There have been some interesting posts on Hacker News of late around side projects.
Some have pointed to their potential to distract. Others, the importance of having an “end” in mind. And while these are very real considerations, I keep feeling as though the obvious has yet to be stated. The obvious being; life needs side projects. If nothing else, they are the lifeblood of creativity.
Without one, you are shutting the blinds on your imagination.
Side projects spark our creativity by taking us away from The Grind.
The Grind is the problem that you beat yourself up over solving every single day. It’s the job you’re in, or the business you’re building. The Grind gets our best hours, our fullest attention, and the whole of our willpower.
The idea that your job (or company) cannot, on its own, infuse you with creativity, is a difficult sell. We’ve all experienced moments of creativity while inside The Grind. But what we often fail to notice, is that creativity is something that happens at a distance.
We don’t generate creativity by sheer force. We experience it by stepping back. The reason you feel creative when you start a new job, is because the problem set is new – and so the job behaves like a side project in those first few months. The same is true of stepping into someone else’s writing – you perceive the writer’s grind from a distance, allowing your insight to flow freely and easily – sometimes producing an “of course!” reaction (in the writer) typical of someone who was trying, with all their will, to uncover that same insight.
Side projects exist to refresh the mind. They’re our version of a ‘Shut Down’ command.
We try to be supportive of creativity at our office. In addition to working anywhere-anytime, we try to find ways to participate in puzzles outside of the task at hand.
Travis, for example, is one of the top open source contributors in the country (with nearly 2 million downloads). Forking and contributing a patch can feel like oxygen when the thought of single-handedly shipping an iPhone app becomes overwhelming.
He and Evan (who designed the app) are participating in Pixel Hack Day next weekend. This despite the fact that we’ve been burning the candle at both ends for weeks on end as we approach our ship date.
As for me, I recently had a chance to be a Speakers Coach for TEDxToronto. And once the physical exhaustion had a chance to wear off, I returned to The Grind renewed and inspired.
So to all of the speakers who allowed me to enter their grind – thank you. I received more from the experience than you know.
Ronald Deibert is the Director of the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies and Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary research and development “hothouse” working at the intersection of the Internet, global security, and human rights. He is a co-founder and a principal investigator of the OpenNet Initiative and Information Warfare Monitor projects.
He is also a pleasure to work with.