“So cheat!”

Paul Rand was being asked about using two colours in a design.

Two colours that might work well as part of the design, but shouldn’t butt up against each other because the contrast wasn’t quite right. I think.

He suggested putting a border between the two so they wouldn’t be touching.

A student pipes up; “isn’t that cheating?”.

“So cheat!” Rand throws back with some heat.

I think.

I actually can’t find it in the book I thought it was in (Paul Rand: Conversations with Students – it’s great, you should get it). Hence all the thinking.

But I’m using it anyway.

I guess I’m cheating a little.

We think cheating is wrong because of school

Throughout school we’re convinced that cheating is wrong.

We can’t take the answers in with us during a test, because, uh-oh, it’s cheating! For some reason we’re told that being able to find information is less valuable than knowing it ourselves.

I have a bad memory, so I’ve always hated that idea.

Of course it’s important to learn the important things, but most of the stuff we’re made to remember aren’t all that important. The date the Franz was assassinated is a novel thing to know, but not nearly as important as knowing why and what it lead to.

But we’re shamed and lose grades if we don’t know that small bit of information.

And it’s exactly that kind of thing we’d like to cheat on. Small novelties we can take advantage of.

But … We Cheat All the Time.

In the real world it’s how you get ahead.

You take advantage of every little edge you have, and move up the ladder, make more money, have more fun, enjoy more time with family and friends.

When we’re out of school, we start to see some people scream ahead of the us when it comes to their careers and skills, and we often assume one of two things – either we’re simply not as talented as they are, or they’re cheating.

Both thoughts are stupid.

I’ve fallen victim to this thinking too many times.

I’ve watched others build their careers faster and felt like they were cheating. They were working more hours than I was, than most of us were, so they were cheating.

They had the right friends in the right places helping them get work, get recognition, get money, so they were cheating. No one else had what they did, so they must have been cheating.

They just copied the work of other people and then got the credit for it. My work is original, dammit! They’re cheating!

They only established relationships with people because they kept talking to them on Twitter or sending them emails. I haven’t got time for that! I have a family and a job! They’re don’t! They’re cheating me!

My life has been filled with these pathetic little moments, ones in which I felt like others were cheating because they weren’t playing by the rules I held up for myself.

My rules. It’s funny that this is how I thought of what were really my fears.

I made up these ideals of how someone is meant to act, and meant to work, and how time and effort should be spent. I told myself it’s how professionals act, but it’s not, not at all.

Professionals cheat.

Professionals take every opportunity they have and use it to its fullest. Professionals do whatever they can to get good work done for good people for good money for good reason.

And professionals do it in a way that nobody gets hurt. They take advantage of situations and effort, not of people. They don’t lie, they don’t steal; they call in favours they’ll happily repay with interest; they work hard and exploit every opportunity they can. They perform a kind of honest cheating.

Cheat. We’re only using that word because it works so well. It helps you think differently, it helps you break through your own rules.

In the culturally-truer sense of the word, of course cheating is awful. Bigger picture cheating, the kind the unfaithful do to their partners, the fraudster does to his investors, the quacks do to their patients, this kind of cheating is simply awful.

But we’re not talking about that kind of cheating. We’re talking about the kind of cheating that is only cheating to those who aren’t taking advantage of opportunities. The kind of things losers use as excuses as to why the winners keep beating them.

Trust me, I’ve too-often played the loser and cried foul for my own faults.

We might not always use the word cheat, but that’s what we mean. We think it unfair that others have more time, relationships, skills, whatever, than we do. We feel like we can’t win, and that they keep winning because of an unfair advantage.

Maybe. But those unfair advantages are ones that are often either earned through hard work, or through the willingness to talk to strangers, or look at things from a different angle, or, most of all, be a clear enough thinker to see when the solutions other people have already figured out can be used to their advantage.

Or maybe they’re just trying to get the best result they can.

Ways to cheat

How about a few ways that you can cheat, in an ethical, fair way?

  • Find a mentor.
  • Take advantage of situations.
  • Email the forty best people in your industry and ask for help on a small problem (then thank them when it works).
  • Copy work that’s better than yours for fake jobs.
  • Deliberately try to recreate the magic in real jobs.
  • Invite yourself to meetings of one – just you. Book out a whole day, or whole week, or whole month, so you cannot be disturbed.
  • Find other people’s solutions to your problems (they’re out there, and probably on GitHub).
  • Show up everyday (this is a form of cheating over those who show up once a week).
  • Write – to me writing is how I’m cheating myself out of ignorance.
  • Start a podcast to talk to people who wouldn’t normally talk to you.
  • Or interview them for your blog.
  • Have a blog, a folio, a profile on Dribbble, Github, Pinterest, Instagram and Behance, leave comments on popular blogs. When it comes time for getting your next awesome job, these things will write your real resume for you. It’s cheating because few applicants will do any of the above well.
  • Talk to your idols, your industry leaders on their blogs, social profiles, via email. Few will respond (it’s not personal, they’re busy).
  • Find out how people did things before computers and write about it, use whatever theory of theirs you can on a computer.
  • Realise that when creative people publish creative works, they’re giving them to the world to be used – you can use them as a means of cheating – figure out how to make their solutions your solutions.
  • Look at as much design work as you can.
  • Read as much as you can about your craft and pretend the ideas are your own, until you’re asked, then explain where it came from in explicit detail, it makes you smart and honest and humble and generous.
  • Pick your colours from classic paintings, form modern paintings, from websites you like.
  • Do the same with typography. Like how Tschichold used solid rules in his posters? Do it for your next web project. Like how Paul Rand played with illustration? Do the same for your next logo. Musicians do it all the time with cover songs, or with chord progressions from their favourite bands. It’s a nice hat-tip to those who notice, and an introduction to great work for those who don’t.
  • Look in other fields.
  • Understand that creativity is just the bringing together of two ideas in a new way – figure out the craziest ideas you can and figure out how to make them get together and have babies.
  • Criticism! Cheat it! So many think criticism is to hurt.
  • Collect people’s emails and create your own network.
  • Sell products as good as everyone else’s for more, and products better than that for more again.
  • Email people who leave comments and say thanks.
  • Email those who disagree with you and say thanks.
  • Email those who buy things from you a month after it arrives and say thanks.
  • Listen to podcasts at 2x speed, watch every conference video at 3x. It’s tough at first but you’ll get through a lot more, learn more, make more, make better.
  • Take notes, always.
  • Ask for favours from friends.
  • Ask for favours from strangers.
  • More importantly, repay those favours when they ask you.
  • Fix problems when no one else will.
  • Don’t let other people’s opinions worry you.
  • Have confidence, but be wary of arrogance.
  • When others measure time, measure number of widgets.
  • When others measure number of widgets, measure time.
  • Work harder than the lazy, smarter than the dumb, and be the nicest person you know.
  • Care. Caring about others is the best way to get you so far ahead that people will start saying “pfft, he’s cheating.”
  • One last time because it’s so important: be nice.

So, how do you cheat?