I have a dirty secret. I love reading business books. There’s always a gem or two to pull out from the pages. Even from the unsexiest topic and from the most mediocre writers. But now and then a business book comes along that’s truly great. These books have messages that disrupt and alter your whole approach (sometimes not just within business). Here’s my Top 3:
Priestley explains ‘Prolific Beats Perfect’
I think I’ve bought at least 10 copies of Key Person of Influence, as I keep giving them away. The book is about how you can become a key person of influence within your industry. The assumption is that you’re a freelancer or business owner, but it’s still worth reading if you’re currently employed and thinking of becoming more entrepreneurial.
Priestley has several mantras that he repeats and expands on in the book, but my favourite is “Prolific Beats Perfect”.
I’ve never been a perfectionist. I’m always more interested in the start of a project – the idea generation, and initial development – than I am with the final tweaks. Final tweaks make me want to bang my head against a wall repeatedly. So you can imagine, I welcomed this message with open arms.
With blog-writing, as soon as I have an idea, I just start writing. I don’t map out the structure, or plan what I’m going to say, I just get straight to it. When I’m working on a game, the process is similar. It’s always about the shortcut to the first prototype. I work as if I’m under a strict deadline – I must have a playable game within a few hours of working on it.
I make a lot of games. Some of them are terrible! I really feel for the playtesters who are subjected to them. Some of them are fine. They work, but nobody’s going to get too excited about them. But a few of them are great.
With each game – whether great or terrible – I learn more about game design. Because my game-creation cycle is quite rapid, I’m learning quickly. If I spent three times as long on each game before I brought it to the table, it would be a different story.
Some of my abandoned games
The quicker I create the prototype and get it playtested, the quicker I can move on to the second version, or bin it altogether and work on something else. Rapid iteration and a tight playtesting schedule helps me get closer and closer to the finished game. Each new version of my games usually has a major change – a totally new mechanic, a new structure, a bunch of new powers or a change in components. When I make big changes I learn more than when I make small ones – and the overall process is quicker.
When I submit games to publishers, they are 95% complete. That last 5% is tedious. That’s the fine balancing, the specific wording, the edit of the cards etc. 95% is enough for a publisher to know whether they love the game or not. They may want to change it more significantly but this can be done in partnership, which is easier and more fun.
The other day I was listening to Spark & Fire, a podcast about creativity. The episode was an interview with Stephen Schwartz, the composer of Wicked. He was talking about how to get unstuck when you’re being creative.
“All artists get stuck. But I have learned the secret to how to get unstuck. And it’s very simple. And I will tell you the story of how I came to learn this. I was working on one of the songs on Hunchback of Notre Dame for Disney, and I was having that sort of cliché experience of writing things out and then crumpling up the paper and throwing it on the floor. I just was getting nowhere. And I happened to have a conversation with a wonderful writer named John Bucchino. I was kind of whining to him about how stuck I was. And he simply said, “Oh, well, you’re just being the editor too soon.”
“And I realised that when we do any kind of creative work, we’re constantly switching invisible hats. Sometimes we are the writer, who is just putting stuff out there without judgement. And sometimes we are the editor, who is evaluating what’s out there and making choices. If the editor shows up too soon, then you’re stuck, then you have writer’s block, because you just judge everything prematurely.
“When to become the editor is an instinct. When you have enough raw material that you can begin to judge it, you can begin to assemble it, you can begin to make choices. But it’s so easy for that editor to show up too early. Put the editor back into his or her little cubby until it’s time for him or her to show up.”
This notion of silencing your inner editor is a wonderful tool in the quest to become prolific, not perfect. It’s actually quite a liberating experience when you do this consciously. As I’m writing now, I’m spurting out my internal monologue without much thought. I can see the words starting to cover the page, which makes me feel like I’m progressing. Often the first draft or the first prototype is the hardest. So why make it harder by editing at the same time? Just get it done.
It’s easy to become paralysed by your internal editor because whatever it is that you’re creating. You know that you can do better. However, when you aim for perfection at every stage, you spend too much time on the small details and not enough time on the big picture. Your volume of work is what drives you forwards. A content creator with a thousand unedited videos online is more likely to get noticed than a creator with just ten perfectly edited studio-quality ones.
So if you want to learn faster and improve quicker, remember… prolific beats perfect.
A quick initial prototype