I think the extent to which what you make is excellent depends in large part on your taste for quality and also your ability to empathize with those who will be using what you make. Can you honestly step back from your idea’s function and consider its form?
Great artists, designers, writers, programmers, architects, cooks—makers of all kinds—start with these questions in mind: How do we want this new creation to be when it’s finished? What is the effect we want to create? How do we want this to work, to feel, to behave? Great makers can see the end from the beginning, and have the ability to get to that end.
There’s a great little vignette on the Ratatouille DVD, a conversation with Brad Bird (the director) and Thomas Keller who was the chef consultant for the movie. Keller has some fascinating things to say about the art of cooking which apply to the art of making in general:
Anybody can cook. It’s just you have to have the desire, the determination, to make something that you’re going to feel proud to give to somebody, to have that emotional connection with somebody. I think you have to be emotionally attached to what you’re doing.
And the food can be so inspiring. It comes in in its raw form, and you think, “Ok, what am I going to do with this?” What are we looking at when we’re defining a new dish? We’re really looking at the end product. What do we want to see in the dish, what do we want to feel in our mouth, what do we want to smell, what do want to taste? And then we work backwards. In establishing the different techniques or the different products that we’re going to use, that will result in that end.
That’s the difference between a dreamer and a maker: any dreamer can come up with a great destination, but the true maker, the risk-taker, the artist, the entrepreneur knows how to get there (or knows the work involved and still goes) and in fact does get there. Great makers aren’t afraid to keep trying when what they’ve made isn’t right. They revise, they start over, they keep going.
Anton Ego puts it better than I can.