Brian Shaler

Occasionally Interesting

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Archive for March, 2011

Spaghetti on the Wall

“Brian, I’ve known you long enough to know that if you stick with something, it’ll be awesome. The problem is you don’t.

That came from someone who knows me fairly well. The quote may sound rather blunt, so I’ll explain why I feel it’s hitting the nail on the head.

First, let’s anonymize the first part, to get to the point that matters: “If you stick with something, it’ll be awesome.” Maybe it’s not true for everyone, but I feel like most people have the capacity to take an idea they’re passionate about, bring it to life, and make it awesome.

Take a hobby, an interest, or an idea you have, and make it your full-time focus for a week. Talk to at least a dozen people about it. Work on it all day and all night. At the end of that week, you’ll feel like a new person. Your passion for whatever it is will be ignited. I know this, because it happens to me from time to time.

That leads me to the second part of the original quote and the title of this article. I’m a tinkerer and an explorer. I come up with ideas and challenges, imagine how they’ll work, and then try to prove it to myself. I could very easily build 50 prototypes for 50 different ideas in one year. But that wouldn’t get me anywhere. In a way, it’s a weakness. Any talent would be squandered. Five years ago, I started making changes to how I tinkered.

Normally, the figure of speech, “throwing spaghetti on the wall,” means you throw the spaghetti and see if it sticks. I, on the other hand, usually don’t wait to see what sticks. It’s the act of throwing that excites me.

During high school and college, while I was teaching myself how to write software, I would spend hours working on experiments. If I got them to work, they would get tucked away in a directory on my computer. Squandered talent.

In 2006, I decided to turn the weekend projects into tech-world publicity. Still, I was just throwing spaghetti. At least I started doing it in public.

While my data visualization consulting scratches my spaghetti-throwing itch (no two projects are the same), what will I have in 5 to 10 years? Just a list of dozens of things I’ve made for other people. People like my friend Francine would probably agree that I should take at least a fraction of my time to work on projects for me. And more specifically, fewer projects taken much more seriously.

My plan? Two more months of client work, followed by X months working on my own project. I’m going to make it my full-time focus. I’m going to talk to hundreds of people about it. I’m going to work on it all day and all night. I’m going to ignite my passion for something that’s been kindling for several years.

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