In 2007, an artist named Mike Winkelmann set out on a creative quest that few before him, but many since, have attempted: he wanted to create a new piece of art every day for a whole year. However, there was one key difference between him and most others who try this: he pulled it off. And not only did he actually produce 365 distinct images in as many days, but after it was over he decided to keep his streak going. Fourteen years of nonstop daily creations later, Winkelmann, known as Beeple in the art world, sold a piece of his work from this ‘Everydays’ project for $69 million.
What does it take to have such commitment to a personal project? And as I’m sure many more of you are wondering, how did he work up to a place where he could become so fabulously successful from his work? Are the answers to these two questions somehow inextricably linked? And if so, how can we harness the power of our habits to attain such acclaim? In this entry we’ll explore how habits and goals factored into Beeple’s success, and whether one of these two concepts might serve you more than the other in your own streaming journey.
By creating a finished image every
day, Beeple grew immensely as
There are some clear connections to be drawn between the commitment required of a project like Beeple’s and the lifestyle of a streamer. He’s creating content from start to finish by working a few hours each day, the time it takes most of us to do a broadcast. He works on a computer to make his art, which exposes him to several of the same wildcard factors and glitches we run into when trying to go live: power outages, software bugs, broken parts, and anything else the tech gods want to throw at us. He, like us, has struggled to produce his work amidst other real-world personal and professional responsibilities. I’m sure he isn’t hurting for cash nowadays, but for over a decade he was still hustling and doing client work while also creating his personal ‘Everydays’ project on the side. And finally, he’s forcing himself to post something online, which exposes him to public scrutiny- the same thing we do as streamers every time we broadcast. Just like with our shows, whether he’s proud of his output that day or not, it’s out there for all to see. And if he’s not proud, maybe that’ll motivate him to do better the next day. Beeple essentially went through every significant trial we could face, and stuck with it no matter what challenge presented itself, for fourteen years straight. So when we miss stream days, what’s our excuse?
The first thing everyone wants to know is, how does Beeple stay motivated? Does he simply exist on some plane of work ethic high above all the rest of us? He’d be the first to tell you that’s not the case. For him, it’s a combination of a few factors: accepting imperfection, staying flexible, and allowing the streak to become its own motivation.
Speaking with The Atlantic in 2011, a decade before he’d make his record-breaking sale, he had this to say about the process of creating content, elegant as always: “Art is like taking a dump, it's not always fun or convenient but it's something you gotta do everyday and you shouldn't get too hung up if the product looks like pile of crap. Yer not gonna make a masterpiece everyday or even 95% of the time, but it's a numbers game and you've got to get rid of all those crappy ideas before you can get to the good ones. Just showing up is 90% of the battle.”
When Vice asked him how long it takes to create a piece of art, he demonstrated just how committed he is to the concept of creating every day: “From five minutes, if that's all the time I have—like the day my first daughter was born—to a couple of hours.” You may recognize this concept from the Twitch Playbook entry Just Keep Streaming, in which I said, “You should be flexible about WHEN and HOW you stream, but never about WHETHER you stream.” I truly think that the notion of a ‘fixed stream length’ is the number one killer of motivation. Because if you aren’t flexible enough to simply pump out something shorter or lower quality on a difficult day, your habit is unlikely to last when you’re put under large amounts of pressure.
➢ PLANNING FOR SUCCESS
So Beeple clearly carved out a very good thing for himself. He created a rock-solid habit, and with lots of dedication, he was able to stick to it. But what about his massive success later in his career? Here we’ll focus specifically on his Everydays project, not his other professional work, because creating artwork after hours each day is the closest approximation to streaming among Beeple’s habits. And of course, the Everydays project is what made him $69 million in a single sale. So how did Beeple set himself up to make such a sale? And how did he keep himself going for fourteen years until he struck gold?
The 5-minute image Beeple made the day
his daughter was born. He didn't stop his
streak, but he didn't let the streak
interfere with his personal life either.
The answer is that he didn’t plan for success. When speaking a few years ago about whether he ever imagined he’d reach a ten year streak, he replied, “No. I was focused on trying to get better at drawing. I wasn't thinking about an end date. After the momentum of the 2nd year, I realized I could keep doing this for a while. Once you get the momentum, that's what carries you forward.” He began the project as a means of improving his art, and that seems to be all he’s ever been interested in with the project: “I feel like I'm still so far from where I want to be. I look at artists in a variety of mediums and think, "Why would I stop now?" Part of it is not looking at it too far down the line, and focusing on short term goals.”
Many Twitch streamers begin their channels in the opposite way from Beeple. They imagine the ends (fame and fortune) before even attempting to engage in the means (actually doing a broadcast). This is, in my opinion, the absolute wrong way to pick up a habit. It’s very unlikely someone will stick with a project for the long term, if they don’t genuinely get into it for the love of the act itself. The most interesting part about Beeple’s story is that his coming into fabulous wealth is almost an incidental footnote. The project was the real reward. He would have continued doing it whether or not it made him money, whether or not he became famous, and whether or not anyone even looked at his images at all. How do we know that? Because he proved that he would. Every day, for over 5,000 days. And as Beeple put it when asked by GQ where he’ll go after making his sale, “Well, I’m not going to listen to all the critics. I only do what I want to do and if that resonates with people then so be it.” Can you let go of your long term goals, and allow your Twitch passion to take you wherever it might lead? If you do, whether you reach your original goals or not, you’ll always enjoy the ride. And like Beeple, you might just find that you end up somewhere even better than you could have imagined.