And we’re back to applying the Twelve Principles of Agile Software of the agile Manifesto – originally meant for software – to creative works. Let’s take a look at the second principle, which embraces what usually drives us up a wall. That, for those of you with a long list of wall-driving, is change.
The Second Principle is:
Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
This is a principle I entirely agree with and am often terrible at implementing. This is because I’m often used to change being for bad reasons – and I’m sure you have similar experiences. It’s often hard to embrace change because it’s dumb.
However this embracing and leveraging of change is core to Agile, and that is what makes Agile so powerful. So let’s see what this principle can tell us about embracing change, even if we currently hate it.
In Agile you embrace change for a reason, and that reason is to provide Value of some kind. “Value” is really the reason for all Agile practices and principles, and using change is no different.
Note that the second principle doesn’t just say “embrace change because it’s change.” It doesn’t say you have to accept every change. You embrace change for specific goals – and as far as I’m concerned if the change doesn’t help the customer, there’s no reason to accept a bit of it.
You have to help sort out if a change helps your customer, brings no benefit, or harms them. Then you, the creative person doing the work, has to work with the customer to help them understand your choice – which might be to tell them *the change is a very bad idea.*
Because you are a creative, as you know your work intimately, you can help a customer decide how to react to a change. The result may not be “yeah, let’s do that.” The results may be “this is the worst idea ever, let me tell you why.”
I think the change we learn to hate is the change where we cause harm or waste time by following them. We want to help people; there’s nothing more annoying than having that be prevented due to a bad change. But a good change? We can help with applying that.
EXERCISE: Think about the last project you did that faced some changes. How did you evaluate if they helped the customer? How did you communicate your findings? How could you have done better?
Even if we can embrace change, it’s annoying to have to do so when it’s late. You got a lot of work done and now it’s wrong? You have to restart some things? Why?
But these late changes may be valuable, and thus worth doing. As annoying as they are, we should embrace them – but how do we do that?
I think there’s two ways to do it.
First, we have to accept that many of our ideas of “done” are often the enemy. We think something is “almost done” and is thus a solid thing, immutable, unchangeable. When a change comes it offends our sensibilities of “done.”
But, if we think of “done” as a point we navigate towards, tacking here and there, we can embrace change. That late change means it becomes “done better.” By accepting “done” isn’t as solid as we’d like, we can find ways for the actual “final” product to be more what the customer wants.
Second, we should make our creative work easily adaptable to change. This allows us to quickly alter them when new requirements come in. A few examples:
So to review:
EXERCISE: Take one of your projects and ask yourself what are five ways it could have been more change-responsive?
The whole point of the Second Agile Principle is that embracing the right change, even late, brings advantages. This requires a mind shift because often we’re trained or experience change as bad – we need to learn to outright embrace it.
I find you can get to this mindset with two things: focus on value, and embrace Agile methods and practices.
When you focus on value, you see change differently; it’s a chance to do better. It keeps your “eyes on the prize” and not on worrying over the latest changes or assuming the worst. It also helps you take a more “navigational” approach to developing works, adjusting to getting to the destination, or perhaps a better destination.
When you focus on Agile methods and practices, they give you tools to embrace change. Using them effectively and whole-heartedly helps you deal with change and get the most out of it – that’s what they’re there for.
There’s a lot of psychology in Agile. As you guessed.
So there’s the Second Agile Principle – embracing change. It’s perhaps the toughest one to embrace, but also one of the most potentially empowering. When we can alter how we approach change, we can find advantages for our customers, and be ready to shift so they get the best value.
It may just be a bit annoying as we change our mindset.
A quick review:
Change may be an opportunity; if we learn to see it and use it.
Now with change out of the way, let’s talk more value . . .
Hello everyone and welcome to my next blog series. I’m going to be putting this in a few different places because it applies to so many of you – creativity and productivity.
Most of us are in a creative profession – even if we don’t know it. The problem is that creative professions require productivity, yet are also the hardest to manage because creativity has many unpredictables. Being able to be creative, deal with unpredictability, and be organized is a challenge, one rarely met effectively.
I meet this challenge by using Agile methods (Scrum in my case), which you can apply to many efforts, including creative ones. Agile methods are about adaptability, adjustment, responding to change, and efficiency. Perfect for something creative, as long as you make the effort to apply them.
I’m not going to talk which Agile methods to use. You can try Scrum, Kanban, or whatever works for you. Instead, I’m going to talk about the mindset you need to be Agile and creative. I’ll do this by exploring the Agile Manifesto and what it means for creative works like writing, drawing, and more. Agile is all about adjustment and adaptability, something creatives are supposed to be good at – but we’re often restrained by everything from bad organization to our own assumptions.
I’m going to start with the Agile Manifesto – which happens to be about software. This isn’t a problem – this means its perfect. Software is a creative act, bordering on a mixture of high technology and shamanic vision, resulting in hard product through a near-occult process. The Manifesto is a perfect place to start to develop a creative approach.
Now before we begin, let’s take a mercifully quick look at Agile.
Let’s take a look at the good o’l Agile Manifesto.
We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.
Here’s the core of good Agile. Work with people over a bunch of tools and methods and meetings. Deliver stuff that works over detailed breakdowns. Work with people directly as opposed to arcane agreements. Respond to change instead of following a plan that doesn’t work five minutes after you finish making it.
It’s a lot of common sense, and like common sense it took someone to write it down to make it clear It’s good advice anywhere, though it’s pitched for software, as are many books and guides on Agile and Agile methods.
So let’s take a look at the manifesto and think about what it means for creative work.
You’ve got to create something. You need to understand what people want. The people asking you do to this need to understand what they want. You also need to work with them to communicate, have meetings, reviews, use certain pieces of software (or get people to use them). Sometimes this conflicts as people use different processes or argue one tool over another.
What do you do? You focus on working with people directly as possible. You may have meetings and statuses and use specific software, but that’s not as important as making sure you’re actually working with people directly.
For creative people this is exceptionally important because creative work is a highly individual experience. A person has a vision they need expressed – and you must understand it. There are near-infinite options in creative works, from a color scheme to a dialogue choice, and working with a client or an actor or an artist requires dialogue to “get it right” A creative work can become anything – so talking to the people involved helps it become a right thing.
Because creative efforts involve so many options, you’ll need to focus on interactions with people over formality or a given choice of tool. Sure a regular meeting schedule is nice, but you may need to make that early-morning change. You may use one graphics program while someone else use another – so you need to find a universal file format. These things may matter, but not as much as interacting with people.
Sure you may need to use specific methods and tools. You’ll figure those out. But the first thing is talking to people.
As an Agile Creative:
EXAMPLE: You’re writing a short story for a specific online magazine – and two people have to give you feedback on it. You figure the best way to do that is to put it on a public document share (that you do use), and chat with them on a web chat (which you’ve never used but they use). Everyone has the chat program on their phones so you can get feedback as you work any time.
Let’s step away from the word “software” and think of “usable results” here. Creating something usable is your goal because that work – even a rough draft – stands on its own. That’s a lot more valuable than a detailed description or ten pages of noes explaining what you did.
(Note sometimes your product is documentation. In this case it’s not needing documentation of documentation.)
Sure you may need documentation, but you want to get to a result because it speaks for itself. A rough draft gets you feedback. A wearable if safety-pin laden costume can be tried on. Getting something done matters, even if you know it’s a draft or will need feedback to improve.
What’s less valuable is trying to document all of this. Sure, you might need to do some documentation, but don’t make it the most important thing. Do you need a giant list of possible color swatches? Do you need twenty pages of outlines explaining five pages of story? Do you need a Powerpoint to explain another Powerpoint? Do you need all this extraneous stuff?
Probably not. You need enough to do your job so you can make something. Produce something that speaks for itself so you can get your hands dirty, learn, and get feedback. Besides people relate better to something solid.
In fact, with creative works, which often have infinite potential, comprehensive documentation is a trap. You can never be complete. You don’t have time to document fifty ways to do a training video when you need one.
There is value in documentation, of course, but ask yourself this – what’s the value? If you spend an hour writing up a proposal that saves you fifteen minutes, but if you don’t write it you spend thirty minutes experimenting to get it right, did you save time?
As an Agile Creative:
EXAMPLE: You’re designing a logo for someone. This involves an incredible range of colors, options, trademark issues, and more. To make it easier you keep multiple versions of the logo and send out a new copy every day to the person that wants it – with their tweaks.
You have to work with people to create something – we’ve covered that earlier. But we also have to come to agreements about how we do things, what we’re doing, and so on. Sometimes you just want to stop spelling out the minutiae and talk to someone directly.
That’s what you should do. Collaborate with people, focusing on working together. Arguing fine details, negotiating tiny elements for hours, gets in the way of working directly with people and getting results. It’s also far less adversarial.
This may require you to do a lot of psychology. Or have someone help you with it. But it’s a better approach than spending all your time in negotiations – which, like comprehensive documentation, can be overdone.
Additionally, you’ll want to work out ways to collaborate. Meetings, chat programs, feedback, working together. Make collaboration possible so it can happen – and the more you do it, the less you’ll need to argue fine points that aren’t meaninfgul.
(By the way if someone you work with is all about the contract and not about collaborating, that’s a warning sign.)
As an Agile Creative:
EXAMPLE: You’re doing a cosplay commission with someone who has very specific needs, wants, and deadlines. You chat with them regularly and give them updates on likely completion times, and ask questions to help them make decisions. This lets you get to work up front.
Every plan you have is wrong the moment you finish it. It may be incomplete. It will be interrupted. The only way for a plan to be right is to not spell it out completely.
Now plans are great – I’m a PMP, I’ve been certified in planning. But reality gets in the way, so you need to focus on being adaptable over following a plan even when it’s gone stale. This is one reason Agile methods are so helpful, they focus on adaptability, with just enough planning to keep moving.
This may sound weird to warn people about change in creative activities. We’d like to think they’re wonderful and spontaneous. This is wrong because creativity, being so hard to pin down, is often crammed into a box of organization and plans to get control of this wild process.
It usually fails.
Ever gotten livid over a requested edit? Wanted to argue with someone about how they critiqued your art? Gotten frustrated at a rewrite of a single paragraph? You know what I’m talking about; because creatives need some control, they often chafe against giving it up. You need to learn to give up that control and leverage change.
I find there’s a few lessons to help:
First, realize change is a tool – often change happens due to feedback, discoveries, and more. It’s up to you to use what happens to learn and to adapt and make your work better. This can be painful, which leads to . .
Secondly, you have to build change into how you do things; make yourself more change-responsive. Don’t put into ink what can be done in pencil. Save versions of your work. Test out what you’re creating earlier than usual.
Third, learn the right level of planning. This may differ from project to project, increment to increment. Find what lets you plan but not overplan. Plan enough get something out but not so much you can’t change.
Fourth, learn how to get feedback. This helps you change well, change effectively, and perhaps change earliy enough you don’t have to ditch a lot of work and ideas.
As an Agile Creative:
EXAMPLE: You’re working on an indie game, a challenging market to be sure. You break down work by major features and priorities, creating vertical slices of “game” that can be quickly played by beta testers. This lets you get quick feedback while refining code.
So we’ve just been through the Agile Manifesto for creatives. Let’s sum up.
There you have it – a pretty good mindset to adapt so you can be productive. Again you may want to find a method that helps you, but if you keep these ideas in mind it’ll help you find a method AND make it work.
Now, next up there’s also 12 agile principles. Yeah, I know it’s a lot, but we’ll explore them bit by bit – for creatives.
The manifesto notes that it value the things on the left (individuals and interactions, working software, customer collaboration, responding to change) over things on the right (like having a plan). This doesn’t mean that things on the right are bad, its jut things on the left are more valuable.
there’s a paradox here – we do need tools and processes, documentation and plans. But they can get in the way of the things on the right. How do we solve that?
My solution is that things on the right should be used in such a way that they reinforce the things on the left. Use planning tools and methods that support change. use tools that support collaboration. By having these things that can get out of hand become methods of support, you do better and don’t get distracted.
To celebrate, here’s what I’m doing this weekend!
So now you’ve got two books on worldbuilding to help you out. Spread the word!
But there’s more coming! I’m working on a series of smaller, more focused, more personal worldbuilding books – small, 99-cent ebooks to help you focus on specific subjects in more of a coaching manner. Those will start coming out this summer, so stay tuned!
Meanwhile, keep writing, keep gaming, and keep creating new worlds!
(A few thoughts from a continuing work relevant to creatives here).
Creativity cannot be separated from Freedom; it is the source of it and the result of it. Share it, encourage it, understand it.
Creativity allows people to think in new ways that both liberates and maintains liberty. The creative can dream around problems, finding new solutions when none were apparent. The creative are harder to constrain by despots, as they have the tools to out-think oppressors. The hopeful tyrants cannot face down dreams they know nothing about.
The despot worries in his throne room, heart racing. Someone is out there who can find solutions, communicate in new ways, invent new treasons. The despot fears you and doesn’t even know your name.
Creativity strengthens the people that treasure it. Society is stronger for the news ideas the creative people bring. The imaginative see dead ideas and infuse them with new life, resurrecting the lost things of value. Creative people can see the foundations of society and connect them to their innovations, joining past and present, the new and the renewed.
A single shining inspiration in your mind and old ideas come alive, history is connected, and you can see how ancient thoughts and new dreams come together. Centuries and aeons link together in new strengths and old wisdom.
Creativity strengthens relations among people allowing them to support each other. The creative are open to new relations among people because they can dream. The creative find new connections among people, building alliances that resist tyranny. The creative discover new ways to understand others and cooperate in ways unforeseen. A web of connections and associations and alliances makes people all the more resilient.
Those that create are your allies, and a single conversation can create a year’s worth of dreams. A moment’s pause lets you see everyone new. You reach out to make new friends easy. What tyrant doesn’t fear a web of collaborators who can out-dream them?
Creativity should be encouraged and shared among people. To arm people with creativity is to give them tools to find meaning and protect themselves and others. To share with other people builds connections and camaraderie, creating alliances that maintain the society. The sharing and encouragement of creativity is a measure of the strength of society.
Once someone lifted you up and said you could create. Now you can reach out to others, teach them to use their creativity. Each person so encouraged is an ally and a beacon. Connection spreads from the outstretched hand.
Creativity is the result of freedom. Because new thoughts can come to mind, the unthinkable becomes possible. As old ideas can be seen anew, the foundations of society are renewed. Because new ideas are encouraged, society can change and evolve. As people encourage creativity, alliances are built.
Some thoughts for all the people out there that follow me for career and creative advice . . .
Improving our skills and abilities, learning new things, is something we all develop. Most of us do it consciously, sometimes with a great deal of planning. It may even obsess some of us as our jobs and lives require us to learn at a rapid pace. However there’s a shadow side to what we choose to become competent in – a choice to learn something means there’s a lot else we choose not to learn at that time.
Every choice to educate ourselves means we’re spending time and resources that aren’t used learn a different subject. Each competency is paid for in not learning something else. For all you are good at, there’s a large amount of things you don’t know and can’t do, and you chose these “incompetencies” willingly or not.
We probably don’t look at learning as “choosing an incompetency” as a form of defense because there’ so much we don’t know and it scares us. We’re taught to think only of being good (or acceptable) at something, not bad at something. We’re taught not to admit failure or lack of ability because we seem weak, but to ignore it or pretend we’re good at everything.
But we have to accept the truth – choosing a competency is also choosing incompetencies. If we accept the we choose our ignorance and lack of ability, we can choose wisely. If we’ve decided we can’t truly know or learn something, then we’re prepared for that gap in our lives.
We can develop that valuable competency of knowing what we don’t know – and why we don’t know it.
We can bring an innocent attitude to learning so those that know something we do not (that we may choose not to educate ourselves on) can teach us.
We can stop worrying about not knowing. We’re all fools at one point, so let’s be fools consciously.
Exercise: List ten things you know nothing about that affect your life. Why didn’t you learn them? What did you learn in their place?
I may not have time to participate in NaNoWriMo this year (I am writing, but not up for the challenge), but I figure I can make this contribution – my book “The Power Of Creative Paths” is on sale for this week! Hope that makes everyone’s life a bit easier.
Hope it helps out. Maybe I’ll participate next year.
To be honest, I sort of am envious people can participate. I usually have my book plans set out months or even a year in advance so I’d have to plan that. On top of it, NaNoWriMo seems more FUN when it’s fiction.
. . . or I could make a generator next NaNoWriMo. Hmmmm.
If you’re new to the book, it’s a giant guide to worldbuilding, from philosophy of setting creation, to sex, to ecology, and more. There’s advice, exercises, several lame jokes, and some insights that should give you a different view on creating your settings. It’s designed to be a manual for the important points of making a setting.
After some sixteen years, this is the next stage in my efforts to bring this old work to life! First rewrites, now books. It’s fantastic to see this journey turn into something physical people can hold in their hands!
Certainly it’s not done yet – there’s one more book to drop in November/December (probably December). There’s some smaller followup work. But this marks that transition to the new formats.
My mind still goes back to, when in the midst of the rewrites, someone told me how they’d printed my old columns out when they were younger. It had mattered to them that much, and they remembered it that well. That turned my efforts into more of a mission.
Mission isn’t over yet. Book two drops in November/December (probably December honestly). There’s some followup works I want to do.
But today I can note the next stage of Way With Worlds has started, and it has printed pages and the smell of paper, highlighted with fond memories.
So go on, take a look. There’s thoughts on sex and religion, characters and ecology, and of course plenty of philosophy. In this age, where anyone can put out book or a comic, good worldbuilding is needed more than ever – and is where you can stand out.
With my eighth book out, I figured I’d talk about how I actually write. After doing a lot of self-publishing, it struck me that “hey, others could benefit from this” and “I may learn talking with others.” I probably could have thought of that earlier, but I guess I was too busy writing. Which is probably something else I should write on.
Anyway, in the spirit of reaching out to fellow writers, here’s how I write.
Please note that:
Now, let’s talk about where my ideas fome from.
A good book starts with an idea. A bad book does as well, but I assume you’re not trying to write a bad one. Not deliberately, but let’s face it, I’m not going to judge you.
So where do I get my ideas? They come from everywhere. I rarely lack inspriation – and if I do, I usually can find a way to stimulate it. This is because of my work studying inspiration, writing generators, and creating. I’ve got a groove from sheer practice – and in time, you’ll develop one as well.
There are a few tips I can share:
For me, ideas are striking me all the time. Wether you have a lot or a few, an idea is an idea. One of them might be the Big Idea, the book, the one you have to do.
Wether the latest inspiration you have is The Big Idea, or might be, you have to record it. This is where things start taking form.
Over the years I’ve emphasized the need for creative people of all kinds – and by that I mean most anyone – to keep a Brainstorm Book. The Brainstorm Book is where you write any idea that remotely seems worthy of keeping track of.
At this point, you’re already processing the latest inspiration. Maybe you flesh it out, maybe you drop it, either way the simple act of writing it down (and trust me, write it don’t type it) helps you process it a bit further. You may, in writing it down, suddenly realize a vision for it – and suddenly it’s The Big Idea you must make.
Be sure to record the idea in as much detail as possible – but don’t pressure yourself. One sentence that’s inspired may say far more than a paragraph you forced.
OK, so you recorded it. Recording it made you think it over a bit, so the idea is a bit more polished, a bit more understood, and recorded in a way that’ll call back the inspiration. The act of recording it might have even led it to become a Big Idea.
But with so many ideas, what do you do? Well, if a Big Idea isn’t something I must work into my plans (and sometimes it is), I review the Brainstorm Book.
Once a month I review my brainstorm book, seeing what ideas stand out. Depending on their quality I may:
The act of reviewing – and reviewing regularly – is important, and not just for selecting Big Ideas. It can also inspire you by seeing your ideas in a different context. New ideas may flow, new inspirations may come, patterns emerge. Sometimes new Big Ideas form just from the act of reviewing.
So finally, I’ve got a lot of ideas. Hopefully I’ve got a Big Idea to develop into my next book, right?
Nope, I usually have several. I have a pile. Sometimes I even have a few ideas that I want to do in order.
Or maybe I do have a Big Idea – but do I really want to do it?
Well, next up, let’s talk how I select ideas to work on.
And it’s done, out, published, ready – the first of my Sanctum-inspired books, “The Power Of Creative Paths!” Thanks to everyone for your support!
The book, the first of several, is my guide to improving your creative abilities. The idea is that you can identify how you create, and then expand your horizons to use other creative methods and work well with people who create differently. Through advice, exercises, and examples, it’s a way to get better and dreaming things up and reaching those valuable Big Ideas.
So go on, give it a shot!
One of the weird things we face in creativity is that we never really have time to bring all our great ideas to life. Even people who claim to be blocked are blocked on that one idea – and usually have a dozen more to go.
And we’ll never act on all of them.
Creatives aren’t all troubled at the same level on this – some find it more painful whereas others barely think about it. But I hear this complaint of “I have too many ideas” way too often.
It’s up to each of us to cope with this in their own way, but it’s a peculiarity of the human condition. Here we are creative, our entire heads filled with worlds and dreams, and we can only realize but a fraction of them. It’s an irony.