A Developer’s Mindset Can Benefit Your Creative Career
A Programmer’s Guide to Creativity
How bringing a developer’s mindset to your creative career can be your biggest asset.
For some reason, so many developers believe they aren’t creative. They think they are confined to creating things within the constraints of code and automating briefly inconvenient manual tasks.
So many creative minds in the tech side of the internet aren’t breaching into the “creative” side because they think they aren’t cut out for it because they have a developer’s mindset.
But here’s the thing: that very developer’s mindset is just what it takes to find real sustainable success in a creative project online. The experience that comes from learning to code creates patience and a comfort in not knowing something.
The greatest asset a developer has is their ability to tinker and then compound everything they learn into even more advanced forms of tinkering.
The Developer’s Process
The development cycle goes like this for most of us:
- Embarrassing Yourself
- Compiling All of That Learning
- Executing It All Over Again, but Better
Following this exact process helped me learn to code. But it has also helped me learn how to create compelling content that improves each time. Each step of the this process could help improve anybody’s creative career and the mindset they bring to it.
“Creativity is just connecting things.” – Steve Jobs
The most important part is to simply be open to tinkering.
Play with new tools, refine old processes, and try new things. Create something, and then rip apart just to try building it more efficiently the second time.
To some, these sound like distractions or random directionless rabbit holes. But having a catalog of directionless knowledge comes in extremely handy when it’s finally time to choose a real direction.
With actual programming, these distractions are dropping valuable nodes of information to our understanding. They may not be immediately related to whatever big project we have on the go, but when the time comes to implement it – you have this node simply waiting to be connected to the rest of your understanding. Waiting for you to connect the dots.
The same thing has happened to me countless times with creative work. Here’s a fun example: I have dabbled with creating a podcast a few separate times. It never amounted to much, and I ultimately abandoned the idea each time I started. But now, I have this extra perspective and knowledge around what goes into creating a podcast and I can lean on that when pitching services to podcast creators.
Tinker and follow the rabbit holes now. You never know how valuable that info can become in the future.
After tinkering for a while, you start working with ideas and concepts that are bigger and they start to feel clearer. That’s where the fun really begins.
You get to experiment and see which concepts fit together, and where ideas start to clash.
This is the moment that a tinkering developer becomes the mad scientist. And that same mindset transition happens in the very best moments of a creative career. When all of a sudden, all of your directionless experience comes together and you make one standalone thing you can publish, step back and honestly say you’re proud of.
Turning your tinkering into full experiments offers the chance to go from knowing how it works to understanding why it works and that is where you truly find a successful creative career.
The next part is a little less fun…
Make a Fool Out of Yourself
Then like any developer who is 2/3rds of their way into a project, you find out you actually know nothing.
You have no idea how to do what you’re doing. You set your ambitions to high. You’re embarrassing yourself. You’re too inexperienced.
Every single time I’ve coded anything, I’ve felt these lows. At times it’s just part of the process. It’s supposed to keep us humble when the breakthroughs come, but spending too long in this slump is where burn out starts to build.
The truth is that making a fool out of yourself is part of the process. To make a breakthrough, you have to understand what you don’t understand, and that means asking dumb questions or trying dumb projects. Eventually, these dumb projects and experiments compound and build into a wealth of usable information. In other, more confident language – that’s expertise.
Expertise comes after making a fool out of yourself.
Compile Your Learning
After making a fool of yourself, there comes a magical moment. The moment you decide to keep going and learn something from the embarrassment instead of hiding away from it.
You don’t just make a fool out of yourself. You find a knowledge gap you can fill or a weak spot you can accommodate for next time.
Each time a developer pushes compile on their code, they learn a little more about how the pieces come together. Even if they get the most embarrassing errors in return. And each time we hit publish on a piece of creative work, we are learning a little more about how the pieces come together.
Execute It Again
After compiling all of our embarrassing errors, the important part is fixing what we can and trying it again.
Expertise is built through executing again and again, regardless of the embarrassment and errors faced along the way. This is an especially important piece of the mindset to carry into creative work.
Creative work is inherently embarrassing and you’re going to find yourself cringing at times. You have to find your own limit and stay authentic in your content, but there is still an aspect of leaning into the cringe as you go.
Where to Start
If you’re a developer reading this, stop doubting your creative abilities and start seeing programming and development as creative acts themselves.
If you’re not a developer, consider how a developer’s mindset can boost or broaden the approach to your creative career.
Getting started is simple. Start by finding a small problem in your content or your business approach, and tinker with it. Tinker with ideas and let them organically grow into experiments and then even more from there.
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