Why do we get stuck?
Writer's block was 'invented' in the 1940s. Before that, not only wasn't there a word for it, it hardly existed. The reason: writing wasn't a high stakes venture. Writing was a hobby, it was something you did in your spare time, without expecting a big advance or a spot on the bestseller list.
Now, of course, we're all writers. We put our ideas into words and share them with tens or thousands of people, for all time, online. Our words spread.
With the stakes higher than ever, so is our fear.
Consider the alternative to writer's block: the drip. A post, day after day, week after week, 400 times a year, 4000 times a decade. When you commit to writing regularly, the stakes for each thing you write go down. I spent an hour rereading Gary Larson's magical collection, and the amazing truth is that not every cartoon he did was brilliant. But enough of them were that he left his mark.
You can find my most popular posts of the year right here. My new collection, Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck is now available at finer bookstores online and off. I could never, ever have signed up to write this book, never sat down to create it. But since I had six years to write it, it created itself.
You don't launch a popular blog, you build one.
The writing isn't the hard part, it's the commitment. Drip!
Tomorrow is the biggest day of the year for charitable giving in the US.
The reason is clear: if you make a donation Tuesday, you have to wait a whole year to get a deduction. Make it today and you get it right now.
Of course, charitable giving shouldn't be driven by the search for a tax deduction, but the knowledge that now is your last chance short-circuits the sooner or later decision.
So, today, before it's too late, why not help build a platform for those that need it, a platform that generates a hundred or a thousand times more pareto-optimal joy. Not because there's a heart-tugging pitch or an external urgency, but because sooner is better than later.
Room to Read, The Acumen Fund, Juvenile Diabetes, DoSomething, Afaya
Sooner rather than later. We'll get there if we all head there.
Sometimes, boundaries help you make tough decisions.
If you build your company with the policy that you'll never run an ad, it makes it even more important that you build a remarkable product–you'll never be tempted to compromise and try to make it up with hype.
Same thing goes for organizations that refuse to pay bribes. By eliminating situational decisions and grey areas, it changes strategies from the top down.
Or perhaps you're not willing to pay overtime, regardless of the emergency, regardless of how late the project is… it makes it far more likely projects won't be late, because they're designed to ship without emergency…
Rigidity is rarely your friend, but well understood boundaries make decision making a lot easier.
When you believe your customers have no real choice, either because they've signed a long term contract, or the technology locks them in, or they're stranded in Fargo with no other options, you're likely to drift away from delighting them.
This is the story of Microsoft and Apple and Instagram, at least when they stumble.
When you believe that people are stuck in their seats, it's not essential, it seems, to keep cajoling them to stay there.
And while you might be correct that this particular customer is locked in, it doesn't mean she doesn't have friends, colleagues or a blog.
Word of mouth and recommendations don't come with a lock-in feature. Generations change, and if you're here for the long haul, there is no lock in.
Ending the year with a bang, I have three new books coming out. The first two are being published today, while the flagship original manifesto ships on Monday. I'm told that these books are as much fun to read as they were to make…
V is for Vulnerable is illustrated by the inspired/inspiring Hugh Macleod. It sure looks like a book for kids, with the entire alphabet outlined in the spirit you see above. But with phrases like A is for Anxiety and F is for Feedback, you'll quickly discover that the actual plan is to get under your skin and give you a new way to think about your work.
"Each page alone is worth the price of the the entire book, for its ability to make me think, inspire me, and make me smile…. My favorite letter is "U", as I've always detested umbrellas…. For years, I've been giving outgoing interns at our company a copy of the book "Oh the Places You'll Go" to inspire them on their journey. Beginning now, they'll all receive this book instead."
Dave Kerpen in his Amazon Review
V is takes the last chapter of The Icarus Deception and wakes it up and brings it to life. Here's what I've discovered: When I hand someone this book, the power of the format is so compelling that they usually read the entire thing, on the spot. Not merely enough to be polite, but all of it, even the less common letters like Q, X and Z. And that was my goal, to use the format of a book to change our usual reaction. I hope you'll check it out.
And, for those that would prefer their books be printed on one giant sheet of paper, to save precious page-turning time, check out this new Litograph of Poke the Box: http://www.litographs.com/products/poke Danny Fein has built a project that celebrates books as art at the same time that he sends new books to kids in need. I'm honored to support his work.
(use the discount code GODIN to save $10 until the end of the day on Friday the 28th).
PS my 600+ page ominbus blog collection ships today too! Both are available from fine local bookstores.
Human beings, thanks to culture and genetics, are inclined to be pessimistic, fearful, skeptical and believers in conspiracy theories. We also don't like change.
The marketer (products, government, religion, whatever) that decides to trade in any of these glitches has a tremendous advantage. It's far easier to create fear than to soothe it, far easier to argue for a conspiracy than to prove that one doesn't exist.
When we find ourselves rewarding our instincts instead of reality, we often make poor choices. Of course, sometimes there's a good reason to be afraid or to imagine that a secret conspiracy is at work. Not often, though.
When confronted by a mass of facts and nothing but instinct or tribal confirmation on the other side, it might be worth revisiting why we choose to believe what we believe.
[I wrote this five years ago. As you plan the magical things you will do next year, I thought it was worth reconsidering:]
The thing is, it's far easier than ever before to surface your ideas. Far easier to have someone notice your art or your writing or your photography. Which means that people who might have hidden their talents are now finding them noticed…
That blog you've built, the one with a lot of traffic… perhaps it can't be monetized.
That non-profit you work with, the one where you are able to change lives… perhaps turning it into a career will ruin it.
That passion you have for graphic art… perhaps making your painting commercial enough to sell will squeeze the joy out of it.
When what you do is what you love, you're able to invest more effort and care and time. That means you're more likely to win, to gain share, to profit. On the other hand, poets don't get paid. Even worse, poets that try to get paid end up writing jingles and failing and hating it at the same time.
Today, there are more ways than ever to share your talents and hobbies in public. And if you're driven, talented and focused, you may discover that the market loves what you do. That people read your blog or click on your cartoons or listen to your mp3s. But, alas, that doesn't mean you can monetize it, quit your day job and spend all day writing songs.
1. In order to monetize your work, you'll probably corrupt it, taking out the magic in search of dollars
2. Attention doesn't always equal significant cash flow.
I think it makes sense to make your art your art, to give yourself over to it without regard for commerce.
Doing what you love is as important as ever, but if you're going to make a living at it, it helps to find a niche where money flows as a regular consequence of the success of your idea. Loving what you do is almost as important as doing what you love, especially if you need to make a living at it. Go find a job you can commit to, a career or a business you can fall in love with.
A friend who loved music, who wanted to spend his life doing it, got a job doing PR for a record label. He hated doing PR, realized that just because he was in the record business didn't mean he had anything at all to do with music. Instead of finding a job he could love, he ended up being in proximity to, but nowhere involved with, something he cared about. I wish he had become a committed school teacher instead, spending every minute of his spare time making music and sharing it online for free. Instead, he's a frazzled publicity hound working twice as many hours for less money and doing no music at all.
Maybe you can't make money doing what you love (at least what you love right now). But I bet you can figure out how to love what you do to make money (if you choose wisely).
Do your art. But don't wreck your art if it doesn't lend itself to paying the bills. That would be a tragedy.
(And the twist, because there is always a twist, is that as soon as you focus on your art and leave the money behind, you may just discover that this focus turns out to be the secret of actually breaking through and making money.)
And from a recent interview:
I wonder why anyone would hesitate to be generous with their writing.
I mean, if you really want to make a living, go to Wall Street and trade oil futures … We’re writers. We’re doing something that is inherently a generous act. We’re exposing ourselves to the muse and to the things that frighten us. Why do that if you’re not willing to be generous? And paradoxically, almost ironically, it turns out that the more generous you are, the more money you make. But that’s secondary. For me, the privilege of being generous is why I get to do this.
If you want to make something new, start with understanding. Understanding what's already present, and understanding the opportunities in what's not. Most of all, understanding how it all fits together.
Watch the last two minutes of the classic film, 2001. Today's technology would allow someone to make a short film like this with very little effort. But could you? The making isn't the hard part, in fact. It's the seeing.
Would you have the guts to go this slow? To use music this boldy? To combine iconography from three different centuries over two millenia?
Where is the explosion of the death star and where are the hackneyed tropes of a hundred or a thousand prior sci-fi movies?
Stanley Kubrick, the film's director, saw. He saw images and stories that were available to anyone who chose to see them, but others averted their eyes, grabbed for the easy or the quick or the work that would satisfy the boss in closest proximity.
When everyone has the same Mac and the same internet, the difference between hackneyed graphic design and extraordinary graphic design is just one thing—the ability to see.
Seeing, despite the name, isn't merely visual. I worked briefly with Arthur C. Clarke thirty years ago, and he saw, but he saw in words, and in concepts. The people who built the internet, the one you're using right now, saw how circuits and simple computer code could be connected to build something new and bigger. Others had the same tools, but not the same vision.
And all around us, we're surrounded by limits, by disasters (natural and otherwise) and by pessimism. Some people see in this opportunity and a chance to draw (with any sort of metaphorical pen) something. Others see in it a chance to hide, to settle and to sigh.
The same confidence and hubris that Kubrick and Clarke brought to their movie is available to anyone who decides to give more than they 'should' to a charity that has the audacity to change things. While others believe they can (and must) merely settle.
In our best possible future together, I hope we'll do a better job of learning to see one another.
Some people see a struggling person and turn away. Others see a human being and work to open a door or lend a hand. There are possiblities all around us. Not just the clicks of recycling a tired cliche, but the opportunity to be brave. If we only had the guts.
Professional farmers don’t begrudge the backyard gardener his tomato harvest. That’s silly.
And talented mechanics certainly don’t mind the antics of the Car Talk guys (or their listeners). Sooner or later, if you need a real mechanic, you’ll find one, and if you don’t, well, that’s fine too.
A few years ago, typesetting, wedding photography, graphic design and other endeavors that were previously off limits to all but the most passionate amateurs started to become more common. The insecure careerists fought off the amateurs at the gate, insisting that it was both a degradation of their art as well as a waste of time for the amateurs. The professionals, though, those with real talent, used the technological shift to move up the food chain. It was easy to encourage amateurs to go ahead and explore and experiment… professionals bring more than just good tools to their work as professionals.
The best professionals love it when a passionate amateur shows up. The clarity and intelligence of a smart customer pushes both client and craftsman to do better work.
Gifted college professors don’t fear online courses. Talented web designers don’t fear cloud services. Bring them on! When you need something worth paying for, they say, we’ll be here. And what we’ll sell you will be worth more than we charge you.
If you’re upset that the hoi polloi are busy doing what you used to do, get better instead of getting angry.
This isn’t about the strategy of how to design a website that works–this is my take on how marketers can work with their teams, their bosses and their developers to get the site they want built with less time and less hassle. (PS all of this works for apps, too). Most people who are responsible for websites are amateurs. This is my best take on how the goal-oriented non-professional can do a good job.
Three things worth remembering:
- Every website is a marketing effort. Sooner or later, your site involves an interaction with a user, and that interaction won’t be 100% technical. You have to sell the engagement, the interaction and the story you have in mind. While websites have always involved technology, the tech is secondary to your ability to get your point across.
- Virtually all websites are not on the cutting edge of technology. You’re doing something that’s been done before, at least technically.
- Synchronizing your team is difficult, because most people know it when they see it, and seeing it is expensive. It’s sort of like building a hundred houses in order to find the one that your spouse likes–not a practical effort.
The approach I recommend:
- Find the tech elements you need by browsing the web. Make a list–I want menus that work like this site, a shopping cart that works like that site, a home page that works like this one.
- Create the entire site (or at least the critical elements) using Keynote on the Mac (PowerPoint works too, but Keynote is a little easier to work with). Begin by copying and pasting elements from other sites, but as you make progress, hire a graphic designer to create the elements you need. Keynote makes it easy to actually have spots on the screen link to other slides in the ‘presentation’, so the document you create will actually allow your team to click on various parts of the screen and jump to other pages.
- Do not do any coding at all.
What you end up with, then, is a 3 or 10 or 100 page Keynote document, with a look and a feel. With menus. With fonts. With things in their proper hierarchy. Once you’re good at this, you can build or tweak a ‘site’ in no time.
Now you have a powerful tool. You can use it in presentations, in meetings and even test it with users, all before you do any coding at all. Once you’ve shared this with the team, the question is simple, “if our website works just like this, do you approve of it?” Don’t start coding until the answer is yes.
This is a discipline, one that takes a fair amount of guts to stick with, but it pays off huge dividends. Don’t code until you know what you want.
Last step: Hand the Keynote doc to your developers and go away until it’s finished.
As I said, this works for mobile apps too. Here’s a site filled with template shortcuts for both.