Don’t Just Ship It
In the past 8 or so years, corporate manifestos, entrepreneur manifestos, and creative entrepreneur manifestos have popped up in many places. Some of them seem true. Many feel derivative.
Manifestos are provocative mission statements (1).
Numerous Internet personalities and business coaches tell “thinkerly” creatives to “Just Ship It” when it comes to writing manifestos or executing other projects. The advice comes from a good place. It’s intended to trip up over-processing, resistant-laden creatives and business artists from always thinking about creating and never actually getting their work out there.
But is a manifesto something you want to just ship?
If you are someone who loves to think, who creates in part to unpack your concepts and ideas, who thrives by sharing nuanced ideas, and if your creative business arises from your way of thinking in the world, then why be ashamed of that? I invite you to reclaim manifestos’ intellectual and artistic roots.
Don’t just ship it. Dig deep, and write a manifesto with integrity. I offer some ideas below. Share your own ideas and favorite manifestos in the comments section.
Wary of Manifestos
Stay with me for a minute: Before and just after World War I, artists and intellectuals radically challenged the status quo of thinking, relating, making art, distributing art. If the pinnacle of Western Civilization resulted in the major nations destroying one another, many of them felt, then something needed to change.
Artists and writers dared to imagine that change. The DeStijl movement sought to create art aligned with universal consciousness instead of only the “I” consciousness. Ezra Pound announced the Modernist creed: “Make it new!” He and a group of Imagists defined their aesthetic credo. Dadaists wanted to dismantle everything conventional and rational that something new and true might arise.
Surrealists sought an uber-reality of consciousness on the cusp between wake and dream.
They had real causes and factions. They were righteous and petty. They had virtue and vice. They dared to be wrong and fall on their face. But they had conviction. And they created like crazy with the drive and purpose to change things – consciousness and society.
And guess what? They did so. Lest we think we’re “making it all new in the 21st century,” our Modernist brethren radically challenged and changed what old guards regarded to be “art.” They broke down old frames between “art” and “life.” They challenged commerce’s perennial grip on creative freedom. They invented parlor games to mine the unconscious, chance, serendipity, and other means to get that feeble ego out of the way.
They captured their missions in manifestos. Here’s a long list of them on Wikipedia. 100 years later, we live in a different but also highly disrupted world where art & commerce have different relationships. Business artists and creative entrepreneurs have co-opted this manifesto form.
But many such current manifestos don’t seem fully realized. They sound like one person’s expression of opinions. Or a disguised business gimmick.
For those reasons – and because I am an un-apologetic over-thinker – it took me over three years to publish my Compass of Wonder manifesto.
Manifestos With Integrity
My favorite such contemporary manifestos have nothing to do with how big or small is the enterprise behind it. All of my favorites have integrity.
Manifestos with integrity come from a core place within the creator’s or company’s heritage.
Here’s where the “Just Ship It” advice doesn’t land with me. To create a manifesto with integrity, dig deep into your heritage. Listen to the tenets and reminders you and/or your company have actually been living for the past several years or decades.
A manifesto with integrity articulates not only what you or your company are about now. It proclaims what you or your company in some true sense have always been about.
To find that truth requires a deep dig not a brainstorm session.
Manifestos with integrity stand for something distinct. They cohere into something meaningful. They’re aimed to inspire, instruct, provoke, piss off, or agitate into action.
Thus, they often dare to stand against something distinct.
Tim Kelley of IDEO recommends that clients keep “Bug Lists” to track what bothers them – a great source for making valuable products and solutions. I’ve advised clients and teams lately to take stock of what pisses them off about the world or their playing field. Call it a “Piss List.” It could offer great fodder for a mission with meat.
Manifestos with integrity don’t fear taking sides. They identify and call out something broken inside or out.
Their design matches content. Form follows function, to quote another 20th-century influencer.
And my bias: They’re witty. I want to get on board with a cause that makes me think and may even make me think about causes themselves in a fresh way. Their wit, though, has to fit the heritage, message, and form. Otherwise, it might be cleverness for cleverness’s sake and not wit that carries wisdom and integrity.
The diversity of the three following examples point to a couple of things: I work with people and teams across various fields & industries. So, my bias is toward integrity not toward hipness or even business scale.
Lincoln Motor Company’s Hello, Again Manifesto
You likely didn’t expect me to reference Lincoln.
But how do you change an old frame (Lincoln = old man’s over-priced gas guzzler) to a new frame (Lincoln = risk-taking, bold, humble, and witty from the get-go)? With integrity? Everything – from Lincoln’s new suite of cars themselves to the ads to the partnerships with Beck and film makers – works.
Heritage: In full-page ads, Lincoln’s mentor voice wrote about their founder – Edsel Ford, the creative son of the efficient Henry, whose first name “Edsel” is forever associated with Ford’s innovative failure.
Stance: Lincoln invites us all to take an old creative classic and make it new again. I will never buy a Lincoln, but I will champion them.
Against: Status quo. Keeping things the same. Hiding imperfections. Not paying tribute to your predecessors.
Design: They went with the retro vintage font – something that’s been popular for a few years (See Chris Guillbeau’s whole vintage ArtMark face he launched a few years ago and ahead of the game).
Wit Bias Factor: It’s all over the place.
Bre Pettis’s The Cult of Done Manifesto
Heritage: Bre made the MakerBot, the brilliant 3D printer. He’s a proud former NYC teacher. He makes things. He has a bias for clean thinking and design. All of that shows in his Done Manifesto.
Stand: Do it. Nike is credited with starting the “Just Do It” credo in recent years. Scott Belsky picked it up with “Make Ideas Happen” and smartly co-opting Edison’s 99% perspiration creed to define his 99% Conference and 99U magazine. But Bre gives his own integral variation of the cause to encourage creatives to prototype and do.
Against: Over-planning. Perfectionism. Action-stifling worry.
Design: Clear. Rubiks cube-y geeky. A mock-visual instruction guide of 13 steps to “done.”
Wit Bias Factor: Um, see above.
Tara Mohr’s 10 Rules for Brilliant Women: http://www.taramohr.com/10rules/
Heritage: Tara’s calm and bold, spiritual and unapologetically ambitious. She lives by her own 10 rules.
Stand: Claim your brilliance, women. Be an arrogant idiot (like some men do so well). Play big.
Against: Women being small, meek, apologetic.
Design: The simple design coupled with the prose approach distinguishes the piece for thinking women.
If you’re going to write a manifesto, forego the “Just Ship It” advice so pervasive in the well-intending blogosphere.
Dig deep. Make it count.
What are your favorite manifestos? What else would you add that makes for a manifesto with integrity? What would you challenge in my assumptions and assertions above? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for running with me,
(1) That’s design thinker Marty Neumeier’s definition in his smart A Dictionary of Brand he produced with and for Google.