Last Thursday I woke up before 6am. For some of you early birds, this does not seem like a big deal. But for me, 6am is the dividing line between “today” and “yesterday.” I don’t enjoy waking up yesterday.

On this particular morning, though, my eyes popped open at precisely 5:40am. I quickly got dressed, unplugged my iMac, and with my computer under one arm I walked outside to load the car. Rob was here. He brought coffee (he knows me well). With our computers and a big projector screen in tow, we hit the road for Long Beach. Trade-show time!

Our friends at PortTech LA had graciously invited us to attend the 2016 PortTech Expo. It was an event that brought together investors, startups, and technology companies for a day of talks, panel discussions, and exhibition booths. And here, in Pod #1 is the Lux Virtual booth during setup:

Deadlines - Lux Virtual
From left to right: 27″ iMac (my travel computer), interactive presentation on the projector screen, red coffee thermos (mandatory), VR goggles, Trader Joe’s bag with snacks, man with orange ladder.

One benefit of going to an event like this is that it gives us a deadline for putting together a presentation. We always like to push our technological edge, and trade-shows give us an opportunity to show off what we’ve been cooking up in the lab. We’ve recently been interested in using the technology that underpins our virtual reality projects in a novel way. We are calling them “interactive presentations” and they are designed to replace slideshows in live presentations. Imagine if instead of advancing slide by slide through a PowerPoint presentation you could instead present living, animated slides with 3D models that you could zoom in on or rotate around. It’s more than just playing a video–it’s more like playing a video game.

This is an idea we’ve been batting around for quite some time now, but the Expo gave us the opportunity to turn these ideas into reality. And better yet, the Expo gave us a deadline. At 8am on March 10th, 2016, the doors would open and swarms of people would descend upon the Lux Virtual booth. Would we be prepared?

I think deadlines are one of the key ingredients in the creative process. If I may use an analogy that I (being male) am entirely unqualified to back-up, I think the creative process is in some ways similar to the process of giving birth.  I’m hardly the first to make this connection–in English, even the word “conceive” can refer either to babies or ideas. A lot of the language around childbearing fits well with the creative process, so lets run with it.

To begin, an idea pops into your head (conception). However, the idea isn’t viable yet–it needs time to develop (gestation). But here is a crucial difference between an idea and a baby: babies have a fixed timeline for development, and after 9 months their gestation time is up. Ideas, on the other hand, can go on developing in the mind for years and years. What some might call “procrastinating,” for example, I might think of as “continuing to develop my idea.” And it’s terrifying for perfectionists like me to let an idea out into the world before it’s fully ready.

So, an idea born too early will probably fail, but if we wait for them to fully develop they may never arrive. What is to be done? This is where deadlines come in. A deadline is a boundary line that cannot be crossed. My subconscious mind knows that it only has so many days or weeks before that idea gets launched out into the real world. The deadline brings about focus: only develop what’s vital for this idea to survive. And if my idea is going to be seen by other people at a fixed point in time, I need to develop it as fully as I can before that happens. Real deadlines (as opposed to self-imposed deadlines) add a jolt of urgency that is a powerful antidote to procrastination.

We finished our interactive presentation for the Expo at 12:30am the night before the show. It wasn’t beautiful, and it wasn’t refined, but it worked. Like a baby, it has much growth and change ahead of it before it’s mature. But now that it’s out other people can help shape its development, and as it faces the challenges of the real world it will grow and adapt. Without a deadline we wouldn’t have a prototype, just a nice-sounding idea.

So, here’s my challenge for you: do you have an idea that’s been kicking around in your head for weeks, or months, or years? Do you want that idea to become a reality? Do you really? If you do, tell somebody a date that you’re going to show it to them. Put it on your calendar and on theirs. Give yourself enough time, but just barely enough. Then send them the first draft. A deadline is the best tool I’ve found to bring an idea to life.

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