How To Use Your Tools So They Don’t Own You
New Yorker Robert Mapplethorpe was one the twentieth century’s most famous photographers. . .and his approach to tools holds lessons for entrepreneurs today.
In 1970, a friend loaned Mapplethorpe a 360 Land camera. It was a clunky but technically simple silver and black device. He settled on the camera as his creative tool of expression because “it was more honest.”
Later in his career, Mapplethorpe could afford better tools, but he still used his technically simple camera.
Mapplethorpe’s work was explicitly creative, but entrepreneurs interested in innovation can learn from his approach too.
I’m talking about people who wonder what’s the best productivity tool available today, and which app or service is ideal for finding more customers, fans or followers.
While digital tools can solve a lot of problems, the law of diminishing returns sets in fast if you obsess about them.
Here’s how you can avoid that problem.
Limit Yourself To A Chosen Few Tools
“If a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up.”
Even though Mapplethorpe was able to use more expensive and powerful cameras, he limited himself to taking photos with a budget-friendly camera so he could become a better photographer.
A writer might decide to use a familiar program to write his book rather than worrying about the latest self-publishing software. An entrepreneur with a new online business might limit herself to a single email service provider rather than worrying about advanced marketing automation tools.
This way, the writer and the entrepreneur can concentrate on improving their crafts and acquiring customers or readers instead of worrying about the latest digital app, its preferences, updates, passwords and so on.
Put The Work First
“I am obsessed with beauty. I want everything to be perfect, and of course it isn’t. And that’s a tough place to be because you’re never satisfied.”
Mapplethorpe taught himself what a good picture looks like by taking pictures rather than paying for expensive photography classes. He learned by doing.
Similarly, an entrepreneur who wants to launch a profitable website doesn’t need to master WordPress before they get their site up and running.
Instead, he or she could concentrate on solving the problem of attracting customers to web pages on a new site. In turn, answering this question should teach the entrepreneur what good website content looks like. And as they do this,they’ll learn secondary skills like WordPress, design and so on.
“With photography, you zero in; you put a lot of energy into short moments, and then you go on to the next thing.”
Constraints are conducive to creativity. Mapplethorpe constrained himself to using black-and-white photographs for many of his exhibitions rather than obsessing about color.
Let’s say you worry about not having much money to start your dream business. You can’t afford to invest in things like advertising your product or your services on Google or Facebook.
Now, you could lie awake at 03:43 a.m. worrying about what you lack — or you could use the constraint of money to invest in a single, affordable traffic source that doesn’t cost much.
For example, you can study how to optimize your site so that it ranks high organically in Google and attracts free, quality website traffic.
Process Before Tools
I love tools as much as the next person, but sometimes tools get in the way of productive work.
In some ways, the tools we use are broken. They compel us to click, press, tap, swipe, pull up and pull down. They clamor for our attention and take us away from our work.
The trick is to understand what’s inside your toolbox and when you need a particular app, product or service to solve a problem.
In the end, your work or business should come before any tool.