Blog

Side projects for personal development

I'm thinking a lot about my side project, Art Mischief, today. Art Mischief is an organization dedicated to making art more accessible. Our passion is street art, grafitti and contemporary art and the project was born out of our interest in helping many of our artist friends make a living. It might be hard to see that mission via our Instagram and Newsletter but our initial goal is to build an audience of fans who we can introduce to artists, artwork and shows. 

Art Mischief has some legal protections because I run it from my llc, Super + Fun LLC, but its run as a collective with volunteers contributing time towards what they are passionate about. Because of that, things are run more loosely and everyone can easily be granted access to any part of the project. Which brings me to why I'm thinking about it a lot this weekend. One of our trusted collaborators, due to a personal issue, logged into our Instagram account and deleted the last years worth of photos. 

So how do I feel about it? Disappointed to say the least. It's a minor setback for Art Mischief. We had an amazing collection of art posted over the last year but Instagram is ephemeral; it matters less what you posted last week and more what you post tomorrow. The value this person has contributed to Art Mischief over the last year vastly outweighs the damage done but in the process, they've wiped out their best portfolio. At least they can take with them everything they've learned.

When I was younger, I used to focus on side projects as my next potential startup. Working nights and weekends were going to make me rich! As a result, I was impatient and anxious to quit my job and turn something that should not have been a business into a business. It put an unreasonable amount of pressure on the project and collaborators. Some of them were prematurely turned into startups and strain was put on friendships. But side projects have always an amazing experience. What has been true of every one is that I have learned a tremendous amount.

So now, I work on side projects for personal development. It gives you an unparalleled level of creative direction since you don't have financial or market demands. It gives you the maximum amount of flexibility to work on the part of the project you are currently interested in. It allows you to optimize for learning on a weekly basis while pushing along your long-term strategic plans. Maybe most importantly, it makes it easier to find collaborators and ask your network for specific help. Here is an example...

I work with amazing people at Neo who are very good at their craft. I often oversee project teams with individuals who are WAY better at what they do then me. I know when and why to call on them but have nowhere near the level of expertise that they have at their craft. Scott McLeod heads marketing at Neo and is an amazing growth hacker. Before leading marketing, Scott and I worked on a project together where he was a designer and growth hacker. It was my first time working with a growth hacker and I was enthralled. His tactics worked, he was absurdly knowledgeable and I had to learn more. I knew what he was doing, how to explain it to the client and when to use it but was weak at it whenever I had to try it myself.

I asked Scott to join me one Saturday to teach me how to growth hack Art Mischief and he was happy to help. We spent 4 hours setting up all the tools and outlining a strategy and then touched based daily on Slack to tweak things or just check in. A few months down the road, I call on him much less frequently and understand the techniques I use at a very deep level.

Now I bring that skill set back to Neo, the companies I advise and my friends building things. I would have never gotten the opportunity to develop these skills so deeply at my job; it just wouldn't have ever been a productive use of my time.

This is why I encourage all of my friends and coworkers to have side projects. Not so they can build the next great company during their free-time but so they can learn, work on and exercise all of the new skills they tell me they want to learn.