The danger of being driven…

Something I read on Andy Budds website the other day got me thinking. In an entry about the end of the web standards awards, an unofficial celebration of the power and beauty of web standards-compliant sites, he says the following:

What I wanted to do was set up some kind of CSS showcase, highlighting the best designs around. Not experimental designs such as those found in the Zen Garden, but real world designs being used in the wild. However time is always the enemy of invention, and I never managed to get my idea off the ground. This is why I was excited when a young designer from Sweden sent me a link to a project he was working on called the Web Standards Awards. The design was super-sexy, and the fact that something was already in the works meant that I didn’t have to do it myself.

I’ve added the boldification to highlight the bit that particularly struck me. I may well be reading too much into this, but I think this little comment hints at something that is indicative of many web people, and it can be a big problem. It’s certainly something that I struggle with much more than I should.

And it’s all to do with ideas. You know the story: you have an idea for a new website (or business, or painting, or song, or whatever) and for a time it consumes you. It’s one of those ideas that makes you smile, and sets your mind galloping off with wild abandon through the lush, dense, scented jungle of detail. This is a great idea, maybe even The Idea™, and you feel good inside knowing that you have this precious gift.

But that’s not enough, you need to turn the idea into reality. So you start coding (or start writing plans and projections, or get your brushes out, or tune up your guitar or whatever) and everything is flowing. You’re in the zone, white-hot, cooking on gas.

And maybe you finish turning the idea into reality, maybe you don’t. Maybe it’s an idea that revolutionises the planet, maybe it isn’t. That’s not important to our discussion, because by now you’ve realised that the intial motivation is what has got us this far.

And that’s what I really want to talk about: motivation. In this example Andy was glad that someone else had done the site, not because he wasn’t motivated to do it (in fact he’d already been keeping his own list, but because motivation has to be effective. In essence, motivation isn’t real until it is translated into action. And that’s a problem, because web people are known for their numerous pet projects.

Now the strangest thing about this, and this is certainly something that I know to be true for myself, is the motivation that drives us to do these pet projects seems entirely noble. We’re changing the world, providing a service that people (may) need, helping others, sharing knowledge etc. That feeling is like a drug, and can very easily get out of hand. As Andy hinted, he felt he had to do a CSS showcase site. There was no choice, it was a great idea and somebody had to do it.

You see, Andy could have wanted to do the Web Standards Awards from purely selfish reasons – to make money, make him more powerful, or make him more famous. Or probably all three. But I don’t believe he did. I think he was motivated to do good, to share his knowledge, to celebrate web standards with like-minded people. And maybe make some new friends, gain a bit of recognition and bolster his portfolio along the way.

The problem for us web people is that we get so many ideas, or at least I do. If it’s not one thing it’s another (and that’s without mentioning the other projects I’ve got bubbling on the digital hob at the moment). How do we manage?

Well, the answer for me is that I don’t. I spend far too much time looking at a screen, never feeling that I’ve made very much progress, certainly never getting anything finished, and never feeling completely happy with anything I’ve done. Yes, I could just pack it in and become a park ranger, or I could learn to handle the motivations and ideas that bombard me daily. My ideas book – guess what, it’s a book where I write down my ideas – helps a lot. Maybe one day I’ll have enough time to do this stuff, or maybe by then I’ll have realised they don’t matter that much after all.

So, your idea may be fantastic, you may really enjoy bringing it to life, but don’t fall into the trap of chasing after the latest new-cool fix at the expense of your life, family, day-to-day work and those things that really matter. In short, we have to learn to let things go.