Why do you do what you do?

Doctor Who Target books

Some of my favourite Doctor Who books

Have you ever stopped to wonder why do you do what you do? I don’t mean just the big picture like ‘I wanted to work in a big/small/famous company/charity doing a job description’ or ‘I always had a dream to do x’ or even ‘I have a talent for it..’.

I mean examining the actual tasks that you undertake in doing that role. Which bits do you find motivating and easy. I believe it’s in these micro-tasks that you’ll find the tendencies and traits that reveal what your ‘talent’ actually is.

I loved Doctor Who novels. They were novelisations of the television series adventures, often by the original scriptwriter and published by a company called Target between 1972 and 1990. In the 1970s and 80s they were the only way to re-live stories that had been on television. Doctor Who was very, very rarely repeated and stories weren’t released on video until the late 1980s and even then, most of the earlier black and white stories from the 1960s had been thrown away by the BBC. So the novels remained the definitive versions.

They triggered a few interesting traits in me. The first being the most dramatic. When I got my first one, age 7, I couldn’t read it. I had to learn to read, the book motivated me to learn.

The second was the concept of collecting. I didn’t just want to read them. I didn’t just want to re-read them, I wanted to collect them and keep them together on my shelf and sought out missing ones for my collection. By the late 80s when I had a computer that could print, I printed out a list of all the televised adventures with their number of episodes and broadcast dates and a box to tick when I had the book of that story. It was printed on a dot-matrix printer on that roll paper that had holes down the side. I stuck the list, which was 3 foot long, on my wardrobe door. The tick boxes by the way were colour coded: Red for Hartnell, Orange for Troughton, Yellow for Pertwee, Green for Tom Baker, Cyan for Davison and Blue for Colin Baker. (McCoy was added later in purple.)

The third trait was that I studied the design of the covers. I noticed that the early ones were the best, with highly graphical representations of the elements of the story drawn by Chris Achilleos. I noticed that the Doctor Who logo had changed through the years.

Doctor Who Target books

All my Doctor Who Target novelisations

And then there were the spines. The spines were my favourite part of the books. It was because that’s what you saw when you displayed them on the shelf. I noticed that the design of the spines had changed too and that if I displayed them in publication order, I could see the evolution. They used the same typeface, in various colours on a white spine for the most part until the early 80s when the spine and back cover became a colour. Sometimes the typeface was a condensed version, or smaller size to fit on the longer story titles. The Target logo started of big and in colour and got smaller and became white or black in the later years. But I didn’t display them in publication order. I ordered them in broadcast order, from November 1963 to October 1989.

In 1983 Target did a thing that infuriated me. They started numbering the books, “This book is number 60 in the Doctor Who Library” it said on the inside and had a number printed in a different typeface to the spine text on the spine. The reason this was so annoying was that the numbers represented the order that they had published the book and they applied the numbers retrospectively to the older books on their reprints (often replacing the great Chris Achilleos artwork with something inferior and the crummy late 1980s logo). But even that wasn’t the problem. It was that they’d numbered the books, published prior to the numbering idea alphabetically and then consecutively from that pint onwards. So The Abominable Snowman was ‘Book Number 1 in the Doctor Who Library’ and yet the story that followed it in broadcast order or publication order had no connection at all except that it began with A. If I was to follow this obscure system I’ve have two unconnected systems and the books in apparent random order on the shelf. This was intolerable. On top of this, Douglas Adams refused to novelise his three Doctor Who stories and Terry Nation had withdrawn the rights to two of the early Dalek stories so they would always be gaps on five books in my collection. I ignored the numbers and kept to broadcast order.

Doctor Who Target books

Here are some spines. Hang on, they’re in random order!

So what does this tell me about what I do now. The love of books is still there. The ‘collection’ reveals itself in my work as a drive for order and completeness. The interest in the covers revealed itself to be an interest in graphic design and illustration, especially on products like books. The interest in the spines also revealed a trait for accuracy and systems that have meaning.

It should be no surprise that a large part of my work involves all those traits. It’s what I’ve always done. What traits do your early interests reveal and do you incorporate them into your daily routines and your work?

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

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Criticism? Feedback? Don’t ask people what they think

Being a graphic artist, author and speaker has meant that I’ve been enjoying more freedom than most when it comes to my daily routines and variety of work. But there is a great downside, one that most people don’t often have to deal with day to day and that is direct criticism of one’s creative work.

If you’re doing a process job and you get criticised, certainly it can hurt, but it’s easier to see that you got the process wrong. Perhaps you rushed it, did something in the wrong order or missed something out. Perhaps it was the weather’s fault or the customer’s. It’s easy to point the blame partially at something else. You didn’t get the sale? It wasn’t quite right anyway, there are loads of factors involved and you’ll no doubt do better next time when luck and better conditions are on your side.

This isn’t the same with a task that uses your creativity more directly. If you’ve designed something, drawn something, written something or made something, you’ve put part of your soul into it. And then for someone to come along and say “it’s not really working for me” or “I don’t like it” or the killer, “can you just…”. It’s horrible. It’s an affront upon your very being. Your reason for existence has been attacked. Your humanity and personality, your very soul has been deemed worthless, or worse, average.

No wonder it’s a powerful reason not to do anything. It’s just too risky being creative. We’re just not naturally built to take that sort of criticism. No wonder people devolve such responsibilities and avoid putting their naked soul on display where it can be jeered at and tormented.

The award winning writer Issac Asimov said that when he handed his manuscript to the editor it was, as far as he was concerned, totally finished and sacred. He refused to change one word, not one comma. That didn’t mean that it was perfect by any means but he just couldn’t face someone else getting into his artistry and messing with it. He couldn’t bare it. J. R. R . Tolkien was similar. He was the author, the artist. What could these other people know about it? How dare they suggest this wonderful world that he had summoned into existence be made better by some external reader, some punter, someone who hadn’t created one line of text in their lives.

If these giants of literature can’t take it, it’s no surprise we can’t. There are of course ways of giving feedback that doesn’t hurt or offend (and it’s not ‘constructive criticism’ by the way), but we’ll save that for another time. Here I want to deal with the receiving end.

First of all we need to get used to telling people to, well, clear off. Poking their noses in, who do they think they are? We need to get control back of our creativity and re-establish that it has value in itself no matter what anyone else thinks. If the value of your art is dependent on other people’s opinion you’ll either stop creating altogether or begin a downward spiral of depression and low self worth that can, like in the case of so many artists; painters, musicians, singers and writers, end in death.

The genius scientist, artist, musician and safe-cracker Richard Feynman was told so many times, “what do you care what other people think?” that he used it as the title of his book. He didn’t care what people thought of him so he felt free to indulge in his crazy ideas and experiments that earned him the Nobel Prize. Please note this is not saying we shouldn’t care about people. I’m saying we shouldn’t care too much what they think about us, or at least shouldn’t worry about it to a point that disables us from operating. We shouldn’t second guess our moves to accommodate what other people might think of what we’re doing.

Then must first re-establish the joy of the act of creation, no matter what the discipline we work in, as an end in itself, separate from whether people will like it or whether we can sell it. Monetising our creativity is important but that has to come second. If you don’t enjoy and feel free to create what you create without thinking someone is breathing over your shoulder, you will stop doing it.

With my design clients over the years and especially with my author clients, some have a tendency to doubt their work and feel the need for peer review (and often stranger review) to the work before it is competed. Some authors post the draft cover or the title of the book on their Friendface sites. Why do they do this?

If it’s to say, ‘hey, my new book is coming out soon, get ready, it’s going to be great’ that’s a good thing. If it’s ‘what do you think, please give me some reassurance because I’m not confident’ it’s a bad thing.

If it’s an impasse of ‘I can’t decide between A and B, please help me decide’ for example than that can be useful. But asking people ‘what do you think?’ allows a load of pig ignorant, out of context irrelevant people to offer their destructive comments, which they think, erroneously, are actually helpful.

How dare you! I hear you say. These are my friends! Well, I love my mum but I’m not going to ask her what she thinks of my book cover. What does she know about it book cover design? She’s not even in the target market. She’s certainly not going to buy a copy. I bet your friends won’t be buying a copy either. They’ll probably expect one for free. After all, they contributed to the book didn’t they, by telling you you’d done it wrong and needed their help to get it right. That deserves a copy doesn’t it. They probably won’t read it though.

There’s room for market research. It can be very important. But is has to be done scientifically with controls in place, with a sizable target market or all you’ll get is random, worthless opinions.

The opinions that you get from so-called friends are never offered in a caring way either. (They think they are, but they’re not). This is because most people are not trained in offering feedback. They simply fluff up their feathers, proud and empowered that they’ve been asked to give their opinion on something and then look hard to see what it is about your work that they can hate. They don’t realise that their opinion is always subjective. “I don’t like blue. Blue is the wrong colour to use” and phrases like that are worded in a global way, as if their subjectivity is objectively true under all conditions. This is wrong. All phrases that are offered that take a global form should be ignored.

Anyone who offers the phrase “I’m being devil’s advocate here” can get right out of town. The one thing that’s worse than an irrelevant opinion is someone irrelevant offering their guess on what someone else, who doesn’t event exist, may think.

It’s lovely when people say, “I love it!”. But that too is irrelevant and should be ignored. We should not need our friends, associates or strangers opinions to validate our creative work. No-one contacts the film company to say “love the new Harry Potter film poster”. No-one even contacts the author of a book and says “saw your book in the bookshop. Love the cover. Haven’t bought it or read it. But love the cover”. How offensive is that? It’s out of context, that’s why. The cover or the poster isn’t there to be validated on it’s own. It’s integral to the wider work and can only be judged in that context.

What happens when you get all these conflicting irrelevant, out of context opinions is that you freeze. You can’t move forwards or backwards. You lose all power. Do you you change it, scrap it, give up? Doing nothing is the only option. Perhaps time will make decisions easier to make. Perhaps the pain of criticism will go away. It will not, and it does not.

This all adds delay and perhaps a greater failure of the work not being finished at all. What a disservice to the real target market (who so far haven’t even seen the work) and now will never get it, or get it late in a watered down state.

Thank you ‘friends’. Thanks for wasting my time and letting us all down.

But it’s not their fault. It’s our fault for not having faith in our convictions. It’s our fault for not believing in our ideas.

If you have specific doubts about the creation, ask the relevant trusted expert a specific question. But never ever ask anyone “what do you think?” because until that moment they didn’t think anything. Now you’ve given them a knife and said, “see how deep you can cut”.

Instead, present your works to your network as a done deal. Say, “Here it is, my new book, available in September. I’m taking advance orders now”. See how many of them buy it. There’s YOUR feedback on whether you’ve got the right target market.

If there is something wrong, like a spelling mistake and someone points it out, that’s fine. That’s useful to know. It’s not an opinion, it’s an objective fact. But imagine someone saying, “I see you new book is coming out. I’d love to buy it but I can’t because it’s got blue on it”. Now it’s clearer that the person who says that is a moron. But of course no-one will say that because no-one in your network is a moron.

Unless of course you allow them to be.

More on criticism here: “Using the C-word in business”

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What I did when I was 7 – it’s what I do now

The Adventures of Boba Fett Star Wars

The Adventures of Boba Fett comic book

It’s obvious to me now. Obvious that in the work you do you should build into it what you enjoy doing and what you’re good at. Today I spend my days creating brands and books for experts, giving talks on creativity and branding as well as writing and performing my songs.

But it wasn’t always that way. Or was it? Actually it was. It just took me a long time to realise it.

If you look on my website you’ll see a few of the books I’ve written for sale. But they weren’t my first books. Not by a long way. My first was called ‘Daleks in Vain’ written in 1978 when I was 7. It was bound like a book and had a cover which my teacher showed me how to laminate. I produced my own monthly magazines and created countless comic strips (about Doctor Who or Star Wars, the most extensive saga being the Adventures of Boba Fett). They too were produced as actual books with quizzes, facts, subscription information and dates and prices. I was doing back then what I do now.

English exercise book

My English exercise book with 12/10

I loved writing stories, whether I was tasked by a teacher to write them or not. Two of my English exercise book stories when I was in class 1M were given “12/10 Excellent!” By the teacher. This means just one of two things: either I was a literary genius, or my English teacher wasn’t very good at maths.

By age 12 I’d devoured The Lord of the Rings and was writing my own fantasy stories. Some took the form of those Fighting Fantasy ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books (“do you want to use the potion, turn to page 44” etc). Again, they were produced as complete illustrated books. My industrious work prompted the teacher to write a letter to my parents. It said, “We need to stamp out this indulgence of his with fantasy”.

How many of us have had a (sometimes a well meaning) slight or damning report on our creativity? How many of us have had our creativity and excitement snuffed out, our passion extinguished? I had no further support with my writing and drawing. It was slowly put to one side, deemed by everyone to be an unimportant diversion and a distraction from proper things like Chemistry, Physics and Maths. (Even though I was best at Technical Drawing and Art).

For good or ill I pursued an education in science and by some miracle got a degree in physics and physical science. But just as the degree came to an end, something happened that would change everything as I unwittingly made a decision that would bring my expertise full circle.

I ran for office for the Students’ Union to run the student magazine. Then, it was an 8 page newsletter that 8 people wrote and just about 8 people read. I turned it into a 48 page magazine that had the highest number of student contributors to a student journal before or since. We had 60 student contributing to it in some way each month. I was an editor, a designer, a writer and a performer (I hosted shows, did stand up comedy and performed my songs at events). But the job was about something else. It was really a question of motivation (and I suppose, leadership). I managed to inspire people who would never have got involved in such things to come to my office. “What are you good at?” I’d ask them. “What do you like doing?” One fellow replied that he liked writing poetry. “Great” I said, “You’re the poetry editor” (He went onto become a good friend, my deputy and later on, took the editorship himself.)

TLE the last edition Oasis Definately Maybe Oxford Brookes Students' Union magazine

TLE issue 305, October 1994

A girl came to the office. She said she was interested in bands and music. I knocked up a badge with the magazine logo on it (TLE – The Last Edition) and told her to take it to the Venue and they’ll let her in to review the bands. Take it to the record shops and they’ll give her singles to review. She came back a week later to report that it had worked. She’d done an interview with one of the bands and got some photos. It looked great, although I’d never heard of the band. She said they were going to be huge so we put them on the front cover. The band was Oasis and we had published an exclusive just before they hit the big time.

With that job, which lasted two years, I’d created an Eden, the perfect job where I was using all my skills. When it ended and I had to get a real job, it was a real jolt to the system that I was put in a corner and told to use such a small part of my skills and experience. I counted the days (which amounted to six years) until I had enough nerve to set up on my own and recreate that Eden again.

So here I am, doing the same things I was doing when I was 7. Sometimes we think our dreams are somehow ‘out there’ and distant from us. I’ve realised that mine we here all the time. It just took me such a long time to realise that my hopes, dreams and passions were with me all along.

Are you victim to the voices of decent that have manipulated you into thinking what you should be doing, not what you could be doing? has your creativity been dulled and dumbed down, your passions diverted? Or are you building into your working day who and what you are, what you’re good at, what you enjoy? I hope so.

Drop me a comment with your experience of self re-discovery.

Read more on www.aydinstone.com

How to Play the Piano

I’ve had a piano for seven years and a synthesiser for seventeen years and I’ve just learnt how to play. I’d been trying the play all that time but failed dramatically. Then as soon as I stopped ‘trying’, within a week I could suddenly play.

It came about because I wanted to retain the ‘cool dad’ tag for as long as possible with my fourteen month old son. We’ve been filling his day with music since he was born and when he expressed an interest in the large wooden piece of furniture covered in ebony and ivory keys I wanted to be able to play a tune for him. So I did. Was it as simple as that, you say? Actually yes. And I’m not saying all this to impress you, but to impress upon you a strategy for learning which can be, and should be, applied to everything you want to learn.

Let’s have a look at what is going on here.

The first thing was that suddenly the motivation was there to learn. When I was at school my parents and the teacher were concerned that I was late in reading. The reason was that they had given me a load of old boring books to read. I wanted to be able to do it to please them and get away with it and I wasn’t motivated in the actual reading of such dull stories. But when I got me hands on the Dalek and Star Wars annuals with their comic strips I suddenly ‘got it’. Then I devoured the many Doctor Who novelisations of the television series, a couple I owned and the rest from the library. Remember these were the days before video recordings. A Doctor Who story was on television once and then never repeated so books were the only way of reliving the adventures.

Comic strips, pulp science fiction, novels of tv series and fantasy ‘choose your own adventure’ books were all decried by teachers and parents in the 70s and 80s. What they failed to recognise, as the author Philip Pulman has often pointed out, is that it’s the reading that is important for children. It doesn’t really matter what they read as long as they do read. (For Pullman it was the Superman comics). Children soon consume a range of books and then look to the next thing to satisfy their reading desires. It’s often those who started on the lesser appreciated literary forms that move quicker onto more advanced works.

What was going on with my early reading was that I was getting a result straight away. I was learning as I went along, but I was getting the result which was the understanding of the particular adventure story.

I’d used the same approach to learning the guitar. I was self-taught. I learnt that I only needed the chords A and D to play ‘Mull of Kintyre’. Add in an E and I could play Buddy Holly’s entire back catalogue. My goal was to sing and play and within a week I could do that. After a month I was writing my own songs.

So it was this technique that I applied to the piano. The goal was to be able to play and sing some popular songs. I didn’t need to start at the very beginning and learn the history and meaning of dots and squiggly lines on wires. All I had to do was to make a convincing sound.

All learning begins with self learning. A good teacher shows the way and needs to surround the student with the right motivation for them. The student then pulls themselves up, by themselves. The thrill of achievement then fuels the next stage; the desire to get better. This is where the teacher is needed as mentor, to guide the student through to mastery by showing technique and information.

So many teachers get this process back to front. They bombard the student with technique and information which goes over the heads of so many students who then feel disenfranchised and lose interest. There is a certain percentage of people who can learn this way but many will get quickly bored if the information is not relevant to their current goal. It’s all about finding the right teaching strategy to match the student’s learning strategy.

Now that I can convincingly play ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Let it Be’ I can begin to expand my repertoire as well as going back to look at the technique and information for reading printed music. I now have the motivation to be able to get there.

You’ll have your own learning strategies. They may be different to mine but they’ll be the same in the one vital way: you will always need less will power to learn something you want to learn and that you will enjoy learning. If you have to use will power then you are more than likely to just give up and do something more rewarding at the first sign of hard work. Build the reward into the learning. This will work whether you want to learn Mandarin, Chemistry, salsa dancing or piano. Ask yourself ‘why?’. If that ‘why’ is compelling enough you’ll be doing it in no time.

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