Many years ago when I was studying animation, we were given a summer assignment for life drawing – pick some aspect of our work, and improve it. Come back better. When we came back after the summer, the teacher went around the room to find out what people worked on. Most were along the lines of this – I’m really bad at drawing hands so I worked to try to improve that and so I drew hundreds of hands.
That’s a good thing, right?
Sure it is. We could all do at getting better at drawing hands.
But I didn’t draw hands. Or feet. Or anything all that tricky.
I enjoyed drawing my dog, Reg, and I was pretty good at it (even if I say so myself) so I drew more of him. Lots more of him. Now it’s not like I didn’t have plenty of weaknesses to work on. I did. But I enjoyed drawing dogs and, by working at it, I might go from ‘pretty good’ to ‘great’.
And while everyone else was showing less stinky versions of their weaknesses, I showed my strengths. And it set the tone for the year ahead.
So what was the right approach? Well there’s a discussion on goals to be had, but that’s for another post. This post is about the idea that, to get better, the assumption is often that you work on your weaknesses. On first glance, it’s something that seems to make sense. By focusing on weaknesses, those things that might let your work down or might disappoint, you’re trying to eliminate the minuses. Empty that ‘cons’ list on the pros and cons that make up who you are or your work. But consider what number you arrive at if you get fixated on eliminating all minuses…
You arrive at zero.
And the unfortunate reality is that zero impresses nobody. Nobody ever bought anything thinking, well, I suppose there’s nothing technically wrong with it. Zero is nothing.
If you just pick at the negatives (and a lot of people do, often incorrectly calling it ‘constructive’ criticism, as if that’s a contribution – it rarely is), if you worry about what might not work, those rough edges, what might put people off or what could go wrong, you’re aiming for zero. What you need is a positive contribution. Taking that number above zero. Concentrating on what you can add, not eliminate. That’s constructive. And the fantastic news here is that the effort you put into making a positive contribution will have much more of an effect than that same effort being spent on eliminating a negative.
Making a good thing great has much, much more value than making the bad things okay.
Look at the iPod. Audiophiles say the sound quality isn’t great. The iTunes system can be restrictive and the programme hogs resources. Even now, it has some crazy problems that have carried over to the iPhone. Would it be better if these things were fixed? Absolutely. But people aren’t buying the iPod or iPhone because of what it does badly. They’re buying it because of what it does great.
Positives count much more than negatives.
By all means fix those issues that are easily fixed and certainly don’t tolerate any problems you don’t have to, especially in your own systems. But focus should be not on what you can make acceptable, or least offensive, but on what you can make great, fantastic, impressive. That’s how you stand out, that’s how you shine. It’s how you set the tone with your work. And the best thing? It’s much more fun.
Don’t aim for zero. Zero is nothing.
Aim for great.