Inside View: Side projects are the new CVs

Dave Duarte champions the power of side projects and small ideas.
Dave Duarte, Paintings for Ants by Lorraine Loots, and Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
Dave Duarte, Paintings for Ants by Lorraine Loots, and Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

The working world is ever changing, more so now than ever before. When it comes to what you do, people are often more interested in what your portfolio is than what your position is. A vast number of jobs today didn’t even exist ten years ago, and with the job market changing so rapidly it’s challenging to keep up with all the new skills and job descriptions that have the highest demand.

Embarking on a side project, says Dave Duarte, may be the answer. Side projects can stimulate your creativity, improve performance at your day job and give you drive and direction.

Dave Duarte speaks of a friend who built a game as a fun after-hours side project. Whenever he encountered an element that he didn’t know how to make, he turned for the solution to Google or one of the countless online forums supporting game developers just like him. The final outcome may not have been a game that would earn him billions but it certainly helped improve his coding skills and develop his professional expertise in a way that benefitted him all round. 

Similarly, novelist Lauren Beukes wrote her first two books while still being employed, realising that she would be more creative and true to her work if she new she wasn’t writing for a paycheck. Not being dependent on book sales allowed her to work at her own pace, develop a uniquely crafted fiction-writing voice and ultimately get her to the point where she could make the decision to be a sci-fi writer full time.

A personal project by artist Lorraine Loots also took on a life of its own. Painting for Ants was her challenge to herself to paint one miniature every day for a year. The model has worked remarkably and blossomed from a side project to a full-time gig that has led to countless commissions and online coverage on blogs and social media.

Duarte tells us why we need to get over all the reasons a side project is not going to work:

Excuse #1: I don’t have the time.

Wrong, says Duarte. “You don’t find the time, you make the time.”

Remember the days before social media? What were you doing before with all that time? Who really knows. The point is, when we want to do something, we make time for it.

If you care enough you need to show up for your side project. “Show up for your creativity,” says Duarte.

Excuse #2: I don’t have the money.

The days of digital have put so many tools into our hands that were previously inaccessible or too expensive. Nowadays, not only is making far cheaper but fundraising is easier too. Platforms such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Thundafund mean some of the most niche or bizarre creative projects have seen the light of day, thanks to the power of online crowd-funding.

Excuse #3: Someone else is already doing it.

Facebook wasn’t the first social media platform and Google was something like the tenth search engine. Do you think that stopped them?

And if you’re worried someone is going to steal your idea you’ve missed the point.

You have to bring your personality to your side project, says Duarte.

Excuse #4: People say I can’t do it.

Even if there are many more cons than pros in your list, “don’t focus on the reasons something won’t work – focus on the one reason it will,” says Duarte.

We are so busy trying to be professionals in our day jobs that we forget it’s okay to be an amateur sometimes. We need to embrace failure and realise it can be the best way to learn.

The point of side projects is to gain experience in an environment that allows failure! 

So, where do you find a side project? They start with small ideas that you let emerge, says Duarte, usually in an area that you’re curious about.

“In a country that has not enough jobs but more than enough work to be done, a small idea can make a big change,” Duarte concludes.

Dave Duarte is CEO of Treeshake, an educational design and production company. He’s working on his own side project, aptly named Twig. Find out more at #tw1g. Duarte writes, speaks, teaches and consults on digital business in Africa. In 2014 he was named a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum. Read more about him here or follow him at @daveduarte.

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