Make stuff you love and talk about stuff you love and you’ll attract people who love that kind of stuff. It’s that simple. —Austin Kleon

The secret to success in our fast-paced industry is, I believe, straightforward: make things, share things and – last, but by no means least – be nice to people. That’s it, really.

Like most things in life that are worth knowing, it’s a blindingly obvious recipe for success, and yet, there are many that don’t quite get it. That, in some respects, explains why this month’s instalment on our creative journey echoes and amplifies some of the elements covered in last month’s instalment, You Are a Channel.

Our industry hurtles forward at an often alarming rate. At times it can feel hard to keep up (and I’m sure everyone – no matter how confident they may appear on the outside – worries at least once in a while about their ability to keep up).

To stay focused and to remain relevant it’s important to make things, always. Find something new, learn it and add a new string to your bow. It’s equally important to share things. There’s no point hiding your prototypes away in a closed off corner of the web; why not share them, for the benefit of others?

Lastly, never forget your Ps and Qs. Never forget to put in a kind word from time to time. What goes around comes around. If you’ve contributed, you’ve banked some good will; when you’re stuck next time, you’ve credit in the bank. Likewise, that simple ‘thank you’ probably reverberated more than you thought it did. (So few say ‘thank you’ any more.)

Make things. Share things. Be nice to people. Follow these three pieces of advice and I believe you’ll find life a lot easier (and a lot more pleasurable, too).

Here’s one I made earlier…

As an educator I’m fortunate to enjoy a career that calls for constant creation. In order to teach effectively, I need to be making, constantly. You don’t need to be an educator, however, to benefit from the act of constant creation.

Learning doesn’t end when you finish school, or university, learning should be lifelong. You should always be learning something. When you’ve pinned down the basics, move on to the intermediates, before tackling the advanced. When you’ve reached mastery of a subject area, move on and explore something new. (I explored this idea in Join the Dots, stressing the need to build a ‘Latticework of Mental Models’ to operate effectively as a designer.)

In his excellent book, Managing Oneself, Peter Drucker explores what he calls ‘The Second Half of Your Life’, stressing the need to keep learning throughout your life (preparing yourself for the unexpected consequences that may hit you later in life). As Drucker puts it:

We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.

Understanding how you learn is an article (or even a book) in itself, perhaps the first step in the process is acknowledging that everyone has something to learn.

In my first few weeks as an educator, while delivering a series of workshops introducing and exploring Photoshop, I ‘collided’ with a student who, having failed to attend any of the sessions, told me, “I already know Photoshop.” I replied, not even Thomas Knoll, ‘knows Photoshop’.

Sadly, I lost that individual, as he ‘had nothing to learn’.

What ‘View Source’ Really Represents

Making is only one half of the equation, however, sharing is just as important. As Peter Drucker puts it: “No one learns as much about a subject as one who is forced to teach it.” In order to explain something properly, you really need to understand it. Deeply.

We’re fortunate to work in an incredibly open industry. ‘View Source’ changes our perspectives fundamentally. It allows us to look beneath the bonnet (or under the hood) and see how things work. It’s also the perfect metaphor for our industry, one that is founded on sharing, and collaboration at every turn.

This openness drives our industry forward, it relentlessly encourages innovation, but why stop at ‘View Source’? Why not go one step further and spend some time writing up what you did, exploring the how and the why for the benefit of others? Many do and, thanks to their generous spirit, we have a wealth of knowledge on which we can all draw.

As an educator I spend a great deal of time explaining how to make things, and I’m never less than impressed by the sheer volume of ‘behind the scenes’ walkthroughs that are there to draw on.

Very few other industries have, for example, tools like CodePen, which – more than, “a playground for the front end web” – represents an opening up of process and a shared learning resource. In addition to being thankful for what we have, where possible we might contribute to these resources ourselves, for the betterment of all.

Karma Matters

Lastly, after making and sharing, be nice to people. It costs nothing and it always pays off.

As a child, I grew up in Scotland, living for the most part with my grandparents. My grandmother was a stickler for manners, and rightly so. She always insisted on timely thank you letters and, whenever we finished a meal, we weren’t allowed to leave the table without saying, “Please may I leave the table, and thank you for my dinner.”

My brother and I could rattle off that phrase – “Please may I leave the table, and thank you for my dinner.” – incredibly quickly, but that phrase lives with me until this day. We were incredibly fortunate and my grandmother made sure we acknowledged that fact.

My grandparents passed away a few years ago, and I miss them greatly, but I’ll never forget the fundamentals that they taught me: always be appreciative, and when someone does you a kind turn never forget to say ‘thank you’, and acknowledge their act of kindness.

I always echo this sentiment to my students. As I put it:

You might go on to succeed in life, which is wonderful, but never forget who you are or where you came from. Treat everyone with respect. You never know what others might achieve, and you may meet them on the way up, when you’re on your own way, back down.

Karma’s important. Just as important as the benefits of making and sharing.

In Closing…

Make things, share things, and be nice to people. Simple. We work in a wonderful industry, characterised by openness and – for the most part – good will. Do your best to add to the world, not take away. Ask yourself, what might I do today to help others, and how might I share my hard-won knowledge so that others might flourish?

I’m looking forward next month to exploring the idea that process matters as much as outcome and that often the journey you’ve taken is as interesting, if not more interesting, than the destination. See you in a month for the penultimate step of the journey.