Not knowing where to start is always the hardest part.
Anybody who’s built a technology product intimately understands the law of inertia: getting something started is always more difficult than sustaining momentum.
In the beginning of any new endeavor, who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish is entirely unknown. Until you’ve declared your intentions – or can point to something of value that you’ve produced – it’s difficult to generate much interest. People within your own organization are reluctant to cooperate. Business partners or vendors have all the bargaining power. And the average user has no reason to care. Meanwhile, you need human and financial capital, supplies, services and whatever else required to build something truly awesome.
Personal stuff can be equally challenging. Starting out a career, a business, or even recovery from a major injury, takes a lot of time and determination to build enough momentum before it “feels” like any progress has been made. (Sometimes the effort only seems worth it in retrospect.)
Then there’s the mundane stuff; things that are important, but not critical. We may know that something needs to happen — at some point — but just thinking about it summons immediate fatigue and a twinge of depression. They tend to be the kinds of things we put off for a long as possible, like working out and eating healthier.
Or starting a blog.
As a designer, the biggest challenges I face often start with a blank canvass – literally, albeit a digital one. By this point in my career, designing is the easy part; thinking through all the dependencies is the real challenge. Long gone are the days of simple websites. Today, creative folks are working with engineers, data scientists and business development consultants to build entire technology platforms. Things get complicated quickly.
But for various reasons, I’m infinitely more confident launching a new project than I am starting a personal blog.
For many years, I resisted writing for general consumption on the Web. Does the world need yet another voice shouting into the mob? What would I have to say that’s any different than what everyone else has already said? What if I don’t want to write about just one topic, or write very often? How would I even promote a blog since my online life is decidedly unsocial? More importantly, what would be my raison d’être should people actually start reading posts?
It’s never been clear to me why my voice would matter, or to whom.
Last month, my boss encouraged me to write a post for our team’s blog.
After spending several days trying to write something technical, I gave up on the first draft. Any given feature had a back story just as important as the feature itself. It wasn’t possible to write something about the specifics without getting into the “why” behind the “what”.
As it turned out, the Why was far more important to me, personally, than the particulars of anything I happened to be working on. So I wrote something much more personal instead: my journey at Mozilla, and how I’ve changed as a person and as a designer.
Only now, there wasn’t anywhere to post it because official websites and related blogs are for official announcements – not for introspective posts about things that are entirely unofficial. This is, of course, very understandable. However, my quandary remains: where the hell do I post something that’s work related, but not about actual work?
My job affords me the opportunity to work with some of the most talented, intelligent people on the planet. One such individual recently asked me how I felt about blogging. He shares many of my hangups about writing for an audience on the Web, but still manages to be the most effective communicator I’ve met. So I asked him why he writes, how often, and what about.
Surprisingly, he only writes on occasion, and about diverse topics that range from Web technology to sports. Sometimes it’s a shout out to hard working bus drivers. But he doesn’t write because there’s some underlying expectation or pressure to do so. He writes because he wants to. (This is crazy talk to somebody like me, who’s been trained to think about the commercial value of everything.)
All feelings of acute narcissism aside, he discovered for himself that expressing a unique, personal perspective – even if only on occasion – makes him that much more knowable. It’s not about “personal branding”, social influence scoring, or networking with industry insiders in the hopes of securing a new job one day. It’s far more pragmatic. As Communications Director, his success is dependent on his ability to work with others. Simply by putting himself “out there”, folks are often a more willing to share and listen to new ideas because there’s something to relate to. Meanwhile, he has a platform that allows him to be himself without the limitations inherent in writing for official channels. It seemed reasonable.
Regarding the story I’d written, there still wasn’t a place to post it or an audience to address. Nevertheless, he gave me the only advice he could:
Start a personal blog.
Hello world. Dammit.