How can you sustain the work?

Paula Scher has worked in graphic design for 40 years. Her work spans from album covers, to NY Times articles and the world’s largest independent design consultancy.

How does one continue to sustain this type of work?

As Scher says, “I’m driven by the hope that I haven’t made my best work yet.”

Think about that for a moment. Because it’s how Bob Dylan has made 38 albums since 1962. Or how Isaac Asimov wrote 400 books in his lifetime.

All artists are driven by this idea that today could be the day that you do your best work. And tomorrow, you get to do it again.

The importance of a good opening

Until 1977, the opening credits for all movies started the same way. They would name the Writer and the Director to give credit to the impresarios making magic happen. But when George Lucas came on the scene, he decided to break all the norms in his magnum opus Star Wars. He wanted to do something that had never been done before.

Instead of starting the movie with his name, Lucas went with his iconic tagline, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”, followed by a loud bang. That opening would become one of the most iconic in movie history.

He paid a price for his defiance. The Directors Guild of America fined Lucas $250,000 for his heresy, forcing him to leave the guild.

Here’s the thing, most of us don’t even think twice about how we start our presentations. We follow cultural norms and standards. That’s why every speech at the Oscar’s feels the same. Except for the ones that don’t.

We have been given valuable space when we stand in front of an audience. Don’t waste it by pleasing your sponsors. You’re there to make something happen to those who are seeking to be changed. Work in your Thank you as the presentation goes on. Whether you’re accepting an award or directing a major motion picture, figure out which rules to bend and which ones to break.

The ones that don’t fit in like the rest are the ones that we remember.

Your style can get better

The Nose on El Capitan rises 2,900 vertical feet off the ground. To put that in perspective, that is over a half of mile of rock climbing.

The Nose was first climbed in 1958 by Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore in 47 days using siege tactics. Basically, they would hit their high point and come back down each day until they reached the top.

Two years later, the second ascent by Royal Robbins, Joe Fitschen, Chuck Pratt and Tom Frost was one continuous push that took seven days. A vast improvement on the style beforehand.

It wasn’t until 1993, when the legendary Lynn Hill would become the first person to free climb (climbing without pulling on gear) The Nose in just four days. She returned a year later and climbed it in a day.

This year, Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold broke the speed record by climbing the route in 1 hour and 58 minutes.

Style gets better as time goes on. When you’re a pioneer, when you’re setting the standard for the rest of us, it might not be pretty. With time, however, you can improve the standard, you can raise the bar.

Revolutions destroy the unimaginable and unlock the impossible. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about climbing revolutions or cultural ones. Forward, we can improve on the matter of how things are done.

Redefining perfect

No design is done. No blog or Tweet is ever flawless. No sonnet is ever complete.

Because it’s never perfect.

We build off the history that has come before us. Raise the bar and the standard for those who come after.

If what we are striving for is perfection and, yet, never achieved, then shouldn’t we redefine what perfect is?

Perfect is according to spec. Perfect is what we need in the moment, in the now. Perfect is having the device work the way we want it to.

And what we can strive for is solving a problem we don’t even know exists yet.

Until then, let’s hope that things like pacemakers and traffic lights keep working perfectly.

The importance of good questions

Finding the answers is easy.

In a world where access is right in your pocket, answers are instant, there is little value in memorizing the facts and formulas. We can just look it up. Fast and with extreme accuracy.

So, why do we put so much value in memorizing when the War of 1812 was? Why do we value competence over curiosity?

That’s a good question. We are seeing a shift in our economy. Slowly, we are moving from being told every step we need to take to the emotional work of drawing our own map.

With all the answers right at your fingertip, the trick is to ask questions the rest of us are not asking. The kind of questions we are too afraid/naive to ask.

Once you see what other can’t, it’s difficult to unsee it. What then? Will you have the guts to act?

Great things start with great questions. Not the other way around.