Creating A Great Work

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Recently Serdar and I were discussing what made Great works of art, literature, and anime.  We quickly got to the point of realizing that the idea there’s some checklist to create the Great Works is an illusion.  There’s no roadmap for Greatness, despite many failed attempts to create one.

(We left the exact definition of Great ambiguous in our discussion.  I think of Greatness as influential, life-changing works that aim us upward – and persist one way or another).

What we did determine was that there’s no Greatness CHecklist, but there are traits that those that make Great Works have, and seem to increase the chance of creating a Great Work.  Passion for one’s work, persistence, clear vision, and so on.  We probably need to finish this list . . .

What we realized is that there are not techniques to Greatness per se.  There are things you can learn from those that made Great Works, principles, and sets of philosophies and goals, that if you hold them, increase the chance of doing something Great.  None of the people out there that made amazing things are the same, and none of them are the same as you, but there’s probably a rough set of principles and philosophies you can find that’s common among many people you admire.

Then there are techniques MAY help you achieve Great Works.  It could be the “list six things each evening to do the next day.”  It could be writing 1000 words a day.  There is no comprehensive list of techniques, just some out there that will help you after you find what works for you – and what embodies the various principles that those that make Great Works end up holding as important.

You hold the Principles and live them with Methods.

I realized quickly that this is a lot like Agile.  Much as Agile has two parts that help people achieve great things, I think general “making something Great” is similar.

Agile in best practice is about two things:

First, there’s general Principles, as embodied in the Agile Manifesto.  These are things to aspire to, values to hold, general guidelines. Stuff like “Leverage change” or “establish a firm technical foundation.”  They’re good ideas, but you have to figure out how to make them work – and internalize them.  Internalized, they make good productivity instinctive.

Secondly, there are Agile Methods – Scrum, Kanban, and whatever home-brew your office probably uses.  These are ways to embody the Principles in a way that works for you (or you and your team) and help you realize them, so your work is better.  These are techniques that in general help you achieve the Principles, but you have to find what works for you and your situation.  They’re ways to get to the destination of the Principles.

It’s the same with Greatness.  You can probably find similar, general philosophies and attitudes that people that made Great Works have had – but you have to adapt them and live them.  You can select methods that help you realize these principles – but you need to choose what works for you out of the near-endless advice you’ll get.  The two work together to increase the chance of making a Great Work.

The funny thing is – much like Agile – trying too hard will sabotage you.  Many people I know who I admire, who create and do a lot of good and great works, have this all internalized.  This makes it harder to understand, harder to get advice, and tempts you to try hard to do what is, to some effortless (even if it feels like an effort, it comes naturally).

Greatness is lived, not had.  Perhaps that’s why it’s so frustrating, even for those that achieve amazing things.  Greatness exists in two parts and flows out of us like water, and whenever we try to grasp it, we can’t get ahold of it.

Well, if we could get ahold of it, maybe it wouldn’t be so Great . . .

The great Tao flows everywhere.

All things are born from it, yet it doesn’t create them.

It pours itself into its work, yet it makes no claim.

It nourishes infinite worlds, yet it doesn’t hold on to them.

Since it is merged with all things and hidden in their hearts, it can be called humble.

Since all things vanish into it and it alone endures, it can be called great.

It isn’t aware of its greatness; thus it is truly great.

Steven Savage

Way With Worlds: Goals, Methods, And Results

Heroic Rider

(Way With Worlds Runs at Seventh Sanctum, Muse Hack, and Ongoing Worlds)

Stories, games, and all fictions are about people, about characters, about what they do and why. They may not be like us, we may not like them, but that’s what’s going on. We’re watching people (even if not human) do stuff to get results, though we may put it in more colorful ways.

Goals, methods of reaching them, and results are, in a way, everything a story is about. In the end, you’ve got to save the prince so you can throw the one ring into the fiery pit of the starship engine to bypass the alien invaders before your ninja rival does.* No goals, no methods, no results, no story, no interest.

Therefore, your world has to include characters that have believable goals, ways of achieving them, and results.

Which is obvious.

And, as you’ve heard me say many times, and doubtlessly will again, obvious is the problem.

Let’s dive in.

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