In the age of the networks, I believe the first step for a creator should be to assess their own self-sufficiency. This could mean a wide range of things, but for most, the focus is financial sustainability. What is the economic model that enables you to focus on your work without imposing undue constraints on your creative process?
It is no doubt a challenge, but it is a beautiful one at that because there are few rules and many options, especially today. You may have a job, consult, teach, rent out your room, execute quarterly Kickstarter projects, or do all of the above. Or, perhaps even your creative work is your economic engine.
There is just as much creative thought and ingenuity that goes into the sustainability model as there is that goes into the work that you create. Further, what works for one may not work for others. The new model is that there are no more models. I think this is an exciting thing—after all, who knew a fixed number of chords could result in limitless songs?
Once you have this economic model in place, a few things happen. The economic self-sufficiency evolves into a sense of autonomy, and that greatly influences the creator’s work—both the quality and the scope. You see greater risks because the potential fall is not so devastating. You see new creations that emerge from greater patience. You get things that would not have otherwise existed. Autonomy gives us the courage to embrace a purpose.
There’s something else that happens at the same time. In establishing oneself as a self-sufficient node in a network (or a cell in a colony) it enables one to be connected to others (carrying its own weight because each participant is already self-sufficient) and enabling new capabilities to emerge from the whole. The group can do things that the individual could not do alone.
Who knows where that will lead, but that is part of what is fascinating about this path. In fact, this is entirely what informs the design of the Entrepreneurial Design class that I teach at SVA’s IxD program, which wrapped up this past May.
The students are challenged to create $1k of recurring runway, and also to navigate the awkwardness around building and leveraging networks. It’s awkward not because the students are awkward (they are not), but because they live in a world that has not taught them to think this way, and they are confronted with future opportunities that present them with the opportunity to be factory workers when they can be independent creators. The interests of all parties are simply not aligned here.