Saturday, December 20, 2014

Paradox of Firsts

Chances are, readers here have had the experience of doing something creative, new, and big for the first time. This can be starting a startup, designing a game, or even writing a book. The experience of the first can be thrilling yet exacting. You may be excited but nervous. You may be happy for the opportunity, but daunted by the process. It is something that wasn't yet a part of your experience. But you are putting your heart in it, so much that it consumes you and becomes a large part of who you are. At this point, success is of the utmost importance. It might be the last good idea you'll ever have, after all!

Fast forward a little. Say you have decided to stay the course: a few startups under your belt, a few games, or maybe some more books. You may have had successes. You may have had failures.

At this point, the nervous excitement of the first becomes a cherished memory (much like that of youth). It is remembered for the fresh experiences and the lessons learned, not for its success or failure. Because these experiences and lessons would have helped you to produce much great work as a result.

The raw outcome of your first attempt will no longer matter.

This is not a particularly deep insight. Think back to the first time you attempted to walk, how important the moment had been, and what became of it.

It is, however, a difficult insight to internalize, and so we routinely overestimate the importance of the first.

Part of the reason for this is very well illustrated by the following clippings from The Oatmeal's "making things". The first idea that you have will always feel like your one and only. You haven't realized that every other idea will feel the same way, so the first seems like it deserves to be a masterpiece.

But here's the dilemma. Your first idea (book, game, etc.) won't be your only idea. Neither will it likely be your magnum opus. By virtue of being the first, it is consigned to be the most poorly executed. It is just the practise run. You're just getting started.

This thought always makes me feel both relieved and uneasy. Relieved because no matter the outcome, it is the learning that matters, so there is no reason not to experiment and be uncompromising true to the idea. Uneasy because the first still feels so special, so raw and exceedingly human. It is an untainted expression of who we are, through a new medium never experimented with.

Sometimes, I feel that the first idea should not be the first to be implemented. Pick a different idea that you don't care as much about, and use that as a practise run instead. Save the better ideas for later.

But that wouldn't do.

It would be cheating. The experience would not be the same at all.