Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Getting Started with McDonalds Theory

None of my projects could have been completed without the McDonald’s Theory. It’s one of the most useful pieces of advice I’ve encountered. As Jon Bell puts it: 
“There’s no defined process for all creative work, but I’ve come to believe that all creative endeavors share one thing: the second step is easier than the first. Always.” 
Bell’s theory makes that first step less difficult — when you start with the worst possible option, it’s easy to improve from there.
Good creative work involves making gradual improvements to an initial idea. That’s tricky when your inner critic won’t let you commit to something, but it’s simpler when you commit to making that idea terrible. 

Once you’ve declared that the plan is to eat at McDonald’s, it becomes much easier to make better plans. 

Jon Ingold made a similar observation when he discussed his approach to writing games with meaningful choices. “No one has the time to be brilliant all the time,” he said. “You need to just get it down, and get it better.” 

After you’ve gotten it down, the terrible idea might look too terrible. Things can seem so dismal that there’s no hope for improvement. That’s when it’s important to remember that everyone has difficulty judging the value of their own work. 

Authors never know how their writing will be received. Editors always overlook typos in their own material. Charles Darwin thought he was “the most miserable, bemuddled, stupid Dog in all England,” although other scientists disagree. 

It’s impossible to tell whether you’re working on something amazing or something awful — Kara Cutruzzula spent a year setting herself up for failure and described it as a process where you “vacillate between extreme narcissism and extreme self-loathing.” 

The narcissism helps you create things, and the loathing helps you improve them, but the risk of public failure is the only way to learn what other people think. 

The good thing about failure is that it presents opportunities to learn and improve. Cutruzzula ultimately viewed every failure as a brick. “As long as you keep laying bricks,” she wrote, “you will build something.” 

The key is to learn from each failure and move on to the next project. To start that project, you need to come up with an idea. That’s when it’s useful to return to the McDonald’s Theory.

Photo by Niklas Rhöse on Unsplash.