making great art.
For example, Vincent Van Gogh earned little recognition during his life. Today he’s considered to be one of most influential painters of all time.
Early in his career Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
Here’s one more: right now Slack (the group chat app) is experiencing insane growth. But immediately before Slack, Stuart Butterfield was working on a game called Glitch. Glitch had to be shut down after failing to get traction with users.
You’ll need to decide early on if you’re making things for yourself, or for others.
Many artists create solely for themselves. They’re focused purely on expressing outwardly what they feel inside. Whether that connects with the public or not isn’t their primary concern.
But as product people, we’re different. We build things for others. Our purpose is to make things people want. There is art in what we do, but it springs from a different well. Our inspiration comes from outside of ourselves. We’re inspired by watching people, and noticing what they like, what they need, and what they struggle with.
This is why making things for others is hard. We’re making bets on what other people (who aren’t us) will like. I believe you can improve your intuition about people through the practice of observing them. This was Steve Jobs’ hidden talent. Bill Gates made this comment at D5:
Steve has natural intuitive taste, both for people and products. I viewed [a product decision] as an engineering question. That’s just how my mind works. Steve would make the decision based on a sense of people.
Keep at it. Keep making things. Focus on getting better. Keep offering the things you make to people, and learn from their response.
Product people persevere!
“I’m convinced…half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” – Steve Jobs
PS: I’m writing a book that aims to help you get better at observing people and figuring out what they need. You can get a free chapter here.
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