What can Hernan Cortes and Sun Tzu teach you about being a successful designer?
Well, they both understood the motivational effect a 'Death Ground' had on an army, when it was put on one.
A typical Death-Ground is where an army is surrounded and has no way of escape, so their only chance of survival is to fight for their lives. Sun Tzu believed that it would often result in a soldier and therefore an outnumbered army, becoming 3 times as effective at fighting.
When Hernan Cortes wanted to conquer Mexico, he knew he had to do it by putting his own men on a Death-Ground in order for them to be completely committed to fighting and not wanting to go home.
So he destroyed all of his own ships...deliberately.
Now his men had no choice but to conquer Mexico so they could then earn the materials to build ships to go back home. Risky? Yes. Effective? Very. He was successful in his goal and conquered the Aztecs soon after landing in Veracruz.
How can you use this strategy to become better?
Well, you can employ similar tactics to put yourself on your own Death-Ground. This is what Robert Greene, author of 33 Strategies of War has to say:
"Death-Ground is a psychological phenomenon that goes well beyond the battlefield: It is any set of circumstances in which you feel enclosed and without options.
There is very real pressure at your back, and you cannot retreat. Time is running out. Failure - a form of psychic death - is staring you in the face. You must act or suffer the consequences. Understand: We are creatures who are intimately tied to our environment. We respond viscerally to our circumstances and to the people around us.
If our situation is easy and relaxed, if people are friendly and warm, our natural tension unwinds. We may even grow bored and tired; our environment is failing to challenge us, although we may not realise it.
But put yourself in a high-stakes situation - a psychological death ground -and the dynamic changes. Your body responds to danger with a surge of energy; your mind focuses. Urgency is forced on you; you are compelled to waste no more time.'
So how can you use a 'Death-Ground' in your own lives?
What you are hoping to achieve is a boost in productivity and efficiency by tricking yourself into working with more urgency. Now I'm not advocating this is the only way to get things done, because it's quite extreme, but I wanted to talk about it, as I find that it is a useful exercise that if done regularly, will dramatically raise your output and ability to work harder, with more focus, in a shorter period of time.
I want to help you get better and I know from experience that true development comes when we are being tested. Sportsmen only really get better when they are at their limits, fully focused and up against it.
I want to try and bring this sense of urgency into your work so that you improve faster. I want to turn you from a lump of coal into a polished diamond and the quickest way to do that is with pressure!
So let's do this!
In order to put yourself in a situation where you are forced to succeed you will need to combine:
- A new objective
- A new deadline
Now, let's not forget that this is a deliberate attempt to try and force you to work harder by pushing yourself. Not an attempt at sabotaging your own career!
1) Choose a new objective
This doesn't have to be radically different that the original one, but it has to be harder to achieve.
For example: 'I want to have settled on a minimum of 5 logo alternatives to pick from by Friday' changes to 'I want to have finished the logo by Wednesday'.
2) Set a deadline
Again, I want to impose a tough, but not impossible deadline. We want to make it achievable without compromising standards.
So, instead of 'in 2 weeks time' we could go with 'by this time next week'.
Next we need to make this new objective real, so in order to do that we must bring a third party into the equation. By letting someone else know, we eliminate the possibility of giving in and quitting.
The best way to do that is to arrange a meeting to present the work as near to the new imposed deadline in the time-frame set above.
4) Consequences to your actions
Although some sort of forfeit is quite powerful, the meeting in itself acts as both the accountability and the consequences. You don't want to let the client down by re-scheduling or presenting bad work, so what you present has to be excellent.
Knowing that what you are presenting has to be good because you respect and value the opinion of the person you are meeting with, informs the whole process.
It makes it real. You now will have an urgency to what you do and will be able to prioritise your time effectively, simply because you have to.
Procrastination isn't an option and that is the whole point of doing this. It's a simple technique you can use to squeeze the most of your time. By learning how capable you can be under pressure, you will gain confidence and you will get better at working at a higher level, faster.
Once you have seen how effective this strategy can be, you can employ it more often. It's like when a sportsmen plays with someone better than them. They are forced to play at their maximum just to keep up, but this results in an acceleration in the development.
I hope this helps, but please don't set your standards too high, too soon. Gradually increase the demands you place on yourself. Think of it like lifting weights, don't try and lift 120kg on your first attempt. Build up to 120kg and enjoy knowing that you are exercising and building up your design muscles so they are there when you need them.
This strategy is just one of many will be included in my Design Masterclass. I've created this course to help people overcome their creative struggles and make a living from their passion. It's more than just a series of downloadable PDF guides. Behind it is a passionate designer/entrepreneur working hard to make your life as an an designer easier.
That means, you have my expertise and time at your disposal.
So, if you ever need any type of assistance, or just want to share some feedback or ideas, please don't hesitate to send me an email directly, or give me a call. I'd love to chat.