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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Unless It Costs Us Something, It's Not Worth Anything

Everybody wants the scar, but nobody wants the scab.

We’re too impatient to wait, too accustomed to instant gratification and too seduced by our something-for-nothing culture. That’s why we seek shortcuts to boost our numbers, trick people into buying from us and, eventually, get what we want without actually putting in our time. Because we can.

Why bleed for what we want when we can buy what we don’t need?

I’ll tell you why.

Unless it costs us something, it’s not worth anything.

In any endeavor, there is no hope for easy conquest. It has to be something we work for. Something that burns a few calories and puts a few hairs on our chest. Only on the sacrificial field, only through the harsh and revealing light of adversity, do we truly do our most meaningful work.

We have to be willing to bleed for it.



Friday, June 29, 2012

When The Story Doesn't Belong To Us

The only stories that count are the ones we pay for.

The ones we suffer through, burn calories for, lose everything from, change everything with and stop lying to ourselves because.

Without that expenditure, without that investment of emotional labor, the story doesn’t truly belong to us. It may be superimposed upon our memory, but it will never be scored upon our heart.

But when we get it right, when we courageously take ownership of our experience; those stories demand to see the light of day. To be given voice to. And to find a home in the hearts of those who would dare to listen.

All we have to do is grab a microphone.

Because if we don’t share it – it never happened.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Amazing Or Bust

We can't be in the pretty good business.

We have to be amazing. We have to bring everything inside that we have. We have to figure out a way to blow people away, every time, in the most magical and unexpected way possible.

Only then do we have power. Only then do we have choices.

And it’s worth all the preparation. All the sweat. All the early morning starts and late night finishes. All the moments when the towel stared at us, wondering if we’d give it the satisfaction of landing in the ring.

We didn’t go through all that bullshit just to show up and not be amazing.

Eminem told us to lose ourselves in the music, the moment, to own it and never let it go.

Maybe it’s time we started acting like it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Belonging Sessions 002: AJ Lawrence from The Jar Group

The Jar Group is a data-driven agency of internet enthusiasts who produce integrated marketing strategies and happy clients. They were named on the Inc. 500 List of Fastest Growing Private Companies and Linkshare’s 2010 Agency of the Year.                      

I sat down with President AJ Lawrence, and posed three crucial questions about employee belonging:

1. Good brands are bought, but great brands are joined. Why do you think employees join yours?

For a large company, part of the tradeoff is security. Their culture is secondary to increasing profit. For us, we provide our clients with high quality work, but never at the expense of a great working environment. After all, the work we do is strange. Not everyone can divide their minds into five different areas at the same time, so we have to have a workplace that’s worthwhile and enjoyable.                                                

2. The great workplaces of the world have soul. What do you do to humanize your culture? 

Companies can too easily get caught up in archetype language that nobody understands. For us, we don’t have a simple, pithy answer to that kind question. Our mantra is simply something we live. It’s work. We don’t hire assholes. We make clients money, we don’t just get them press. And it’s more than making clients feel good, it’s making them look like heroes. That’s how we get more work.                                                    

3. Belonging is a basic human craving. How do you remind employees that they've found a home?

It’s not about reminding, it’s about engaging. We have team lunches on Thursdays. Cocktail hours at the end of the workday. We take field trips to Coney Island together. And we’re clear on what we’re trying to achieve and what we expect of people. Too many agencies put efforts on long terms employees or rising stars, but why create a culture where there are tiers of people? We’re hiring the people we want to be here because they can help us do more cool stuff. And cool stuff might mean more work, but that’s part of the fun.

Thanks AJ!

Meet the The Jar Group team here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Voice We Most Want to be Quiet

We all hear voices.

That doesn’t make us crazy – it just makes us human.

The hard part is when the voice we most want to be quiet starts to torment us.

Our natural instinct is to ignore it. Or run away. Or drown it out. Or stick our fingers in our ears and pretend it’s not really there.

And with most voices, that’s a helpful approach. It protects our dream, safeguards our vision and keeps us from demanding excessive reassurance.

But it turns out; the voice we most want to be quiet is the voice we most need to hear.

It’s the one worth listening to, creating from and motivating ourselves with.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Young Artist's Guide to Playing For Keeps, Part 21

You’ve chosen an uncertain path.
You’ve adopted an inconvenient lifestyle.
You’ve embarked upon an unconventional journey.
You’ve felt the voice inside you growing more urgent.
You’ve committed yourself enough so you can’t turn back.

IN SHORT: You’ve decided to play for keeps.

This is the critical crossroads – the emotional turning point – in the life of every young artist.

And I’ve been there myself.

From my latest book, Writing is the Basis of All Wealth, here’s a list of suggestions to help you along the way: 

1. Lessons are for losers. Some musicians were never that good at playing music. They just represented something important. Whether they created a spectacle, built an emotional connection, told a remarkable story, started a movement, inspired a revolution, changed popular culture, defied the norm, crossed categories, gave voice to a new generation or raised global consciousness, the fact that they didn’t have a lot of talent didn’t matter. They had bigger fish to fry. Which doesn’t mean talent is unimportant, just not as necessary as we once thought. If I were starting as an artist today, I’d invest more of my time creating, connecting, inspiring, dreaming, shipping, sharing, risking, performing, promoting and engaging, and less of my time taking lessons. 

2. The power of germination. I’ve always been an excellent producer. It’s just my nature. I’m impatient, I’m a quick start and I’m an executor. I take action without waiting for permission, and I turn a seed into a forest before most people realize it’s raining. Lately, though, I’ve been practicing the fine art of waiting. Instead of my normal tendency to drive towards closure, I’ve consciously created more time for things to germinate than is comfortable. Instead of obsessing over the branding of my next project, I’ve moved forward without satisfying my need to label everything. It sucks. Letting go of a process that’s been good to you is always a bitter pill to swallow. But despite my impulsive nature, despite my predisposition to execute with all my might, I’m starting to learn that anything worth doing is worth waiting for. 

3. Center doesn't serve us. Only when we work from our edge does the real juice emerge. That's where all the action is. That's where we get the best view, find out who we really are and have the most potential for change. The edge is where we're most challenged to bring forth our best ability. Great art lives there. It's where we find the finest, bloodiest expressions of our experience. And if we're willing to crush the boundaries of our creative capacities and make something truly special, truly new, it has the power to change people forever. If that means we have to try a new genre, so be it. If that means we have to experiment with a new medium, so be it. If that means we have to venture out into a completely different venue, so be it. We didn't pursue a career in art to work from the middle. Save the yellow lines for the armadillos. 

4. Bad is relative. Who are we to judge if an idea is good? That’s not our job. As artists, our job is to notice. As artists, our job is to render our unique experience. As artists, our job is to treat everything we discover with deep democracy. Only time will tell if it’s any good. Millions of people thought Christianity was a bad idea – but they still wrote it down. Later, over the course of hundreds and thousands of years, that idea went on to change the world forever. Bad isn’t good, bad breeds good. How many bad ideas did you have last week? 

5. Transition from creation to discovery. Instead of sitting down with form already in mind, we arrive at the page, the canvas or the clay trusting that the sculpture is already inside the stone, knowing that our job as the artist is to simply chip away. Instead of attaching ourselves to a particular approach, we commit to an unknown process, thinking less and emerging more, allowing everything to come out from the center of us, as opposed to blindly throwing spaghetti against a predetermined wall. Instead of our tendency to drive towards closure, we consciously make more time for things to germinate than is comfortable, sitting with their namelessness, slowly waking up to what is true about ourselves. The cool part is, while discovery takes longer, requires more uncertainty and asks us to be more patient and vulnerable than we’re used to, the work that results is truer, better and bolder.

6. Circulation is everything. If we never ship anything, it doesn’t matter how talented we are. We may as well be winking in the dark. As creators, our primary task is to create. But a close second is to circulate. To share as much as we can, with as many people as we can, as often as we can. That’s why we got ourselves into this whole mess in the first place – to be heard. Steve Wozniak, someone who was constitutionally disinclined to share, still had a mandate to circulate. He knew he had to ship or risk fading into obscurity. Fortunately, his pal Steve Jobs came along to nudge the sharing process. And they shipped one of our world’s most important innovations. We can never let the fear of failure trump our desire to express.

REMEMBER: When you’re ready to play for keeps, your work will never be the same.

Make the decision today.

Show the world that your art isn’t just another expensive hobby.



Sunday, June 24, 2012

Closets Are For Shelves, Not Selves

We can only closet off the unholy parts of ourselves for so long.

Whatever is inside of us, eventually, somewhere, is going to come out.

The exciting part is, once we give people a profile of our soul, once we start talking about what we’re afraid for them to know about us, our world changes. We experience the freedom that comes from refusing to hide. And those brave enough to listen, use our stories as mirrors that reflect their truest selves.

As of late, I’ve gone out of my way to share more of my dark side. From health problems to relationship blunders to creative burnouts to business mistakes to communication breakdowns to the trappings of meh, I’ve started sharing more and more about what happens in my life behind the scenes.

Not all the time. I’d hate be one of those people who lives his life like an open wound just to accumulate a few extra column inches.

But it certainly feels good to get that darkness off myself.

Closets are for shelves, not selves.




Saturday, June 23, 2012

Are You Paying People In Their Preferred Currency?

During a heated discussion on reward and recognition, my friend Julie, who works for a charitable art foundation, said something that captured my curiosity.

“I would rather get a holiday party than a holiday bonus.”

Her theory was, a check for a thousand bucks could buy a lot of cool stuff. But a night of celebration could deepen intimacy, create memories and build friendships that last forever. To Julie, that was worth a lot more.

Of course, that's just one person's opinion. She values belonging and connection over money, but I imagine all of her coworkers wouldn't automatically agree with her.

And they shouldn't, either. They're human beings. Each person speaks a different love language. And if we want them to stick around, people ought to be paid in their preferred currency.

Me, I would have taken the holiday party.


Friday, June 22, 2012

The Definition of Writing Has Changed Forever

Sometimes it’s easier to enter through the side door.

That’s what I told a friend of mine. That if we don’t enjoy the act of writing – yet have the urge to capture our experience and share it with the world – what we need is to expand our definition of writing.

Because once we expand the definition, we change the context. Once we change the context, we lower the threat level. And once we lower the threat level, there are fewer excuses to prevent us from getting started.

Originally, writing meant, “to carve.”

Later, writing meant, “to put ink on paper for others to read.”

But now that paper is going away, now that ink is has evolved into a digital medium, now that reading isn’t the only form of consumption, and now there are more methods of “putting” than ever before, the definition of writing has changed forever.

Now, sending a text is writing.
Now, publishing a blog is writing.
Now, recording a podcast is writing.
Now, tweeting our thoughts is writing.
Now, posting a status update is writing.
Now, shooting a video message is writing.
Now, instant messaging our friends is writing.

But we’re still carving. And that’s the key.

Because even if what we say sucks, even if nobody listens, even if we don’t think of what we’re doing as writing, end even if the world is too stubborn and close-minded to classify it as such, anytime we take a moment to render what’s in our hearts, we’re writing.

And once we grasp that concept, once we give ourselves permission to enter through the side door, the process become a lot less threatening and lot more fun.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Belonging Sessions 001: David Schwarz from HUSH

HUSH is a design agency. They produce digital content and experiences that are unique in creating brand recognition for their clients.

I sat down with David Schwarz, one of the creative partners, and posed three crucial questions about belonging:

1. Good brands are bought, but great brands are joined. Why do you think employees join yours?

Our team members are hand picked Renaissance thinkers and makers. They want to flex their brains in as many ways as possible. And it sounds cliché, but when people are able to affect a creative culture, this leads to great work. We’re over rock star talent. It’s more about who we want to trust our lives to. We're interested in projects that we don’t know completely – where we're learning something new. As a result, our clients trust us with the vision to do new things and take risks. This is where we work – on the fringes of new, places where everyone is always super excited but often super scared.                                              
2. The great workplaces of the world have soul. What do you do to humanize your culture? 

Workplaces can help a company's soul, but only people can define it. At HUSH, employees operate in a place that already knows they’re smart and unique. When they walk in the door, they're ready to work hard and move forward, even if they're on their heels and in the midst of a steep learning curve. No machismo or bravado here, just the willingness to say, “I don’t know. Help me.”
                                
3. Belonging is a basic human craving. How do you remind employees that they've found a home?
                          
We let employees have their own aesthetic world, create, write, build and arrange the way they want. They make their own bed. They control their own music. And every week, we have meetings to show work from previous week - because sharing work across people and teams rounds out everyone's perception of their own home. We don’t hand out gold stars, we just show great work - and we learn about each other as more than just a position or a project.

Thanks David! 

Meet the HUSH team here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Just Because We’re Young Doesn’t Mean We’re Useless

Being young is no excuse for not delivering value.

What we lack in experience we make up in enthusiasm, by being the most energizing one around. What we lack in certainty we make up in curiosity, by asking the most disturbing questions around. What we lack in wisdom we make up in perspective, by making the best observations around. What we lack in velocity we make up in flexibility, by being the most patient one around. What we lack in knowledge we make up in savvyness, by being the most digitally proficient one around. And what we lack in history we make up in courage, by taking the most risks around.

This simple shift in posture is the smartest, easier and cheapest way to show the world we’re here to contribute, age notwithstanding.

Just because we’re young, doesn’t mean we’re useless.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Reject Anything That Reeks Of Meh

We are defined by what we decline.

Especially in those moments when it would be easy to say yes to the quick buck, the quick win or the quick applause, the heroic response would be to respectfully and consciously reject anything that reeks of meh.

To decline the projects that involve uninspiring, unchallenging, unrisky and unrewarding work, no matter how many of our ego and financial needs they fulfill, because deep down, we know they’re only going to lead to more of the same meh work.

When we make this choice, we allow the door of opportunity to swing open.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Doesn't Anybody Want to Change the World Anymore?

That’s the sound of the world gasping.

We’ve exhausted entirely too much breath over vain pursuits like driving traffic, getting hits, gathering followers, increasing views, gaining exposure, accumulating likes and attaining celebrity.

And maybe I’m blessed with a broken sense of priorities, but doesn’t anybody want to change the world anymore? Are we so spellbound by the size of our own fire that we’ve forgotten to leave the campsite better than we found it?

It’s time to reunite our efforts with a higher order by asking bigger questions.

What are we mandated to cure? What are we on a mission to eradicate? What conversations are we going to restart? What cosmic injustices are we committed to fighting?

Sure beats going blind over blog analytics.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Problem of Constitutional Incompatibility

Opposites attract, but that doesn’t mean they stay together.

I spent several years with someone who, in many ways, was the mathematical opposite of me. Different attitude, different lifestyle, different goals, different everything. Which, admittedly, was kind of endearing at first. Our personalities seem to compliment each other nicely.

But as we got more serious, and as my friends started dropping more hints, I learned that what we lacked was a commonality of constitution. We might have listened to the same music, but there was still no overlap in value system. We might have enjoyed the same restaurants, but there was still no sublime connection.

When the time came to plan our future together, I knew there was something missing. I knew I couldn’t make her just like me, no matter how books I read. And I knew that if I didn’t make a move soon, cognitive dissonance would stick me into a corner that would be agonizing to escape.

So I ended it. Abruptly. As honestly, kindly and clearly as I could. And it wasn’t the smoothest breakup in the world, but it certainly wasn’t the bloodiest. I’ve seen worse.

About a year later, once the minefield had cleared, once I’d siphoned all the regret and pain and guilt out of my system, I made a decision.

Life’s too short to spend with someone who’s constitutionally incompatible.












Saturday, June 16, 2012

Whatever Happens Will Always Be Part Of Us

Not everything needs to be understood.

That’s hard for a lot of us to understand.

Especially if we’re the kind of people who think, reflect, evaluate, replay and over analyze everything that happens to us, in an effort to make sense of our own existence.

But in the portfolio of life experience, whatever happens to us will always be a part of us.

The hard part is trusting that that alone is enough. Because even if we don’t comprehend certain experiences at the time – or at any time, for that matter – that doesn’t make them any less important to our lives. It all matters. It all changes us.

If we let it.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Your Savings Account of Human Healing

It’s okay to ask people to be there for us.

In those moments when the fury of the tempest leaves us tossed and tattered, we should never hesitate to call in the cavalry.

They love it. People want nothing more than the opportunity to show up for someone they care about. That’s why they became our friends in the first place. Not because we have the same shoe size, although that’s certainly a nice perk. Have you seen her fabulous red boots?

No, they’re our friends because they want us to call on them.

The human longing to be useful, to be asked, to be necessary to at least one other person in the world, runs deeper than anything. And when we rob people of the chance to hit their daily quota of usefulness, to validate their existence – if only for five minutes on the phone – we commit an act of selfishness.

But if we’re fortunate enough to have a savings account of human healing, we should never feel guilty about making a withdrawal request.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Escape Route Surplus

Nobody commits anymore.

Not just because it’s hard to commit, but because it’s easy to bail.

When picking a vendor, picking a university, picking a home, even picking a mate, technology dissolves loyalty. With instant access to an unlimited reservoir of choices, every additional option makes it harder and harder to stick with something.

The problem, then, is not just our fear of commitment – it’s our surplus of escape routes.

If we want to paint ourselves into an accountable corner, if we want to become known for our commitment, the only answer is to burn the ships, practice some serious restraint and play for keeps.

Otherwise we’re just another question mark in people’s minds.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Young Artist's Guide to Playing For Keeps, Part 20

You’ve chosen an uncertain path.
You’ve adopted an inconvenient lifestyle.
You’ve embarked upon an unconventional journey.
You’ve felt the voice inside you growing more urgent.
You’ve committed yourself enough so you can’t turn back.

IN SHORT: You’ve decided to play for keeps.

This is the critical crossroads – the emotional turning point – in the life of every young artist.

And I’ve been there myself.

From my latest book, Writing is the Basis of All Wealth, here’s a list of suggestions to help you along the way: 

1. Miles Davis didn’t make many hit records. He sold the experience of seeing him in person, and he changed music forever. But that was decades ago. Now everything is different. “Today almost everything we encounter has been recorded and played back,” writes Rian Hughes in Culture, “and very little of what we experience is actually live. Yet live is how life happens, and live was the only way, before technology permitted reproduction, life happened.” The challenge is figure out how your art creates a breathing the same air experience for your fans. From live events to streaming online, making hit records isn’t as important as it used to be. When was the last time you made art in public? 

2. Life was here first. The artistic landscape is littered with the corpses of people whose life was solely about executing their will. People who selfishly ignored their families, neglected their health and abandon their communities, in the name of art. And while their body of work was impressive, their body in a coffin, wasn’t. In a recent podcast interview, Ben Stiller explained, “Life doesn’t happen on its own when you just go and work all the time.” It’s a helpful reminder that whatever balance you strike, staying devoted to the project of building a life is just as important as the art you make from it. We have to create a life anchored by regular experiences of meaningfulness outside of our work. Are you living a life worth rendering? 

3. Be open to criticism, but not defeated by it. To not be critical of your own work is to not be human. It’s part of the job description. At the same time, you don’t want to criticize the work to the point that you scare yourself out of creating it. Please don’t interrupt me while I’m beating the shit out of myself, as some artists are prone to say. Fortunately, if you can confront yourself without condemning yourself, if you can meet yourself without turning away, and if you can take stock without making a judgment, your art will get better without getting under your skin. It all depends on how willing you are to face your own work with a critical eye. What pieces are you afraid to go back and look at? 

4. You can’t be an inactivist. Art is something you have to do every day, otherwise you get too far from it and forget what it’s about. That’s one of the reasons you make things – to find out why you made them. Leonard Cohen once told American Songwriter, “You have to redeem the day so it does not go down in debt.” As an artist, whatever bargain you make with yourself, be sure it’s enough to meet your daily quota of usefulness. That will validate your existence. That will keep you on top of your game. And even if you don’t score big today, there will always be tomorrow. What did you create yesterday?

5. Your entire career is an act of entrepreneurship. And as such, part of your job is to search beyond your current professional boundaries. To risk rejection by exploring new artistic worlds instead of courting acceptance by following already explored paths. Julia Cameron teaches her writing students to recite the following affirmation, “I am not going to limit myself just because people won’t accept the fact that I can do something else.” If that means trying a new genre, so be it. If that means working for a new audience so be it. And if that means moving across the country to a city where you don’t know anybody, so be it. Art without risk, isn’t. When was the last time you did something for the first time? 

6. Start with design in mind. Design isn’t a veneer we apply after the hard work is done – design is the hard work. It starts on day one and it’s part of everything. In the words of the great Alan Fletcher, “Design is to conscious effort to impose meaningful and beautiful order, surround the spirit with flesh and make the pragmatic poetic. It’s the intelligent equation between purpose and construction.” No matter what medium you use, we’re all designers. And the same way that you build remarkability into your ideas before they go public, you also build design into your ideas before they get finished. Choose to champion the beautiful. Invest as much energy as possible in making your art a beautiful organism. Are you making something you would put in your coffin?

REMEMBER: When you’re ready to play for keeps, your work will never be the same.

Make the decision today.

Show the world that your art isn’t just another expensive hobby.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Are You Pursuing Wholeness Or Perfection?

The real beauty is when we can be ugly together.

When we can join each other in a safe space of honesty and imperfection and give voice to the darkest, most perverse sides of ourselves. Somewhere we can set shame aside and let vulnerability meet vulgarity, without the fear of being judged.

We might do coffee with friends. Have dinner club with colleagues. Share at storytelling open mic nights. Attend quarterly meetup groups. Write weekly letters to family members or post on online message boards with digital pals.

All are good options.

The point is, it’s less important where, how or with whom we do it – and more important that we do it. Regularly. Because without this emotional release, without this outlet for our most primitive hostilities and human tendencies, we fail to acknowledge, appease and articulate our shadow.

If we don’t go crazy, we might go crazy.

The goal is to pursue wholeness, not perfection. To admit that, despite our best efforts to keep our hands clean, humans can’t hide their hideousness forever. To decide that, eventually, the ugly has to come out. And to believe that, when we’re willing to share what’s most appalling about our lives, we’re always better because of it.



Monday, June 11, 2012

There's Only So Much Manure We Can Shovel

When times are tough, it's a lot harder to believe our own bullshit.

Anyone can self-rationalize when there's money in the bank, clients in the pipeline and projects in the works. That's like riding a bicycle downhill and assuming our legs are strong.

But when the phone stops ringing, when the obligations start accumulating, and when we're not sure where the next check is coming from, there's only so much manure we can shovel. Eventually, we have to get radically honest with ourselves about what's working and what's not. And we have to wake up to what's true about ourselves at the risk of seeing something we couldn't see back when business was good.

Otherwise, under the weight of our own delusions -- even if we've managed to convince the rest of the world that everything is going fine -- we'll know the reality. We'll still have to look at ourselves in the mirror every morning.

And it might not be a pretty sight.




Sunday, June 10, 2012

If Loving Email Is Wrong, I Don't Wanna Be Right

Most of the time, email is everyone else’s agenda for our time.

It’s the digital fidget we sit around waiting to react to, the easiest way to preserve the illusion of productivity and the constant distraction that prevents us from executing what matters most.

Then again, I’ve received emails that changed my perspective forever, like the man who commented how my entire career came from something in a trashcan. I’ve gotten emails that sparked product ideas and turned into real money, like the feedback from readers who asked me to publish digital books. And I’ll never forget the emails that lifted me out of the paralysis of inconsequentiality, like the woman who finally got the nerve to quit her job after hearing an embarrassing story from one of my presentations.

Like most things in life, it all comes down to choice.

The point is, email doesn’t have to be a beast to tame, not if we don’t want it to. Instead of whining about how overwhelming our inbox is, the alternative is to guiltlessly delete the irrelevant, quickly respond to the important, thankfully read the inspiring, and quietly get on with our lives.

Bing.


Saturday, June 09, 2012

No One Needs Us Anymore

The other night I had dinner with a group of travel agents.

I was curious how the economic, technological and generational shifts were affecting their industry, so I asked what the future of their profession looked like.

And without skipping a beat, this one woman launched into a story that blew my mind. About a week ago, she was talking to the cashier at a local bakery. When the guy asked what she did for a living, Cindy said she was a travel agent.

The cashier replied, “I thought you all were dead!”

Proof once again, there’s nothing more frightening than the prospect of irrelevancy.

The only problem is, no one needs us. We’re a dying breed. Everything people used to need from us – information, answers, ideas and advice – is available to them right now, for free, in perfect form, forever.

It didn’t used to be that way. There was a time when we were vessels of knowledge. Pillars of wisdom. Narrators of the story of life. And paragons of experience that those who were hungry could climb mountains to pursue, even if only to touch the hem of our garment.

But now people just google stuff. Nobody needs to wonder, think, reflect, ask, create, mediate, listen or read.  Just download, verify and repeat. Download, verify and repeat. And if we don’t do something to reverse this trend, our species is not going to make it. If the pendulum doesn’t start to swing the other way, we are not going to last.

Human beings are social creatures. We need to need each other. Our craving for belonging, connectedness and togetherness is no less essential that food, water or shelter.

But if we insist on ignoring, avoiding and circumventing each other – if we continue to solely depend on the pixels of digital surrogates instead of the perspective of actual people – we will continue to become less human by the hour.

Eventually, we’ll serve no purpose other than fleshy holsters for electronic devices.

We don’t need more access to information.

We need more access to each other.


Friday, June 08, 2012

What Does Your Voice Cost?

It costs nothing to have a voice.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.

It costs your privacy, your safety, your vulnerability, your pride, your addiction to permission, your need for control, your ego, your time, your sweat, your blood, your reputation, your emotional labor, possibly your job, sometimes your relationships and, in a few devastating cases, your life.

But that’s it.


Thursday, June 07, 2012

Will You Die Wondering?

Over the years, I’ve done plenty of things for the wrong reasons.

For the money, for the resume, for the attention, for the approval, for the applause, for the footage, for the material, for the achievements and of course, for the need to prove myself.

But looking back, the experiences I’m most proud of, the projects I least regret and the investments that yielded the greatest dividends, were the things I did because I didn’t want to regret not doing them.

“I don’t want to die wondering,” as my friend Paul likes to say.

What a beautiful mantra.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Strategic Planning is Procrastination in Disguise

Dreams weren’t meant to be sat on.

They’re not eggs and we’re not chickens.

When it comes to the birth of what’s in our hearts, time doesn’t always enable incubation. Sometimes it hinders execution. Sometimes patience isn’t a virtue. And sometimes what we think is strategic planning is just procrastination in disguise.

If that’s the case, we owe it to ourselves, to our hearts, to take decisive action. To do whatever the dream needs to evolve out of dream form and into reality form. To find people who can help us become who we need to be to handle that reality.

And while not every dream comes to fruition immediately, while it may take months or even years for certain dreams to prove their execution worth, we always need to be ready to crack it open.

Even if we’re not ready.


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Ambiguity is the Enemy of Profitability

Confusion is expensive.

If people don’t know what to expect when they come to your door, the organization will burn piles of money trying to reeducate, reassure and reaffirm people who they are.

Smart companies start early. They build expectational clarity to buttress the transaction. That way, they create greater anticipation in the customer’s mind, capturing their imagination for what’s come.

Icontact is a perfect digital example. The moment you subscribe to any publication on their platform, you’re prompted with questions: What are you going to get? How can you ensure our email gets to you? Is my information secure? Then, each of the answers is custom written by the publishers themselves. And all of this happens before you receive your first issue.

Weiner Circle is the perfect analog example. Customers rarely show up to wait in line without first hearing crazy stories from friends, viewing fun pictures online or learning instructions on how, specifically to order. A word to the wise, a chocolate shake isn’t what you think.

Whatever business you’re in, ambiguity is the enemy of profitability.

But learn to telegraph reliability, eliminate guesswork and deliver a series of predictable promises, and you’ll save a bundle.



Monday, June 04, 2012

The Young Artist's Guide to Playing For Keeps, Part 19

You’ve chosen an uncertain path.
You’ve adopted an inconvenient lifestyle.
You’ve embarked upon an unconventional journey.
You’ve felt the voice inside you growing more urgent.
You’ve committed yourself enough so you can’t turn back.

You’ve decided to play for keeps.

This is the critical crossroads – the emotional turning point – in the life of every young artist.

And I’ve been there myself.

Here’s a list of suggestions to help you along the way:

1. Entertainment trumps art. Just turn on the television. The most popular shows no longer cast actors – they pluck citizens. And they eventually get famous for being, well, famous. But it wasn’t always this way. Forty years ago, we did our art because we had some form of overflowing passion. Some kind of fire. We did it because we couldn’t not do it. Because there was this thing inside of us that, this thing that said, “Now!” and if we didn’t give voice to it, we would go crazy. That’s art. It’s what defines us. It’s what makes life worth living. It’s how we bring our humanity to the moment. What sucks is, it’s an endangered species. And we can’t stand mute while it gets eaten alive. Otherwise magazine racks will replace museums. Fear not art, fear entertainment disguised as art. Are you an artist or an entertainer?


2. Talent doesn’t matter like it used to. With the right technology, a keen sense of timing, a strong platform and a wellspring of creativity; and with strategic positioning, clever marketing, consistent networking, occasional ass kissing, tons of grit, lots of little breaks and a world-class attitude, any of us should be able to soar to great heights in our field. Then again, we can never underestimate the power of being really, really good. Straight chops, pure ability, will always serve us well. The hard part is, awesome takes practice, and practice takes patience. And in a world of instant celebrities and overnight sensations, it’s tempting to want to shortcut the process. But if we’re smart, we hustle while we wait. We build our non-talent assets as we gradually get better. And after a while, after our ability evolves into mastery, we final let everything else go and allow talent to take center stage. How patient can you be?

3. Another worthwhile artistic investment. Some musicians were never that good at playing music. They just represented something important. Whether they created a spectacle, built an emotional connection, told a remarkable story, started a movement, inspired a revolution, changed popular culture, defied the norm, crossed categories, gave voice to a new generation or raised global consciousness, the fact that they didn’t have a lot of talent didn’t matter. They had bigger fish to fry. Which doesn’t mean talent is unimportant, just not as necessary as we once thought. If I were starting as an artist today, I’d invest more of my time creating, connecting, inspiring, dreaming, shipping, sharing, risking, performing, promoting and engaging, and less of my time taking lessons. What do you represent?

4. Creativity is about trying things. First, we listen to our heart. We sit at the feet of that thing that sticks inside of us and says now. And we put it out publicly so we can’t run away from it, and so the world will conspire to help us achieve it. Next, we give ourselves permission. We drop the illusions about what we can and can’t do. And we knock down the inhibitors that stop us from pursuing something dopey, different or whimsical. Then, we chase that idea down. We get experimental without spending money. We fiddle around with things. And we execute small steps that create the freedom to pause, test, reevaluate and adjust. Finally, we listen for what sticks. We watch for what makes us think, Oh my god – that counts? We ask ourselves: I wonder if I can take this further? And we become spawned by the childlike desire to see how far it goes. What did you try yesterday?

5. It’s not enough to write something worth reading. First, we have to do something worth writing. Life is subordinate to art, not the other way around. Our first responsibility as artists is to be human beings, to be real people, whose unique reservoirs of life experience color the canvas with rich textures. When he’s not performing spoken word concerts, Henry Rollins travels to countries most people have never heard of. When he’s not harmonizing our hearts into mush, Art Garfunkel goes on hundred mile walks. And when he’s not drawing cartoons, Scott Adams runs his own vegetarian food company and café. In short, they inhale. And despite our antisocial tendencies, despite the seductive low road passage of constantly disappearing into our work, eventually, we all have to get the out of the studio. We have to reengage with the world – to inhale – and procure meaning outside of our art. Otherwise we never get out of our own heads, never get out of our own limited worldview and never keep perspective flowing. At which point our work is no longer a masterpiece, just a paint by number. Are you living an art worthy life?

REMEMBER: When you’re ready to play for keeps, your work will never be the same.

Make the decision today.

Show the world that your art isn’t just another expensive hobby.