Just Start / by Steven Johnson

I was reading David duChemin's recent "thoughts on done" and as with most of David's writings it got me thinking. As an aside, if you haven't seen any of David's work, read any of his articles or books then I suggest you do as his work is always thought-provoking and inspirational! As I was reading David's post I was thinking about his idea that we should "just start" that new project (whatever it is) rather than waiting till we have it all figured out. What particularly piqued my interest was the parallel that this draws with concepts in my professional career, and also something I have tried to enact personally.

My day to day job is in software development, and in the software development field Agile thinking and methodologies are arguably THE way to develop software successfully. The idea of just starting a project rather than trying to figure it all out upfront is one of the cornerstones of Agile thinking.

Now you may ask "where are the parallels between a creative/artistic pursuit like photography and Agile software development?" Well software development can be thought of as somewhat of a creative pursuit also. When an individual or group set out to develop software they usually don't have all the answers upfront and usually do not have a pre-defined set of actions that they can perform to create the software. That is, software development is usually a complex activity that requires problem solving and creativity along the way to reach some goal or vision. The creative endeavour of software development is turning the product vision or goal into working software. This creative endeavour has similarities to the process of creating within a traditional art form such as photography or painting. An "artist" usually has some form of a vision or goal of what they are trying to create or achieve. The creative endeavour in the traditional artistic sense is then to turn this "vision", however fuzzy it may be, into some kind of product such as images, paintings etc.

So back to the original idea of "just starting". In software development Agile thinking or methodology accepts complexity rather than trying to control and simplify it. One of the main tenets in Agile software development is to build working software as early as possible, and iteratively improve or add to the software while continuing to get feedback from the customer. Agile also embraces the concept that you don't know everything up front and adopts discovery and learning as you go. The particular concept of interest here is the idea that one should start creating early rather than trying to analyse and plan everything upfront before creating. You could break this down to the simple statement "just start".

The creative process in traditional art forms has similar aspects in that you need to take risks and will not always know exactly where you will end up or how you will get there. So, rather than trying to plan and figure everything out just start and let the "creative juices" flow and lead you to the end product, whatever the "end product" is. After all a creative pursuit requires there to be unknowns and to not have everything figured out otherwise it isn't creative is it?!

Now on to how this relates to me personally. I am somewhat of a logical person myself, and have a tendency to plan things, so I need to keep this concept of "just start" forefront in my mind. I can tend towards over-thinking and trying to figure everything out before actually "doing". The mantra "just start" is a good way to break this. Don't get me wrong, planning and preparation is still required and important (as I have mentioned in some other posts) however there comes a time when you just need to start and figure things out as you go.

In some ways this website and blog is me taking this on board and enacting this philosophy. I had thought about the idea of creating a website for my photography for a while however it had always been just that, an idea. I also thought I should wait as I felt I was still developing my "photographic style". It then dawned on me though that there is no end goal or state and you never stop learning and developing so why not "just start" a website and then see where it leads.

Remember - "just start".