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Posted on: Sunday, 06 October 2013 by Rajiv Popat

We like to imagine an author sitting in front of an empty document when an idea hits him and he starts slapping keys on his keyboard uncontrollably. Or an artist sitting in front of a canvas when he taken over by a jolt of inspiration and he paints his first strokes with a bold sense of certainty; the start of an amazing painting.

We like to think of innovative software products all around us as something that started when a talented programmer woke up in the middle of the night and did a "File / New Project"; then he proceeded to write code the entire weekend to ship something remarkable Monday morning.

Real life creativity however works very differently and anyone who's ever shipped any form of art, be it writing an article, drawing a picture or conceptualizing the developing a software product knows that it is often the start that is the most frustrating.

Start is when:

  1. Flow just isn't there.
  2. Self doubt of not getting anywhere and merely wasting time on an idea that won't materialize is at it's highest.
  3. Most crap is produced (there is a dozen posts with just titles on my live writer cache and over a dozen folders with project names craving attention on my personal hard drive) and thrown.
  4. An idea is tested for it's worth (and it's ultimate destiny).

The first 80% of the project is the riskiest bit where most personal projects get scrapped. And rightly so. Maybe you had to build on 80% of the idea to realize that it won't click. Maybe you had to draw more than half the sketch to realize that it does look hideous after all. Or write most of the article to realize that no-one other than you is going to be interested in reading it. Scrapping something at 80% done isn't wasted effort. It's Net-Practice. Effort invested to see if your idea will stick.

And if you do it long enough, throwing one bad idea after another after brining bits and pieces of it into existence, every once in a while, you are likely to bounce into an idea where you mulishly work on a project surrounded with self doubt and slowly but surely manage to cross the 80% threshold. You aren't utterly disappointed in the output. In fact, you secretly continue to admire it. Something inside nudges you to continue working on the project. This is when your self doubt starts to go down and the idea starts to take shape into something beautiful; something real.

This is where the fun begins.

When you reach the 80% mark, and you begin to see something real taking shape in front of you and you love what you see, magic happens. Suddenly:

  1. You're in flow.
  2. Self doubt of not shipping anything worthwhile starts melting away and eventually disappearing.
  3. The idea has proven itself (at-least to you).
  4. You know that if you push just a little harder you actually might be able to ship and find out if the rest of the world thinks like you do.
  5. You know that in reality you're not 80% done at all; but the end does look achievable and absolutely stunning.

For all you know you might still be shipping crap; but the fear of failing has suddenly given way to the curiosity of finding out how awesome your idea truly is. This is when most creativity thrives, flow happens and one serendipitous thought gives birth to another. True you're not just 20% away from shipping, you just think you are; but this is where you sign that silent unspoken pact with yourself that you will ship this idea. That this idea will come into existence. That you will give it all you can; so that it gets a fair chance at surviving when it is shipped.

Of course; you're nowhere close to shipping; and not even in the same vicinity of "completeness" that you want to be in. But then, 80% done is usually when you can stand back, look at the piece of art, and see is getting born. This mere act results in nothing but pure geek awesomeness. This is where you can stop worrying about the bigger aspects of success (or survival of the idea) and focus on the small intricate details that will make your art amazing.

And yet we spend so much time glamorizing The Start or The End, when in reality 80% done is where most creativity thrives; where most fun begins and the most rewards of intrinsic drive and happiness exist.