It’s easy to get lost in routine. Our jobs require us to regularly perform the same set of tasks. While routine allows us to master skills or become industry experts, it can also hinder growth or expansion in other areas of interest. As a CEO, I spend the majority of my time thinking about business strategy and product market fit. Where are we going this year (and next year)? How are we going to get there? What do we hope to learn from it?
I think about future opportunities for UX research, design and staffing, and map our business goals accordingly. I’ve learned the importance of getting past my excuses, trying out new things and continuously iterating on them. So, last October, I decided to try something really new: I wrote a children’s book. During this fun, difficult and exciting project, I learned (and re-learned) a lot of the lessons that have helped me succeed in business and in life that may help you as well.
Inspiration Often Comes From The Outside
Though I am not entirely new to the publishing industry, I was a foreigner to the world of children’s’ books. As a mother of two young boys, I’ve read more than 100 kids’ books more than 1,000 times. I saw my boys understanding, laughing and applying what they learned from their stories to their everyday lives, and started telling improvised stories to teach them new lessons. Specifically, I wanted to teach them to shift from “can’t” to “can.” They repeatedly asked for the same story. So, I made up a tale about Ava the Elephant who broke a swing and used creativity to design one just for her. The story just stuck.
I later found myself saying “I can’t do that” only to be interrupted by my six-year-old with, “You said ‘I can’t!’” He was right. I had to shift my mindset. I wrote down the story to give to my kids. And as I read it to my team, I realized that the message resonated with adults too. I sent a draft to friends, staff and clients to user test it a bit, and was overwhelmed with the response. I read emails about the “can’ts” people carry with them, and heard sighs of relief and sentiments of encouragement as I talked to friends on the phone.
Listen to ideas that come from places outside of your regular routine. Talk to your friends about ideas you have. Shop product design around to your friends. You never know what will spark your next project or idea, and you never know where that project or idea will take you.
If You Want It, Work For It
Completing a passion project isn’t always easy, especially when you already have a full plate. I began writing my book in Q4 of 2016. I had more than a full plate that included planning for 2017, identifying goals and strategies to achieve them, reviewing the previous years’ numbers, planning for the holidays and spending time with my kids. Needless to say, I didn’t have a ton of free time.
However, this was something I wanted and believed in. This book was important to me and I was confident that the end product would be worth it. I dedicated time and effort to creating content, working with illustrators and designers, reviewing samples and more. Would it have been easier to push it off until the next year? Perhaps – but good things don’t always come easy.
Make time to do the things you love. Maybe that means adding an hour to your day or saying “no” to something to make room for something else that’s more important. The end result is worth it when you work for it. You’ll be surprised how much energy you will gain from working on something that excites you. You’ll look forward to getting your hands on it, moving it forward and seeing the end result.
Compromising Your Standards Means Compromising Your Product
Doing something new doesn’t mean doing it like somebody else. Know what matters to you and stand firm in your decisions. I worked with my team through more than a handful of versions editing content, coming up with illustrations, trying new layouts and looking at binding options and paper weights. Though I was new to kids’ books, I wasn’t new to design. I knew the book had to be easy to use and hold (even for little hands), playful and engaging. The design had to be appealing to kids and adults. The font and colors had to be just right. Without these things, it wouldn’t have been worth any of the time, effort or money invested in the project.
People often mistake having standards for being judgmental. Only you know what is good enough for you. Make a list of the things you will never compromise on a project and revisit that every week, month or milestone. Make sure you are staying in check with your vision and working toward the end product your effort deserves.
I encourage you to try something new this month. It doesn’t matter how big or small, or where or what you decide to try. All that matters is that you do it and you learn from it. Make it a goal – and tackle it.