I’m a big fan of the whole Soloist concept. Anytime you branch out and do your own thing unencumbered is a good time. Couple that with a bunch of Soloists getting together to form an Ensemble and, to me, that just oozes creativity and innovation.
As a refresher, a Soloist is a highly creative type who can invent and build stuff. She relies on a group of liked-minded individuals for support, ideas and inspiration — her Ensemble. The Soloist thrives on solving novel problems and hates the corporate drones (or Sheeple) that get in her way. One thing I realized is that to be a better Soloist, you need to nurture your side project skills. Side projects are the ultimate training ground for hitting your creative stride and building innovative stuff.
What’s a Side Project?
A side project is something outside your day job that you do because 1) you love to do it, 2) you know how to do it and 3) it’s fun. Side projects are not what your boss assigns you when you have “down time” from your normal job. They are typically projects that can be dropped if life gets in the way but you always seem to want to come back to them. The power of the side project is that it’s enjoyable like a hobby but has the potential to pay the bills.
Building Up Your Side Project Muscles
Side projects can be quite involved and at times, all consuming. Choosing the right ones not only helps you develop into a better Soloist but also builds you up for bigger projects. Ultimately, you make it as a true Soloist when one of your side projects morphs into a real gig. I think it’s safe to say that most innovations that turn into something big started out as some Soloists side project. Now, to think that you can jump from part of the corporate politic directly to a Soloist super stud is just setting yourself up for disappointment. It’s better to build into it via the following methods:
1. Find your passion: It’s no surprise that people usually do what they love. A Soloist is no different. Explore your passions and figure out what potential side projects may come of of it.
2. Do a mini-project: Smaller projects are a great way to get started. Start out with one that will take a week, then maybe a month. Building up like this will strengthen your Soloist skills so that when you form an Ensemble, you will be ready to lead.
3. Hang out with other Soloists: Creativity and innovation go hand in hand with inspiration. Inspiration comes in many forms but no other form is as stimulating as interacting with other like minded people. Ideas flow, debates rage and things get done.
4. Collaborate with someone: Collaboration with another Soloist is a great way to leverage your combined skills. It’s also a great way to learn how to vet ideas and figure out your work and leadership style.
5. Reach outside your comfort zone: Sticking to what you know can limit your creativity. Reach outside your comfort zone and explore new ideas and techniques. Many an invention came about because someone took two totally separate ideas and combined them.
6. Fail miserably: One thing that all Soloists need to understand is that they will fail. Failure is part of creativity and innovation. Without failure, you will never know your limits. Failing on a side project is the perfect laboratory to explore failure without adverse effects.
7. Volunteer: Helping others is inspiring. Pick your favorite charity and help out. Seeing how other organizations function can inspire new threads of thought that will lead to some new take on an old idea or problem.
8. Try and sell something: Once you complete one of your side projects, try and sell it. There is nothing more humbling than trying to sell something. It can be the ultimate validation of an idea and it teaches you how to think like a user or customer.
The main thing about side projects is that they really should be fun. Initially, you will be doing this for the sheer enjoyment of the experience (read "for free"). So pick something that inspires you, yet is manageable. That way, you get the creative boost without the dreaded scope creep. Nurturing your side project skills will not only give you a creative outlet, it will make you better at your day job. In fact, it might even lead to your next day job.
— Jarie Bolander