There’s quite some talk going on about the nature of creative work. No doubt, people who work in software development are creative professionals. They engineer solutions, find technical and organizational bottlenecks, design comfortable user experiences and help customers handle their challenges. Some say creative work is all about being passionate, some say that it’s essentially a routine, and all you need to do is stick to a schedule, do your job well, and the success will come. I see a point of merger in those two approaches to any creative work, and here’s where it’s at.
The “passion” point of view has been shared by Ken Robinson in his book “The Element“, and “the routine” one has been excellently covered by by Todd Henry. Ken Robinson’s focus is rather on calling people to discover their passions. We all find ourselves at various stages of development in our creative life, and if someone is still looking for this “point of passion” (that’s where Ken’s book comes handy), then someone else might be aware that “passion” is not everything. It’s the same as with personal relationships. In the beginning people are very passionate as they create new families, but then they find out that their life has become a routine. A chain of repetitive events, such as family gatherings, looking after the kids, or taking care about the place where they live, etc. If people find themselves in an established family relationship with this “passion” mindset, they are not going to last long. This is the same as a crave to get high, in a way, and constantly whip up your adrenaline by passion and nothing else. That’s why families based solely on passion do not pass this test, and break up, as people go find some other sources to “get high”.
On the other hand, there are people who understand that it’s their passion, but now it just went to the next stage, and turned into an established routine. At this point, passion wouldn’t be the driving force, and that’s where I want to draw a parallel. If relationships are based just on passion, people behave like amateurs. There’s nothing complicated in caring about a person if passion is there. Same way, there’s nothing complicated in exploring a new pursuit you’re passionate about. What’s complicated though, is going over the exciting ridge of passion to a flat lavish valley of a creative routine. That’s were “professionalism” comes in. Could be it’s not a very appropriate word, but only a good family “pro” can be content living their life and enjoying simple pleasures. When it goes about work, only a pro can do their job routinely, excel at it, and not make too big a deal out of it.
At music concerts, one might have noticed that professional musicians look far from being outwardly “passionate”. It’s so surprising, how matter-of-factly they proceed from one great piece of music to another, take a sip of water and then just go on. And the audience is all rave.
My point is: one can only last so much if fueled only by passion. Passionate outbursts and try-outs are OK if you’re venturing for a surf glide, or for a skydive. With any sustainable activity, that requires consistent practice, it’s not about passion. It’s about the routine production of a good quality pro work, in whichever field that you are in. Of course, it can be intermixed. People can change their passions, but where one becomes a professional in anything, it’s their ability to do things just by schedule, and do them well, no matter if one feels passionate or not motivated on any given day. By the way, Malcolm Gladwell is not getting this exactly right with his 10,000 hours rule, in my opinion, but that would make a subject for another discourse.
I think that the bottomline for each creative professional — as I believe many people in software development are creatives — is to find out when they are ready to move from the “finding their passion” stage to the “creative routine” stage.
This process is cyclical. Someone can be a great pro, and work efficiently in the “creative routine pro” mode, but then there’s an urge for another passion, at which a person might choose to keep this passion just as a hobby, or pick it up seriously and become a professional in it, as in photography, for instance. But the one who arrives at the point of a steady creative routine earlier in their lives, is much better off. Such a person simply has more time to become good at doing what she does. That’s the reason we all like dining in family-owned restaurants, or having our stuff fixed by a grey-haired jeweler, whose family has been in this business for 3 generations. Same for software professionals. Young passionate creatives at one point or another either turn into grey-haired experienced professionals, or jump to their next passion. This passion-routine cycle might be repeated. But it’s hobbyists who are driven only by passion. Professionals do their job well in an established routine, and feel calmly good about it.