Making your short attention span pay big dividends

Panelists: Jim Coudal (coudalpartners.com), Brendan Dawes (brendandawes.com)

(What follows are raw notes, not quotes. And in no way, do these notes do the talk justice – as it misses the demos of the fun and cool things that Jim and Brendan have done.)

Coudal: Talked about the spark of enthusiasm that comes with a new idea that then flitters away. You learn a lot. Get to dream about an idea. You can take it far enough to think about it as a reality. But then it fizzles. Is it a failure? Demonstrated several ways that ideas that didn’t pan out then led good products: The Show, The Deck. Pulling the ship out thinking you’re doing one thing leads to another. And you don’t even know it until you look back. It looks like we’re being distracted by whatever shinny object catches our attention today. The ability to follow inspirations to natural or unnatural conclusions. Not just about creating businesses…but also taking design projects. “We are re-starters, not re-visers.” (Or something like that.) There are things that don’t make money — but make really cool days at work. Specific advice: 1. Paint your bathroom with that paint you can write chalk on. 2. The book: Write down ideas that we’ll get around to one day. It is filled with ideas like million-dollar porn page. And a number of other “oddball ideas.” To institutionalize the activity of recording ideas. “This ones for the book” – like, we’re not going to do it, but want to put it down.”

Dawes: He has a mini-harddrive that he considers a “sketch book” that is filled with “junk.” Dividends are not just money: PR, reputation. His work on Saul Bass. The dividends were ten-fold. Connected him w/ people he does more work with. However, “because of my short-attention span, the domain name expired.” He’s now on his third URL. If you’re going to do something, get the stuff out there…even if it isn’t finished. It’s great having a short-attention span, but don’t let that keep you for doing stuff. (Even if it’s half-assed.) Short-attention spans is about constraints. Constraints are good. With his first computer, Sinclair ZX81, “it didn’t do anything — you had to do it.” What was the creative output? He demos several projects that he did just for fun…that led to other things. Question that leads to cool things: I wonder what would happen if I did this? I don’t make complex things because I get bored easily. Shows projects he did in which he createed pixle-by-pixle versions of films. (Dawes’ grid.) Showed video of a Playdough interface for a computer he created. Quoted Edgar Allan Poe: “They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.” We should all work in our pajamas.

How do you get skill-sets?

Coudal: You have to have a set of skills.

Dawes: Also depends on what level you want to take it to. Surround yourself with crafters. The execution of the idea is critical. I know what I want to achieve. I’m lucky to have a team to work with me. Learning the skills is about how to apply the time you have. My commute time is used to learn something new every day.

Coudal: Part of the responsiblity at Coudal Partners is to screw around all day. There’s a lot of personal responsibility, but you don’t get grades. We publish links all day long. People come to Coudal all day and we get jobs out of that.

Lots of questions about office/staff/team — how to take this approach?

Dawes: We show each other our stuff. It’s chaotic. I wish we had a process. We fly by the seat of our pants.

Coudal: Everybody has to pull on the same end of the rope. Maybe there’s a point at which there are too many people that you can’t do that. We try to come up with great idea that we can’t top — and then go to the bar.

Question: How do you know when you’re finished?

Coudal: You know when you’re in love with an idea at the beginning. Then you know when it goes. With client projects, you’re done when you get the check.

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