When I first started exploring side projects Alex Thomas and I drew a simple diagram to capture our initial idea that side projects were a hybrid activity that looked like a bit like a hobby or personal interest, and a bit like a job or professional role:
From there I developed a three-circle model in which we had:
- Passion – something you loved doing that really motivated you.
- Professional Competence – something you did credibly well.
- Tomorrow’s Plan – something you wanted to do more of in the future.
The three circles enabled me to also expand the description to highlight that some projects stumbled because they were missing an element; they might become a chore if they lacked passion, direction if they lacked a plan, and if they lacked competence they might appear slow or amateurish.
And then there was a fourth item that I never managed to draw into the diagram – The Market. Drawing in The Market represented a different order of project; you could have a perfectly satisfying side project that indulged your passions, used or developed your skills, and was growing in scale, without ever trying to make money from it. Lots of side projects discussed in the stories had value of this kind; they were a creative expression, an arena for development, or even a stepping stone for the day-job to evolve.
However, finding an audience for an idea, especially a paying one, might give you more time to do it, might help generate resources for it, and might allow you to build something really big. However, that comes at the risk of it becoming a “job” in that it no longer feels like a passion or plan. Sometimes in the process of finding a paying customer you end up pivoting away from your real passion or your skill-set, and you wonder if it was worth it.
However, I’m not the only person wrestling with circles, markets, and happiness…
This diagram appears in a great book by one of my inspirations, David Hieatt:
The book (Do Purpose) is about purposeful businesses and this diagram looks scarily like my own. ‘My Love’ clearly maps to Passion, ‘My Skill’ to Professional Competence, so what’s ‘The Zeitgeist’? David describes this as “the shift in society that stays shifted” by which he suggests a market or audience for a thing that you do – and one that will be sustained. This contains elements of both my elements of Tomorrow’s Plan and The Market in a way that I rather like. It is a bit more market-oriented, but that’s appropriate to the focus of the book. If you want to start something that will ultimately find an audience I think it’s a useful variation, if you’re happy that a project can be successful without an audience then my framework may work better.
However, it doesn’t end there, what if we had FOUR circles?!
My colleague Sam Crawley sent me this one:
So, this one has some recognisable elements too; ‘Love’ equates to Passion, ‘Good at’ equates to Competence, ‘Paid For’ links to a bit of Professional Competence and a bit of The Market, and ‘what the world needs’ is a bit of Hieatt’s ‘Zeitgeist’ although it distinguishes itself from just being about the Market.
All the diagrams have some value and speak to similar issues of finding that right mix of passion, competence, market, and more. I have personally wrangled with composites of these diagrams, words, and further illustrations without much success or additional value so far, so I offer you them all.