Akimbo – No Such Thing (As Writer’s Block)

Seth Godin’s podcast continues to wage war on resistance.

Here’s the crux of this episode’s argument: Writer’s block is a myth. Well, sort of. There’s no doubt that if you’re not writing it’s because your struck. But, if you’re stuck, you’re stuck for a reason. Find the reason. If you can’t find the reason? Find a reason to write anyways. Here’s one:

“As long as we’ve got to type, we might as well type something worth reading. The idea that we are able to create more and more bad work on the way to good work is one way to get past the stuck-ness.”

If you don’t write because you’re afraid it’s bad, write anyways and make sure you write enough that there’s some good in all the bad stuff. The goal isn’t to perfect every word, it’s to stop feeling trapped. The problem is that we fall victim to our own fears, and waste our time with distractions. As Godin says:

“We want the reassurance of knowing how Stephen King does his writing.”

“What kind of pencil does my favorite author use?”, we ask. That is a cop out. It’s easier to find the answer to this question than it is to confront our fears.

A side-effect of never confronting those fears: Our work is often middling, because we were too scared to make what we were compelled to create in the first place. Yet this is just another path to failure:

“As we can see from those who make mediocre restaurants for the people on the middle and don’t make a profit, going for the middle rarely works. The successes all start at the edges, for the weird people who didn’t show up in a focus group. Catering to the obscure extremes that we end up with something that becomes a surprise best-seller. If you can become important to a few people, the cash flow will begin to support your move to serve more people.”

Confront your fears. Cater to the extreme you’re passionate about. Do the work you were created to do. That’s all there is to it.

The Ezra Klein Show – Tristan Harris

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How technology is bringing out the worst in us.

“I think that social media’s deterioration in 2016 (and becoming addictive in the process) is amplifying the addiction that’s already in there, and people think they’re losing agency and realizing how much time they’re spending on their phones.”

Tristan Harris, a former Google employee, has been making the rounds talking about the need for ‘humane technology’ and ‘time well spent’ on our social media platforms. He sees the current state-of-things-online as an example of people waking up to some serious realities, and I couldn’t agree more.

“If you’re a teenager, the first thing that you see in the morning is your friends having fun without you. Just imagine 100-million human animals waking up and first thing they see is this. That would do something. It’s very powerful and persuasive.”

Certainly, features like Snapchat’s ‘streaks’ are systems meant to not only keep you as a user, but addict you in a very serious way. While I don’t think this is particularly shocking (did anyone not think this?), it’s worth considering when you think about what kind of impact this is having on society at large.

He uses an interesting analogy (magicians) to detail what kind of systems are being created to prey on human behavior:

“In magic, you can change people’s choices by rapidly pushing them to make an immediate choice because the impulsive choices are the ones you can predict most accurately.”

So much of what makes a technology addictive is indistinguishable from a magician’s push.

“I brought Thích Nhất Hạnh to Google, and he came because he was worried. This thing in our pocket, it’s never been easier to run away from ourselves. The moment you have anxiety, you can run away instantly.”

There are some instances where it’s easier to break a bad habit by recognizing why you picked it up isn’t he first place. Perhaps it would be good of us all to recognize these moments as what they are — moments of fear. Perhaps we’d be less inclined to enter into escapism if we knew exactly what we were doing.

“Win-lose games (where I win when you lose) combined with exponential tech becomes lose-lose. This is true for nuclear weapons, and it’s true with social media. This is why you need some kind of arbiter to protect it.”

Tristan Harris argues that regulation should be that arbiter. I’m not sure—but I believe that the lose-lose game we’re playing is definitely in need of an end.

Tribe of Mentors – Steven Pressfield

One of the first chapters of ‘Tribe of Mentors’ is one of my favorites, advice from the author of ‘The War of Art’.

For anyone worrying about growing old and not making an impact, Pressfield advises not worrying at all:

“Be a cowboy. Drive a truck. Join the Marine Corps. Get out of the hyper-competitive ‘life hack’ frame of mind. I’m 74. Believe me, you’ve got all the time in the world. You’ve got ten lifetimes ahead of you.”

What matters more than making all of the right decisions and seeking success at all costs, is betting on yourself again and again, and doing the work:

“I’ve never invested in the stock market or taken a risk on anything outside myself. I decided a long time ago that I would only bet on myself. I believe investing in your heart.”

‘Investing in your heart’ is so much better than ‘investing in success’, and honestly, investing in success is a fake ideal to begin with. On unwise recommendations he hears:

“Bad advice is everywhere. Build a following. Establish a platform. Learn how to scam the system. In other words, do all the surface stuff and none of the real work it takes to actually produce something of value. The disease of our times is that we live on the surface.”

He concludes with some words that struck me as deeply true:

“I always say, ‘If you want to become a billionaire, invent something that will allow people to indulge their own Resistance.’ Somebody did invent it. It’s called the Internet. Social media. Real work and real satisfaction comes from the opposite of what the web provides.”

Ouch.

Reminds me of: ‘The Grand Opening’, ‘The Quiet Dangers of Complacency’, and (obviously) ‘The War of Art’.

Big Magic

Elizabeth Gilbert’s excellent follow-up to her TED Talk on ‘elusive creative genius’.

Gilbert talks at length about a poet who lived a fairly elusive life and held a position at the University which she took after he departed. She held the man in high regard, and latched on to a statement he made to a student that impacted her:

“One afternoon, after his poetry class, Jack had taken her aside. He complimented her work, then asked what she wanted to do with her life. Hesitantly, she admitted that perhaps she wanted to be a writer. He smiled at the girl with infinite compassion and asked, ‘Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.’”

Asking ourselves if we have the courage to create may be one of the most important questions we ever ask. Gilbert recognizes this truth, and shares a story from her teenage years of overcoming fear:

“Around the age of fifteen, I somehow figured out that my fear had no variety to it, no depth, no substance, no texture. I noticed that my fear never changed, never delighted, never offered a surprise twist or an unexpected ending. My fear was a song with only one note—only one word, actually—and that word was ‘STOP!’ I also realized that my fear was boring because it was identical to everyone else’s fear. I figured out that everyone’s song of fear has exactly that same tedious lyric: ‘STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP!’”

Fear isn’t unique. It’s boring. It’s also not the only thing to overcome. Once we get over our anxieties, there are fresh anxieties waiting for us. If we allow ourselves to be creative beings, we then must recognize that creativity comes and go. Here’s how to live with that tension:

“If inspiration is allowed to unexpectedly enter you, it is also allowed to unexpectedly exit you. Don’t fall into a funk about the one that got away. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t rage at the gods above. All that is nothing but distraction, and the last thing you need is further distraction. Grieve if you must, but grieve efficiently. Better to just say good-bye to the lost idea with dignity and continue onward.”

Gilbert calls the art of allowing ideas to come to us ‘big magic’, and sees the concept of creation to be an important and unique part of our humanity. She challenges us to understand that we are all creative beings, born to make things:

“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers, and embellishers—these are our common ancestors.”

We create because we are built to. Nothing more, nothing less. Here’s an ethos to hold onto:

“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.”

Reminds me of: ‘The Artisan Soul’ by Erwin McManus.

Akimbo – The Grand Opening

Seth Godin has just started a new podcast, and the first episode is all about what it means to start and finish (link goes to the show notes).

Do you ever feel like the world isn’t ready for your idea? Remember this:

“Karl Benz, when he launched the car, did it in Germany where it was against the law to drive a car and there were no passable roads and there were no gas stations. He should have waited. Gutenberg, pioneer of movable type, launched the book when there were no bookstores and when no one knew how to read and when reading glasses were required but hadn’t been invented yet. He should have waited.”

A part of the problem in today’s world is that even if you are ready to start, it’s challenging to get your message out there. A part of that, in Seth’s opinion, is because we’ve focused so intensely on the ‘grand opening’ that we put too much emphasis on starting. We can look to the old fashioned carnival to see where this came from. A modern day advertisement is a continuation of the carnival barker. What’s the problem? Well:

“The goal isn’t to edify, to educate, to create an environment that you’re going to come back to again and again. The goal is to take your money and leave town.”

This type of marketing has taken over, and it isn’t helpful. Also not helpful, in Seth’s opinion, is launching something like a crowdfunding campaign early on:

“Kickstarter should be called Kickfinisher. A Kickstarter is the end of a multi-month or multi-year effort to earn trust and attention.”

Instead of focusing on a campaign or an opening, focus in on building fans. Then get better at making art, and make more fans as you do it.

That’s great advice.

Reminds me of: Kevin Kelly’s ‘1,000 True Fans

Hurry Slowly – Fanny Auger

Conversation isn’t about talking.’ Great insights from the author of ‘Treve de Bavardages’.

“Today the true luxuries are silence and time.”

The author argues that we see ‘luxury’ as money, as privilege, as riches—but that isn’t really true anymore. Certainly, we are living in a time of extreme wealth…so what is luxury, today. It’s how much time we have. It’s how much silence we are granted. Those are the rarities.

“Silence is a gift you offer to the other person. It allows the other party time to formulate his or her opinion.”

I think I can learn from this. I often find myself jumping to insert my ideas or thoughts into a conversation, but silence shouldn’t be fought. It should be embraced. What would happen if we all granted a little more silence to fill our time with others?

”People are craving to be listened to. Consider it a gift to the other person when you keep your phone in your bag.”

I would love to see our culture shift towards understanding this on a large scale. When you put your phone a way and ignore an incoming text or call, you aren’t doing a disservice to the person on the other end, you are doing an extreme kindness to the person that you’re in the room with, right now.

Reminds me of: ‘Island’ by Aldous Huxley.