Great Work Only Emerges From Doing Lots of Work

Yesterday I recorded an episode of my weekly podcast, The File Drawer. Eric (my co-host) and I were both pretty low energy as it was the end of the day and the end of a long week. We usually have a way of meandering our way to a topic and diving deep on it for an hour or so. This time, though, we just didn’t click on anything. We bounced around to a handful of different topics but never really sunk our teeth into anything good. I don’t think it was a very good episode. It almost felt like a waste of time. But it wasn’t simply because that’s what we do — we record and release episodes weekly. It’s our commitment to our listeners and to ourselves and it’s the only way to capture the truly great episodes.

I didn’t have an idea for today’s snippet but I sat down and started writing anyway. I went through at least three or four ideas and a couple hundred words before I landed on an idea worth exploring. In the past, when I felt like I didn’t have any good ideas I simply didn’t write. But that’s the problem. Most of my good ideas for future articles happen when I’m writing. By only writing when the right feeling strikes I’m cutting myself off from the well of ideas — one or more of which might be the ever elusive “great” idea.

Maybe I’m just contributing to the problem of a loud world with too much information of too poor quality just being spurted around without a second thought. There’s probably some truth to that. On the other hand, what I’m doing is exercising my ability to continuously have ideas. Some are good. Some are great. Some are shit. If I don’t write every day or record a podcast every week or only release the great stuff then I would never actually generate this mythical great stuff. Greatness is largely a function of quantity and not being overly precious with my time and effort.

I worry that our organizations often expect us to produce only the “good” stuff without allowing the space for creating all the shitty stuff that needs to happen first. Holding an expectation that your employees will only produce nuggets of gold with their efforts is extremely misguided. I’m not saying that companies should be putting out shitty products — far from it. I’m just saying that I hope we can create space and expectation for people to create, create, create, and not have to worry about creating the best thing they’ve ever done every time they sit down to work. Instead, how can we support the development of good creation habits? The habits that allow the great work to emerge naturally instead of the insane pressure of only creating great work?

I try to write a medium length snippet about whatever is on my mind every day. I write shorter snippets on Twitter. I write longer articles at The Workologist and The Ready.