Credit Where Credit is (not yet) Due

When I have a new idea I fight the urge to talk about it until there is actually something to show for it. I do this because I get very frustrated when others do it. And by “it” I mean seek congratulations, press attention, and sometimes investment, before the actual thing is complete.

I only have this frustration with others because I see the same thing in myself. I despise credit before it’s due because I hate my own tendency toward it. In the past I’ve sought positive feedback (read: ego stroking) for work that was not much more than a good idea. I’ve had plenty of good ideas. But good ideas aren’t worth congratulations or accolade on their own. Good ideas are only worth a damn once they’ve come to fruition.

In my experience, this entrepreneurial jumping-of-the-gun happens in the form of landing pages, tweets, and in some cases full fledged video announcements.

Up front credit poisons a new business because:

  • it encourages creatives to pause to accept congratulations, rather than focus on the work,
  • it can create tasks and events that distract from creating the thing, and
  • credit makes one immediately public, and immediately responsible for delivering on what’s promised.

A Totally Unique and Original Example

Apple doesn’t preview their products, they only announce products when they are for sale. Only via rumor sites and leaks will you ever hear about anything Apple is working on. Why is this?

I don’t know the exact reasons, but I have to imagine they don’t want to be caught with their pants down. Think of it this way. It’s hard enough to deliver on the things you actually do, let alone the things you promise on. No matter what your business is, reputation matters. And leaving people wondering whether or not you are working on something is better than them finding out that what you have been working on will never see the light of day.

I would argue that not promising in advance also leaves a business more flexible. Without the pressure to deliver on public promises businesses can, to that extent at least, change their direction and offer something new, something better, or something completely different without any blowback.

Confession Time

I have more personal examples of this bad habit than I really want to show off. It’s why I can’t stand it so much in other startups.

I’ll tell you about one of my own.

I work a lot with WordPress, which is software for running websites. When I had the idea for writing a WordPress eBook in early 2008, I did something that any yahoo with a hosting account could do. I decided on a name, grabbed a domain, and threw up a pretty basic landing page. I probably spent 10 or more hours on that part of the project alone. Even now, the page doesn’t look terrible.

But I never wrote anything more than a few pages. I certainly never completed an eBook. And there the landing page has sit. Just sitting there. Taunting me.

A Restrained Path

My new approach is to stay quiet until I have something. Like, really something, not just a landing page. For instance, I won’t put up a landing page nowadays until I have a launch date solidified. It doesn’t have to be a public launch date (though it helps if it is), a private one will do — as long as you stick to it.

The safest bet is to not talk about something until it’s ready. That means it’s actually done.

There’s a downside to this approach. It will probably result in less “oohs” and fewer “aahs”. But that’s because we all complete and launch far fewer things than we have ideas for. Talk only when you have a product and can launch, and the ego stroking will be less frequent. But, when the project is complete and the praise comes in, it will be well deserved, and as such much sweeter.

4 thoughts on “Credit Where Credit is (not yet) Due

  1. Releasing demo work is often an opportunity for someone to steal your original idea.
    Same reason I have always been hesitant about sharing my best ideas with college professors.

  2. Been there. 🙂 Now I tend to not say anything until the project is *almost* done, and still not really publicly – just to a few people – to help encourage me to sprint to the finish line. Which I can now see.

    Oh, that book writing thing? It’s *hard*. Seriously hard.

    • Oh I believe it.

      I think it’s a problem all creatives probably have. Every time I mention it everyone says “yeah! me too” 🙂

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