Monday, September 26, 2011

Law 9: Completion - Stepping Aside

In software development we often lament the fact that project sponsors don't understand the difference between done and done. That is, the difference between getting the feature to work and having it ready for public consumption.

In the same vein, I hope you now have a richer appreciation of the non-trivial dimensions of finishing. We've covered a lot of surprisingly difficult ground in our exploration of Completion, the ninth Law of Making.
There is one more challenge--for some the supreme challenge--to overcome before you're truly finished: you must step aside.

I always wonder, when I see a vehicle with a bumper sticker announcing that, "My child is an honor student" at some school, whether the emphasis is on the honor student or the fact that the student is "my child." It's one thing to be proud that your child is doing well, it's quite another to make it a point to let everyone know that it's your child who's doing well. I trust you've seen examples of "proud parents" who were so wrapped up in their child's achievements in school, music, sports, or pageants it's hard to believe they're really doing everything they do only for the child.

After you finish and you let go, there's a subtle, but dangerous temptation, to live vicariously through the work. One indication that you've succumbed to the temptation, particularly if the work is well received, is if you can't let anyone forget who it is that must get credit for the work. Another sign is if you bask in the role of, "Those Who Have Produced."

There is a question, which has been there from the beginning of the project, we all must answer at some point. It's often eclipsed by all the other aspects of the work until the very end. And the full weight of its implied heartbreak and humility becomes apparent only at the end. 

Is it about you or is it about the work?

If you've done any sort of amateur dramatics, you've probably met plenty of bad actors and seen examples of a death scene that takes five minutes and has the soon-to-be-but-not-quite-yet corpse literally or metaphorically chewing on the scenery. Leaving aside the critiques, like the observation that understatement is almost always more emotionally powerful than overstatement, one of the times when it is difficult to maintain your grace is when it's your turn to go. 

The deep truth is that every made thing has its own destiny apart from its creator.

The final act of a true maker is to step aside, back out of the limelight, and make a graceful exit.

Image: Bill Longshaw /

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