I’m terrible at poker. The trouble I have with poker is that I’m just too optimistic. When playing Texas Hold ‘em, if I’m dealt a 2 and a 4, I’ll keep betting, hoping for a straight, rather than sensibly folding given the crappy cards in front of me. Optimism is no bad thing, but you’ve got to learn how to harness it.
As an entrepreneur, optimistic risk taking is part of my character, but I’m aware that I need to watch out for the ‘grass is greener’ mentality, which will ultimately cripple my ability to produce anything. The culture of today certainly feeds this dangerous way of thinking. We tell ourselves that newer is always better, and fill in the unknown with the best possible scenarios.
It’s like when a teenager meets a cute member of the opposite sex for the first time, and it’s “love at first sight”. Before they’ve leant anything meaningful about the other person, they’ve filled in the blanks with their dream guy or girl, and it’s the dream they’re falling in love with. Or take the recent expectations set for the new iPhone’s announcement. There had been so much speculation, filling in the unknown with the unrealistic, that people were disappointed when they saw the 4S. In reality, though, the iPhone 4S is a great improvement – the press just over hyped it, knowing nothing of what it was really like. I’ve done this myself many times, too. I remember seeing the trailer for Jumper and thinking it looked awesome – what a massive letdown it was when I actually went to see it at the cinema!
As indie developers, we can easily fall into this trap too. When we get to the stage in a project where the honeymoon period is over, and the hard slog lies ahead, every other idea for a new project seems way more appealing. We imagine all the highs of starting again with something fresh, of releasing something awesome and raking in the sales, and forget about the endless debugging, the hard slog and the negative reviews. We’re so quick to convince ourselves that the new is better, and so we jump ship. But then the same thing happens on the next project, and the next, and we end up never releasing anything! I’m not saying not to be optimistic – quite the opposite. I believe wholeheartedly that the best is yet to come, but you can be optimistic about what you’re working on now. The danger is in the endless cycle of jumping from project to project, because you believe it will make everything better.
So how can you avoid this happening to you? Well, in the first instance, you need to pick your projects carefully. Make sure that it’s small, manageable and something that you’re so passionate about that you’re happy for it to become a part of who you are. Make a note of all the reasons why you think this project will be awesome, and tell yourself on a regular basis how great it will be when this thing ships. Then tell everyone else. Tell your friends what you’re working on and get them excited. Blog about it and tweet it. Do whatever you can to make not finishing painful and embarrassing. Then when the urge comes to abandon the project – and it will come sooner or later – fight it with all you’ve got. Remind yourself why you started it in the first place. And count the cost of starting something from scratch.
Of course, there are some times when it’s the right thing to do to abandon a project. If something that made it a great idea when you started no longer holds true, then maybe you should call it a day. But the majority of the time – and I’m talking to myself as much as anyone – you should keep going. Don’t give up easily – the grass really isn’t any greener atop the fields of new ideas. The best thing you can do is ship a product. Who knows what you could be missing out on, and what you’re denying the world of, by giving up on something that had the potential to be great, just because things got hard.
Apparently Winston Churchill used to end nearly every phone call with the phrase KBO; it stands for “Keep Buggering On”. Wise words!