Frameworks for creatives / entrepreneurs / startups

About 5 years ago I started collecting frameworks. 

At the time, I'd just made the jump from a more corporate situation to a venture-backed startup in San Francisco. As an operations manager, I was basically put in charge of structuring and opening new product lines, both from a technical and brand/marketing perspective. 

No matter what I was working on, there was always a jump, a gap to be hopped across that included some risk. Usually, that meant finding a way to test or experiment, and then operationalizing what I learned into product growth.

The end result rarely matched the early expectations. Over time I started absorbing different approaches, including the lean startup, agile, and customer development focused models that entrepreneurs like Steve Blank champion. 

I also noticed that no matter what you were working on - turning a passion into a business, starting a startup, working at being a working musician, artist, designer, writer, or other creative - a 50 page, 5-year plan pretty much becomes obsolete within a year. 

Enter frameworks. I started collecting them in a public google doc and sharing them.

Truth is, most of the time you need a minimum amount of planning, think of it as structuring an experiment, but until you have validation that something works putting a ton of time and/or money into it doesn't make sense. 

Frameworks fill the gap that occurs early on in any idea, project or business, they illustrate the risk you're taking, and in some cases make clear the risks you don't want to take. 

5 years on, that document now includes frameworks for connecting online / finding jobs, spec'ing creative work, pitching a story to media and journalists, marketing from scratch for creatives and startups alike, evaluating data, and testing your own beliefs about your product. 

I also deliberately created frameworks that are gender neutral, and that aimed at increasing access to startups, tech, entrepreneurship, and creativity.

At the most basic level, having a clear framework for each new product, project, idea, etc. gives the creative or entrepreneur a place to start. It makes the unknown knowable, and opens up opportunities.

Last but not least, a good framework also spurs the best kind of questions, the ones that haven't been answered and/or don't already have a financial or business purpose, as Olia Lialina notes in an essay on media, mediums, technology, and art

"...take time to formulate questions that can not be answered by monopolies or by observing the monopolies."  


On why belief matters, and how information is coded into experience

Every day I go for a walk and pick up trash.

Although there a lot of reasons for it, the two main ones are:

  1. It needs to be done — (a matter of faith / belief)
  2. There is information coded into the experience that I can’t otherwise get to

That first reason is quite simple to break down: I don’t believe that there should be trash on the streets. 

The second is a bit more complicated, and reaches into a bunch of things— like human centered design / experience design, empathy, entrepreneurship, and how we build ecosystems from an individual up to global level. 

There is an important relationship between the two, and it’s a relationship that’s largely about action, about testing what we believe and what we are most suited to work on in the world. 

In the startup ecosystem this is expressed via investors saying things like “we want founders who are obsessed with solving problems” or founders saying “I won’t rest until I’ve understood and solved this problem for my target customer / market.”

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Telling one story a day about the people who use what you create

Building a company from scratch is exhausting. 

Entrepreneurs need various kinds of support to stay afloat —understanding friends and family, tough advisers / mentors, a good reading list to encourage contemplation, these are all important.

But the best source of support is the people actually using what you build. Their stories are the ones that open up your world when you’re thinking too narrowly, and provide inspiration to keep going. While solving a problem for one person typically doesn’t justify a stable small business or a rapidly growing startup, it’s the starting point for everything else. 

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The emotional state of an entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is largely about belief.

Sometimes that belief is what keeps us going, but it can also lead to dangerous territory — like listening mostly to people who think the same things we do, or shelving deeper feelings for years only to find out later that they are subconsciously undermining our best work. 

A common mantra in the startup ecosystem (besides hustle, scale, and growth) is that you should test your assumptions. There are different approaches to testing, including the well known lean startup method that Eric Ries advocates for. It’s a concept that’s also well covered by Steve Blank, Seth Godin, and an array of designers, technologists and thinkers. 

With the exception of Seth, most of the time the language / framework for testing assumptions is focused on developing & designing a product or learning from customers, and rightfully so. As soon as an idea gets out of your head, into the real world, and beyond a small circle of people… that’s when challenging your assumptions becomes critical. 

But there’s another, slightly different way of thinking about it: you’re testing what you believe to be true, not only about your product but about yourself. 

Nowhere is this more evident than in how we avoid, deal with, process, or even embrace our emotional state in times of turmoil, whether it happens quickly or over a long period of time.

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