One of the year’s best TED Talks is Joi Ito’s rousing “Become a Now-ist.” Essentially, it’s a call to all creators, inventors and entrepreneurs to stop waiting and start doing.
Sounds simple, right? Like, “Duh.”
Though Ito speaks primarily to technological innovators, his message rings true for anyone who creates in any medium. In this new world of ours, the things we make have no real lasting value unless they leave the dark recesses of our minds, our laboratories, and our desk drawers to influence real people in the real world.
Simultaneously, the people who are best equipped to deploy those creations are us — the creators. So we have to stop thinking about the future (like, “that far off someday when my book is published”) and just start deploying (“the here and now where I publish my book”).
Because, when you think about it, the future isn’t ever here. And it isn’t guaranteed.
The only moment we have is this one.
Awhile back, such thoughts were considered radical. We technologists, writers, and other creators had to rely on institutions to take our projects to the masses. Let’s face it: prior to the explosion of the Internet, unless a major corporation (or publishing company) backed our work, it would never been seen beyond our circle of families and friends.
Most of the time, in order to catch the attention of said institutions, we had to create a demo. “Demo or die” was a mantra among the technological community. (For writers, “the demo” a your portfolio.)
Ito argues, however, that we don’t live in that world anymore. “Today,” he says, “with the ability to deploy things into the world at such low cost . . . you have to get the stuff [ie: your project] into the real world for it to really count.”
Now is the time. Not tomorrow. Not when you get an agent. Not when the publisher offers you a three book contract.
Now is the only moment you’ve got.
Yet most writers I know—myself included, at various points—still like to live in the past. That past where we talked about the future.
In this brave new world of “Now,” a world where we are the best people to take our projects to market, why are we still waiting for someone else’s permission? “The Internet caused the innovation model to go from an MBA-driven model to a designer/engineer-driven model,” Ito explains. Today, however, the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, “didn’t have PowerPoints. They just built the thing.”
Designer. Engineer. Entrepreneur. These are not just words for technologists. Writers and creators in all media can proudly claim these titles.
And as such, Ito suggests that we change our motto.
The world is no longer “demo or die.” It’s “Deploy or die.”
So deploy, already. And stop waiting for permission.
“But hold it,” you say. “Institutions are there to provide quality control. What if I put out my project out there and it’s bad and no one buys it and the reviews on Amazon are HORRIBLE? My writing career will be over.”
Or will your writing career actually be better? As Ito notes, you just learned what didn’t work. Now you can make something better.
Because in the world of Now, what you deployed last year or what you plan to deploy in the future really don’t matter. It only matters what you’re deploying NOW.
This logic hit particularly close to home for me.
For years, I huddled in my closet writing a massive fantasy novel that went through multiple iterations, none of them to my complete satisfaction. It wasn’t until I made the commitment to deploy an online version of the novel that I saw real progress. Deploying a version of the novel meant that I learned what did and did not work about it. It also brought the project to the attention of a company who invited me to turn it into a collaborative web show.
During that second phase of the project, I really learned what did and did not work about the world I had built. Actors were using the world on a daily basis; their questions immediately revealed where worldbuilding, character and plot “holes” existed that needed to be filled. After that experience, I was able to go back and work on the final version of the novel—a draft of which I (finally) finished last week. When the book releases in 2015, it will be solely because of what I learned through deploying a version of it. “Deploy or die?” For this project, the mantra is literal.
But “deploy or die” doesn’t stop there. Recently I was offered the opportunity to submit this book to a respected publishing house. I considered the offer seriously and then ultimately decided not to submit. Working with this particular company would have been a great opportunity, of course—if they decided they wanted the book.
But as I pondered my options, I realized three things. One, that my team and I have more mobility and flexibility to experiment with this project (both in production and in distribution) than the publisher could offer. Two, that I could access the same level of editing and other consultative talent with smart use of entrepreneurial funds. And three, that in the amount of time I would spend waiting for a decision in the first place, I could deploy the book, learn from my mistakes in that effort, and write the next project better.
Wait for permission, or deploy and move forward?
Along with Joi Ito, I choose to be a Now-ist.
How about you?
Until next time, speak freely.
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