Keep Making Stuff

Secretly, we’re all scared of being rejected. Whether it’s unrequited love, an unappreciated gift, or making something that people don’t want.

We’re scared of the critique.

After publishing my first book I fearfully awaited the first review. When the review came, it took me seven days to read it. It wasn’t as critical as I’d feared but the critical bits still stung.

The irony is that criticism hurts whether we’ve made something good or bad. There’s a bond between a maker and their work.

Here’s what we need to remember: creating isn’t about us. It’s our purpose to give; and a giver needs a receiver. The receiver is free to do whatever they want with the gift: they can reject it, return it, abuse it, or put it on a shelf.

On the path to making something great, you’ll make many things that aren’t that good. That’s ok. You’ll also make good things that aren’t appreciated. Don’t fret about that. History is filled with examples of artists who struggled even when they were making great art.

Vincent Van Gogh earned little recognition during his life. Today he’s known as one of most influential painters of all time.

Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

Here’s one more: right now Slack (the group chat app) is experiencing insane growth. But immediately before Slack, CEO Stuart Butterfield was working on a game called Glitch. Glitch had to be shut down after failing to get traction with users.

You’ll need to decide early on if you’re making things for yourself, or for others.

Many artists create solely for themselves. They’re focused purely on expressing outwardly what they feel inside. If it connects with the public, that’s fine, but it’s not their primary motivation.

But as product people, we’re different. We build things for others. Our purpose is to make things people want. There is art in what we do, but it springs from a different well. Our inspiration comes from outside of ourselves. We’re inspired by people. It’s their likes, needs, and wants that motivate us.

This is why making things for others is hard. We’re making bets on what other people (who aren’t us) will like. How can we get better at this?

One way to improve your intuition is to practice observing people. This was Steve Jobs’ hidden talent. Bill Gates made this comment at D5:

Steve has natural intuitive taste, both for people and products. I viewed [a product decision] as an engineering question. That’s just how my mind works. Steve would make the decision based on a sense of people.

Develop your human sense. Hone in on what drives them, what motivates them, what outcomes they’re looking for. That’s the key to making things that people want.

All of this takes practice. Keep at it. Keep making things.

There will be a temptation to keep your creations private. Don’t do that. You’ll only learn if you share what you’ve made with the world.

Persevere! But not blindly. Iterate on your ideas. If it’s not a hit, switch to something else. You’ll want to give up, but keep trying new things.

“I’m convinced…half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” — Steve Jobs

 Justin Jackson

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Originally published at on June 14, 2015.

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