I Don’t Know How to Make That

They don’t say it out loud, but you know it’s what they’re thinking.  In many creative pursuits (for example, writing software, or designing something), the maker will be asked to create something specific, according to some set of requirements, but they don’t know how to make it.  What happens next is where it gets really interesting.

The first thing is that it’s exceedingly rare for any maker to admit they don’t know how to make what they’re being asked to make.  You could argue that this isn’t very honest and you’d be right.  There seems to be a lot of shame and risk to reputation involved in admitting you’re at the very limits of your capabilities.  Everyone, instead, professes to know what to do, whether they do or not.

There are two possible choices of action, after the maker has declined to confess that they don’t know how to make what is being requested.  Both keep the person asking for something to be made in the dark, which is not good and will lead to potential disappointment (and subsequent loss of reputation, anyway).

The least honest will tend to make, paint, draw, write, play, design or do what they already know how to do, trying to pass off what they are able to make for the thing they were asked to make.  While the result seems like it was produced using a tried, tested and hence safe approach and it provides the requestor with something that is the best thing the maker knows how to make, it still isn’t the thing they were asked to make.  Sometimes, it’s very different.  Most times, it’s unacceptable.

The requestor, at this point, wonders why the maker wasn’t more honest in admitting they don’t know how to make what was asked.  They have spent their money, wasted their time and received something other than what they were looking for.  Why wouldn’t they feel aggrieved?

The other slightly less dishonest approach, but at least a partially creditable one, is to use the request as an opportunity to learn how to make what they don’t yet know how to make.  The maker can accept the commission as a challenge, without revealing to the client that they’re making it up as they go along and work diligently to produce exactly what they were asked to produce.  Unfortunately, it’s still a dishonest approach, because it keeps the requestor in the dark, too.

An honest maker, presented with a request for something they don’t know how to make, should say so, but offer to learn to make what is requested and to challenge themselves to become a better, or more versatile, or more knowledgeable maker.  Then the client has the option of putting their trust in the maker, knowing it might not work out well, or might take longer, or result in a not quite up to par result, the first time, or else they can walk away and find a maker that does know how to make what they want.  They are given the chance to assess the risk, based on reliable information.  That seems like common courtesy, to me.

Mostly, though, the client already knows they’re asking for something that, in all probability, nobody yet knows how to do.  That might be why they came to you.  If you can provide them with a reason to trust you, by showing what you can do, but also admitting openly to what you can’t do and showing willingness to extend your range of skills, until you can do what is asked, you just might get the commission.  They might feel that you have what it takes to challenge yourself, struggle and triumph.

We compromise ourselves and our customers, if we secretly stick with what we know how to make and try to force feed that back to them, no matter what.  We also undermine other people’s trust in us, if we use the opportunity as a learning exercise, but fail to admit to the fact.  The best approach, in my view, is to explain the challenge and invite the client to trust you to accomplish the learning and skill-building that will be needed, to make what you don’t yet know how to make.

If you achieve anything, without a struggle, it tends not to be very satisfying.  Stretching yourself, pushing against your own boundaries and then succeeding is much more rewarding, especially if you bring your client along the journey with you.  They will then know, for certain, that they’ve just bought something really special, which took a lot of personal commitment and soul to produce.

On the other hand, if you keep the struggle a secret, it’s likely that the customer will undervalue what you’ve just done, no matter how amazing a feat it really was.  That can be very deflating, but that’s how you made it look.

As a maker, being able to look at the fruits of your struggle, the one you agreed to undertake on your client’s behalf, with their full consent and say to them, straight to their face, that you made this – that is an amazing feeling.  I submit that it’s the reason we do what we do, in essence.

If you’re honest about the whole thing, you’ll both walk away smiling.  Creating is funny like that.

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About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: https://michaeltopic.wordpress.com/. There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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