Do the Creative Work and Ship It: How Entrepreneurs Follow Through

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Do your creative work and share it—especially when you don’t feel like it.

As fledgling entrepreneurs and business people, we tend to hesitate and attempt to perfect our product and service ideas instead of launching or sharing. It’s a debilitating form of procrastination. Simply being done is better than perfect and unfinished.

I want to encourage sharing our work before we think we are ready to get feedback and revise, course correct, and launch the next iteration. We keep going through this refining process until achieving a product/market fit.

This process applies to all creatives, including those in marketing and graphic design, as well as inventors, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, and managers.

Ready, Fire, Aim

Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn and a co-founder of Paypal along with Elon Musk and Peter Thiel, said: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

This may be a little too aggressive as you shouldn’t be in a rush to launch a half-baked idea that embarrasses you, but it gets at the concept of overcoming our fear of showing and sharing our work. Your work doesn’t count if you don’t share it and we tend to rationalize why we aren’t ready to push the send or publish button. Sometimes an iconoclastic shock works as a tonic to break us out of our comfortable cocoon.

“Ship creative work” is a phrase I first heard from Seth Godin that gets to the heart of the issue.

SHIP Creative Work: What Does it Mean to Ship Something?

When I teach entrepreneurship or talk with my readers, some of the most common questions I get are about marketing, promotion, and getting noticed. I have found that it’s easy to get things backward. You don’t find an audience—they find you. And for that to happen, you must be findable.

Sharing your work is critical. It doesn’t count if you don’t show it. Steve Jobs said, “Real artists ship.” Everyone has ideas and the key is to deliver on them or ship them, as he put it. Creativity can lead to amazing places, but only if you have something to show for it.

There is a phenomenon called post-completion error. Post-completion error is where the tasks that are not directly related to the goal and must be completed after are overlooked—for example, leaving the original in a photocopier after completing photocopying.

I did that once and let me share the story with you as a cautionary tale. I had a great job at a prestigious early Silicon Valley tech company. The job was a huge leap for my early career, and it was exciting. But I had a terrible and tyrannical boss. I was young, and I didn’t have any experience or chops for dealing with such a person.

After a couple of years, I was recruited by one of my customers and leaped into a new career. I was asked for an exit interview, and I wrote a scathing (but earnest) letter about my old boss. I felt everyone was tip-toeing around his problems and allowing a dysfunctional environment to perpetuate. He needed help, and the situation wasn’t helping him.

I made copies of my critique at my new company and sent them to HR at my old company. The only problem was I left the original in the copy machine, and my new boss found it and read it before handing it back to me. It was embarrassing, and I was concerned he thought I was an ingrate that betrayed my former benefactor.

Although it was never mentioned again, that incident didn’t help things get off on the right foot. I still cringe thinking about it. Word to the wise: always check the copier after you think you are done.

In the case here, the post-completion error is doing creative work and not sharing it. Try to share something unique and engaging every day.

Ship CREATIVE Work: What Role Does Creativity Play?

Whatever our job or projects, we benefit from being creative. It is soul-crushing to be a cog in the system. That is not you. You’re a creator, a problem solver, and a generous leader who is making things better by producing a new way forward.

Being creative means you are making something from nothing. This process is what it means to add value to the world, and the world needs more of it. It helps us stay sane to feel productive.

Creativity is a choice, and it’s not the product of a bolt of inspirational lightning. The inspirational spark is the result of putting your butt in the chair and doing the work.

As the artist Chuck Close said, “Inspiration is for amateurs—the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will, through work, bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea.’”

To cultivate the muse, you must show yourself worthy by committing to doing your work.

Ship Creative WORK: Hard Work is the Key, Not Inspiration

The work you are doing isn’t a hobby. You don’t approach what you are doing as a hobby. You might not get paid for it, yet, but you approach it as a professional. Thinking of yourself as a professional demands sacrifice. It’s free but not easy.

What we get in return is we find our power. We discover our willpower, voice, and self-respect. We become the person we always were but had been afraid to embrace and live.

Professionals don’t wait for the muse of Inspiration to strike to work. They have a structure and process that protects them from the vagaries of Inspiration.

There is a great quote attributed to several luminaries: “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” That is discipline and commitment.

We must approach our work and creativity with commitment. Creativity isn’t an event—it’s what we do, whether we’re in the mood or not.

“Butt in the chair” is a phrase that writers use to describe committing to a regular writing schedule and getting stuff done. It’s about setting a schedule and sticking to it. It’s about the discipline of practice and avoiding excuses.

The practice is not the means to the goal. The practice is the goal because the practice is all we can control.

The Bottom Line: Do the Creative Work and Ship It

Developing the habits and building a practice of doing the work, being creative, and consistently shipping is the formula for marching toward success and uncovering your identity. Shipping creative work is a process.

I wrote this to encourage and support creative endeavors, yours and mine. The more we do and share, the more shots on the goal of launching a successful business. We can’t control how the public will receive our work, but we can control the process of production.

John Cousins, MBA
John Cousins, MBA

John Cousins is the founder and CEO of MBA ASAP, an online community centered on a curriculum and content related to business and entrepreneurship. John has started nine companies, taken two public, and was a public company CEO and CFO for fifteen years.

John has a degree in electronics from MIT and an MBA from Wharton. He lives in the high desert of New Mexico.

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