For the design community, it is common knowledge that the ego has no place in collaborative output. For those outside of the design community, it may come as a shock to read the title of this article.
So let me explain…
Your First Idea is Rarely the Best One
It’s important to understand that our brain takes up an absurd amount of energy relative to its size in our body. Because of this, our brain, in order to save energy, tricks us. When we have our first idea, our brain encompasses it with positive chemicals to prevent us from using more energy coming up with alternatives.
There is a more scientific way to explain this, and if you’re interested, check it out here!
Taking pride in our work (or being told to), encourages us to trust this false sense of worth. Pushing through this stage and forcing yourself to keep having more ideas will almost always result in a better final idea.
(This concept is also mentioned in a terrific book, “Designing Your Life,” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.)
Ideate, Ideate, Ideate
I’m going to reword my title here:
You can take temporary pride in your work IF… you’ve put in the right kind of work.
Any good designer knows that it’s important to ideate. Logo designers will often make 50 versions of a logo before starting to look critically at their work.
A common concept in the musical world is that there must be two versions of oneself.
There must be the creative — a completely non-judgemental version of oneself who just creates material.
There must be the editor — a very judgemental version of oneself who creates no material and makes analytical decisions about the creative’s work.
It is important to allow each of these versions of oneself to have designated time to exist and not allow them to come out at the wrong time.
Ideation is a process that belongs to the creative.
What I recommend for young designers is to take the number of versions you think you should make and double it.
Another way to look at it…
Another version of this could be described as the “high school essay” conundrum. We all remember writing an essay in high school. I had an English teacher at one point who said:
Write an essay, and then take your conclusion and turn it into the intro for a new essay.
Sometimes when I’m working on a new screen, I’ll throw together a version and then delete it. This process is almost the equivalent of an athlete warming up. I’m easing my brain into a specific creative space but I understand that I don’t want to be remembered for my output while warming up!
(In order for this to be really effective, delete it in a way that makes it impossible to retrieve!)
Let the Editor do the Job but…
The editor is an important part of the process. Allowing your inner editor out may feel like taking pride in your work, but it’s actually the opposite. Allowing your inner editor to make decisions about your creative output requires a lot of humility.
There is one very important rule about this process:
Do not delete anything!
Aaron Draplin likes to say, “vectors are free.” Take this mantra with you.
My personal practice:
I make a new artboard where I opt+drag all of the assets I approve. I like to make sure this artboard is far enough away from everything else that it feels like they’re the only assets on the page. (Feel free to do this a few times!)
It is immensely important to ask for feedback.
But as we all know, sometimes asking for feedback means getting feedback — and that can hurt.
If we take pride in our work, we are guaranteeing that constructive criticism will hurt. In this case, we are also putting an unfair burden on the people we ask for feedback from, to only give us positive feedback, or risk upsetting us.
By not taking pride in your work, and treating it analytically, it is much easier to hear feedback.
(Consider putting your editor hat on when receiving feedback!)
If you’ve made 50 versions of a logo, when presenting the top few for feedback, you might be asked why you made a certain decision. After making 50 versions, you will be well-equipped to answer this question and the value of your feedback will increase!
Brainstorming isn’t Perfect!
The following article is an amazing resource on the issues with brainstorming and a guide on how to do it properly:
My personal favorite issue with brainstorming, as mentioned in the article, is the danger of groupthink. Groupthink stems from most people’s aversion to conflict. This relates directly to the issue of taking pride in your work.
If conflict is fire, ego is oxygen.
Taking the pride out of the room allows a free flow of ideas. Additionally, it can help facilitate the voices of more introverted peers. It can be daunting to make a suggestion in a group setting for many people. Seeing the more extroverted people in the room treat their ideas lightly can help create a safer space for the contribution of ideas by all!
These Methods Can Work in Non-Creative Fields Too!
Taking pride in your work is a very general statement. I’m not encouraging us to not try as hard. What I’m encouraging is a different understanding of what “working hard” is. Treating all ideas as transitory and amorphous allows us to create more and to get closer to the best possible solution.
When it comes to ideas, more is always better. But the bottom line is, ideating endlessly without action is pointless. However, the process of keeping ego out of ideas doesn’t end when the idea is executed. Removing pride from your work will change consumer feedback from a stress inducer into actionable feedback!
I hope this helps you see why taking pride in your work isn’t always the best choice!
So, in keeping consistent with this article, I’m asking for claps, but more importantly, feedback! And always feel free to share this article with friends and co-workers! 🙂