[creative matters] chapter three: getting to work

Written by Claire Burge

I'm a photographer, entrepreneur, poet and writer in training who lives in the countryside of Ireland but calls South Africa home. I especially like to find beauty in the ordinary. You can find me at claireburge.com or follow me on Twitter @claireburge.

August 8, 2011

[serialposts]5 Lessons From Hackers To IgNiTe Your Creativity

It is a Monday morning and sun dapples against my cheeks as I make my way down the cobbled streets of downtown Dublin. Temple Bar is a collection of alleyways that hide and boast in equal measure the creatives and addicts of this city. I see the two clients I will be meeting, huddled under an umbrella outside the coffee shop.

I found them hard to communicate with on the phone when the appointment was set up. They communicated in short, punctuated sentences. There was an agility to them that I did not find in my more traditional clients. I agreed to meet because I was intrigued by the piece of gamification software they were developing. Did I mention that these two people are hackers? No, this is not an underground operation but a very steep learning curve that I am about to undergo.

I learn that a space called a ‘hacker space’ exists in almost every major city in the world. Hackers meet weekly to create together in these spaces. They do not only code software but they intentionally practice their craft: whatever that craft might be.

I entered the software/start up/tech environment three years ago with an educational idea, a background in psychology, a career semi related to teaching and absolutely no idea what the difference was between C+ and Java. I learnt as I went. I drove developers and designers crazy with questions. I brought business mentality to their world of code and somehow a product was born. Without regret, I can unashamedly say that I did it all wrong. I wouldn’t start over but I would do the second round very differently, just like hackers would:

1. Develop The Concept with Potential Clients

My inclination is to bring a perfect product to the client. Hackers bring a concept to a client and hack their way forward by asking the client:

  • What is your pain?
  • Where do you feel it most acutely?
  • How do you propose to solve it?
  • Can I build that solution for you?

They get to work at solving problems from the outset. This creates a laboratory where experimentation is safe in the client’s presence. Stephen Proctor agrees with this principle in the book Creative Matters. He has been curating spaces for creatives to ‘blow things up, spill stuff on the carpet, and fail miserably without horrible consequences.’

2. Fail With Your Client

Hackers build what their clients want, not what they want. It gets tweaked, according to client problem resolution.  All of a sudden failing becomes safe and ‘a lifestyle of creativity is fostered’ because everyone is on the same team instead of opposing teams. Failing forward is like learning to read a book according to Jeremy Jernigan: it is a discipline that requires practice. Having the client on the same team, makes it that much easier.

3. Perfect With Your Client

Hackers and Lisa Gungor know that ‘This marriage of who we are and what we create is toxic. It not only hinders the art {and the solution}, but also hurts our souls. We let the two become entwined to the point that we view it as ourselves that are getting critiqued instead of the work. Our ideas are just ideas. When you unwind that in your soul, you will grow, and your {solutions for your clients} will be better.’

Blaine Hogan states that ‘paring down projects to their absolute essential bits is the mark of truly mature work.’

4. Dedicate Yourself To Your Client’s Need

Hackers know that any creative act is not a solitary act. It is participation in a greater expression of giving oneself away. Why not give oneself away to the client and change with them as they change? Keep solving their needs.

To do this requires silence. Listening to determine need, means silence on your part.

Stephen Proctor writes: ‘A black screen is the most powerful image of all.’

5. Apply Project Management Practices

Plan. Schedule. Execute. Deliver. Fail to deliver. Reschedule.Deliver.Review.Schedule. Deliver.

It is simple but we don’t do it because we forget that ‘we don’t create for ourselves. Creativity by its nature tends to resist utility, but we need to get uncomfortable in our creating. {We get uncomfortable} by gathering the valuable evaluative criteria and the evaluation from all the non creatives on the team.’

I leave the meeting feeling stretched. I have signed up for a masters in Creative Digital Media which starts in the fall and I have joined a photography club that meets weekly. Oh and did I mention that I am learning to code in Python? Yes, that is a coding language. They use it to make mobile photography apps amongst other things.


  1. Claire

    Dan thanks for this opportunity. There was so much valuable information in this chapter that reducing it into one post was challenging. That is why I chose the client as the central point. That is why we create in a group setting after all: whether the client is God, fellow worshippers, friends, family or paying clients. If we treat each as if they were paying clients maybe our creativity would stretch further and getting to work would be more motivating.

    • @bibledude

      i love this perspective on hackers, creativity, and serving the client… whether its God, friends, family, or a paying client. this picture really helps me wrap my head around implementing creativity in what i do. thank you for a wonderful contribution to this project claire!

  2. Megan Willome

    So interesting. I never think of hackers having clients.

    • Claire

      Neither did I Megan but I was wrong… : )


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[creative matters] chapter three: getting to work

by Claire Burge time to read: 4 min