On the Setting and Failing of Goals

As I said in yesterday’s post, I think it’s better to be internally, rather than externally, motivated while trying to make great work. It’s better, I think, not to worry about what others are doing and instead focus on what I’m doing as a motivator for my own stuff.

And yet, I can’t help but keep coming back to this Bret Victor Showreel of his work between 2011-2012. In just two short years, Bret created (or at least, published) a prolific amount of groundbreaking work, month after month, sometimes week after week.

I also keep thinking about this (probably apocryphal) story about making pots:

The first half of the class was to be graded based on the number of pots they could create throughout the semester. The more pots they made, the higher their final grades would be. […]

In contrast, the second half of the class was told that their grades depended on the quality of a single pot; it needed to be their best possible work. […]

At the end of the semester, [outside] artists were […] commissioned to critique the quality of the students’ work and overwhelmingly declared that the craftsmanship of the pots from the first half of the class was far superior to those of the second half.

The lesson I took from all of this was, if I wanted to make really great stuff, I have to be prolific, I have to make a lot of stuff, iterate on it, learn from it, improve it, and finish it.

So I set a goal for myself near the end of 2015: I was going to make and publish one project per month. These projects were to be mostly research prototypes of neat interfaces I’d been thinking up; I’d research them, prototype them, iterate, then write and publish a little essay at the end of each month.

It’s nearly April and you may have noticed: I have not at all succeeded at this goal. It turns out, this goal was pretty hard for me for a few reasons:

  1. Research, prototyping, iterating, and writing take a lot of time.
  2. I have a fulltime job.
  3. I enjoy spending my free time with my wife, friends, and family.
  4. I can’t seem to stay focused on things, or at the very least, I’m easily dist
  5. Finishing and shipping things, even prototype demos, is a challenge for me.

I’ve released one well-researched essay project pondering Xcode for iPad, but other than that I haven’t been too successful at my goal of making a ton of projects. I have, however, been writing a lot. But more on that tomorrow.

Speed of Light