Towards the end of 2016 I got tipped off by a colleague to the Do Lectures ‘Side Project’ event – which looks pretty cool but it’s on my birthday and birthdays are for family (and I don’t have £900 to take the family!).
The notion of a ‘side project’ however really connected for me; I’ve always had several ideas and projects simmering at the same time in such a way that each of them might become something bigger. These include both ‘personal’ projects and ‘professional’ projects that stray beyond the boundaries of my job (and many blur the distinction between work and fun) and I’ve also loved how some ideas bubble away slowly for ages and then suddenly come to the boil and turn into ‘main projects’ as they come of age.
My preferred projects always have a creative aspect; writing a scenario, designing an event, realising some kind of tangible product. I probably couldn’t stop working on side projects even if I tried – they’re how many of us live out the parts of our identity that don’t fit neatly into day jobs and domestic roles. For me they’re a creative playground.
Here’s a little intro from the Do Lectures founders themselves on how they define side projects.
The summary is that side projects are a labour of love and we work at them by ‘succeeding slowly’ rather than by ‘failing fast’ as the entrepreneurial mantra would have it. I’d dispute something of that dichotomy – I think many of my own side projects include a lot of failing – but it isn’t dramatic catastrophic failure, it’s little learnings, pivots, and shifts along the way that evolve slowly through thought and deed. I’d still stand by fast failure as a good and productive mantra to get stuff done, but I’d maybe concede that personal, really meaningful, learning is a long slow process of cumulative epiphanies.
On the nature of projects
Someone once illustrated ‘all projects’ for me by drawing a triangle; the three points were marked ‘good’, ‘fast’, and ‘cheap’; they then explained that no project could ever be all three: if it was ‘good’ and ‘fast’ it’d be expensive, ‘good’ and ‘cheap’ would be slow, and ‘fast’ and ‘cheap’ would be bad… so side projects naturally veer to being ‘good’ and ‘cheap’ as they’re a part-time labour of love – hence they’re inevitably slow.
Side Projects as Enterprise?
Since happening upon the notion of side-projects I’ve found it coming up again and again as a useful concept; in particular for articulating ‘enterprise’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ to people who don’t like the commercial and business-like overtones of those words. But if enterprise is about ‘making ideas happen’ and entrepreneurship is ‘building vehicles for ideas’ then many people do just that through their ‘side projects’. Personal projects can be usefully thought of as ventures and enterprises and approached using some of those ideas.
Some side projects are very individual hobbies, some turn into something bigger. They can involve art, music, craft, writing, creating, volunteering, campaigning – but they’re all about articulating something of ourselves out into the world. We can get better at them, becoming more skilled, creating more impact. We do them because we love them and feel rewarded by them. The thing is we all have them – and we could all develop them (if we wanted to). Side projects that speak to the interests and values of more than one person are natural candidates for growing to some kind of scale.
I have a feeling that my own side project on the idea of a side project has just come of age…