The overload strategy and killing ideas

One of the strategies behind the curriculum at AC4D is to assign more work than is probably accomplishable at any given time. As a class, we’ve discussed what we learn from this. Several theories were floated, and most were confirmed by faculty.

1) Overload makes sure that there are no gaps in creating, delivering, and generally processing information being taught to us. This creates momentum whose inertia needs to carry us through our quarterly breaks and beyond the end of the program. The ultimate goal being that we get used to this level of activity such that it becomes difficult not to be creating or synthesizing most of the time.

Let me know if you're feeling overworked.

2) While we do need to be thoughtful and intentful in our work, the nature of our work provides plenty of opportunities to get stuck, staring at a blank sheet of paper wondering where to start. Or inversely, overprocessing too many ideas without creating necessary artifacts to show how we got from point A to point B. In the avalanche of work, we must at a certain point get out of our own heads and commit to paper (or whiteboard or the digital tool du jour).

3) In addition to learning to manage time better, we become better prioritizers, deciding what is most important to accomplish each week, what “falls to the floor,” and what still gets done, but at lesser quality and fidelity than we prefer.

4) There is special value in the work we decide to get done, but wherein we sacrifice quality. When we do lackluster work, we are guaranteed to get that feedback in critique or in a gradesheet. Sometimes, we know exactly what that feedback will be. In this case, our excuse of lack of time does not matter; the result is all that matters. Other times, the criticism we get is over unexpected areas, and we learn that, if we are going to cut corners for the sake of shipping, we need to repriortize which details to focus on, and which to skip. Either way, each time we learn to become less attached to our ideas and our work. And this is a critical point: I’ve watched many startups become fixated on one idea, and when they refuse to let go of it, they fail.

Just this week, I took the time on a project I was struggling with to get feedback from several peers and faculty. One faculty member said that the idea was obvious, and that if I was going to continue with it, I’d have to dig deeper. I’m not sure I agreed with the obivousness of it, given other’s reactions, but I did understand the need for continued refinement. But it just wouldn’t gel no matter where I took it.

So I killed that idea. It was hard and a little scary, as I had put a lot of effort into it, and I had no idea what I would do instead with a rapidly approaching deadline. But the writing was on the wall: I couldn’t make it work. I started over. And even though the idea was gone, I now had a few more techniques for bringing together disparate ideas, diagramming them, and generating new work from scratch. It was a little bit easier than the previous effort, it took less time, and most importantly, I was left with a concept that did hold together, made sense, and had more depth to it.

Like many things, getting good at something requires doing it again and again: killing an idea and starting over is no exception. Given the pace of AC4D, I expect plenty of chances to practice!