gapingvoid is interested in start-up culture, because changing business for the better is what we’re about; that’s what Social Object Factory is about. We live and breathe it; we help everyone from lone entrepreneurs, to mid-sizers, to Fortune 500’s do the same. Check out our work here.
We create art that helps companies kick ass, end of story.
It always excites me to see someone trying to shake up the art industry, so I was sad to learn about Jen Bekman’s fine art retail site, “20x200” suspending operations. Though I didn’t know the people personally, I’d been rooting for them. It seemed like a neat idea, and I loved the name.
So why did it fail? In retrospect, it isn’t too hard to see why: High overheads (Since when did you need a fancy office in SoHo, New York to sell art prints online?). Investors vs Founder conflicts. Beaucoup Employees, Pas Beaucoup sales. Nothing that any of us haven’t seen before…
But here’s another thought:
20x200’s official tagline was “Art For Everyone”. Or to put it through a Marxist lens, art for the masses.
“Bringing Art To The Masses” is a well-meaning idea, sure, but hardly a new one. The early Soviets tried the same thing, coincidentally, around the same time they also discovered that ruthlessly exterminating people en masse (no pun intended) was good for business.
John Ruskin, William Blake, Durer, La Trec, Hogarth, etc etc were trying even before that [Though Ashille Gorky, one of my favorite artists, didn’t like the idea so much. He famously called 1930’s Social Realism “Poor art for poor people”, but I digress…]
The thing is, like Seth Godin says, does anybody really belong to “The Masses” anymore? We’re all weird, we’re all niche, and thanks to the Internet, we’re all getting weirder and nichier by the day.
In other words, “Art For Everyone” is a nice enough thought, until you realize that few potential customers actually like being put in the “Everyone” basket.
So what basket do people like being put in? A basket with a strong, passionate, relatively unique sense of PURPOSE that defines it. A niche that matters.
And yes, you guessed it, what is true for the online art sales market is also probably true for your industry as well.
It’s either that, or get crushed by Amazon…
[UPDATE:] Jen just sent me a nice email– Operations are suspended, not ceased. So it seems there’s going to be a second act, they’re going to regroup… Stay tuned. Hurrah!
“Live each day as if it were your last, for one day it will be.” Though Marcus Aurelius’ Third-Century advice sounds terrific, it’s probably the hardest piece of advice in the world to follow.
In Robert Altman’s 1992 movie, “The Player”, David Kahane, an unsuccessful screenwriter is randomly murdered. At his funeral, his friend Phil reads out the last words he ever wrote:
A mangy dog barks.
Garbage can lids are lifted as derelicts in the street… hunt for food.
Buzzing, as a cheap alarm clock goes off.
Interior. Flophouse room.
A tracking shot moves through the grimy room.
Light streams in through holes in yellowing window shades.
Moths dance in the beams of light.
Track down along the floor.
The frayed rug.
Stop on an old shoe. It’s empty.
That’s as far as he got, said Phil…
If David Kahane knew these words were goingto be the last ones he would ever write, do you think he would’ve have chosen them? No, of course not, he would’ve written something else, somethiong far more meaningful and timeless.
That’s what makes the scene so memorable, so tragic. Robert Altman knew what he was doing.
That scene always stuck with me. It told me, “Make every word you write count, Boy, for one day those words will be your last”.
The fact that I was watching the movie for the first time in a crowded cinema in West LA, made it seem even more tragi-comic than usual. A lot of other un-dead David-Kahane-types were in the audience, all laughing nervously at the in-joke.
It’s too easy to just laugh at all the in-jokes, isn’t it? It’s too easy to think one is immune, isn’t it?
2. One of my my favorite movies of recent years, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which I’ve been raving about for months, is a big hit in the documentary world. It’s also a filmic love poem to Minimalism (Hey, the director used Philip Glass and Max Richter for the film score, I rest my case).
3. Blogs about simple living and Minimalism seem to be really trendy these days, minimalist bloggers like Zen Habits conquering the world.
4. “The Minimalist” is one of the most popular themes on Tumblr.
5. The continuing rise of Westernized Eastern thought: Buddhism, meditation, Yoga, Zen etc (I’m a big Alan Watts fan, but that’s another story).
6. The other thing I’ve noticed is “Personal Coaches” and “Motivational Speakers” seem to be everywhere. Whether we’re talking Anthony Robbins or Brendon Burchard… or the new job title out there, “speakerauthor” (People known mostly for writing books, but make most of their money doing public speaking: Tom Peters, Malcolm Gladwell etc.) Then you also need all the more technocratic, businessspeak consultant mandarin types out there as well… Like I said, they’re everywhere, it seems to be an increasingly booming industry.
7. That there seem to be more TED speakers talking about how wonderful Atheism is, than there are TED speakers telling people how wonderful Christianity or Judaism or Islam is.
9. The growing idea that “Jedi” is now a religion.
10. The growing idea that Apple is a religion.
11. The financial and political implosion/impasse/dog’s dinner that is Western Europe/The Euro/The E.U..
12. U.S. Fiscal Cliffs.
13. Environmental and animal rights activists.
14. Burning Man.
16. Charity Water.
I could go on.…
What does this tell me?
That we’re looking for new stuff to believe in.
That though the world is getting more and more complex, the old answers (Do what you’re told, buy a lot of stuff, obsess about THESE celebrities, worship THESE gods/THIS God, watch this trashy Reality TV, watch these crappy movies, read these crappy bestsellers, listen to this crappy music, believe these politicians etc.) aren’t working for us as well as they used to.
So we’re simplifying. We’re renewing. We’re clearing the decks. We’re doing a bit of spiritual Spring cleaning. We’re looking for new stuff to believe in. We’re looking for NEW CERTAINTIES.
Just like the “Hughtrain” cartoon above implies, we have an infinite need for it.
Sure, we like our old certainties (Mom’s cooking, a favorite pair of old jeans, small-town folksy ways, old school good manners, Ronald Reagan, old Jimmy Stewart movies at Christmas time etc), we are genetically programmed to seek out not only the new, but the NEW CERTAINTIES.
So I guess the next the question is, what “New Certainties” is your work bringing to the world?
If you don’t know, maybe best to find out… it’s where the real fun and action is to be found these days.
A British advertising veteran, Linds Redding, a guy not much older than me, gets terminally ill.
Shortly before the poor man dies, he writes a long, heartbreaking, brilliantly savage and honest rant about his thirty years in the advertising business:
So was it worth it?
Well of course not. It turns out it was just advertising. There was no higher calling. No ultimate prize. Just a lot of faded, yellowing newsprint, and old video cassettes in an obsolete format I can’t even play any more even if I was interested. Oh yes, and a lot of framed certificates and little gold statuettes. A shit-load of empty Prozac boxes, wine bottles, a lot of grey hair and a tumor of indeterminate dimensions.
Everything he railed against, I saw with my own eyes during my time in the business. Linds was right on the money. I was more fortunate than he, I managed to get out early; I managed to figure out a way to get paid to do my true calling i.e. cartooning.
But it was tough. I had some pretty bleak, penniless years there for a while. It was nasty. Most people would not have gone through it willingly, I sure as hell didn’t.
Luckily for me, the Internet came along eventually and changed everything yada, yada, yada. But I know a lot of people both inside and outside advertising, some I consider good friends, who weren’t so fortunate (Linds is an extreme example). The world changed, and ate them for breakfast. And now they’re old and frankly, it’s probably too late for them.
But it’s not the being old and being “eaten for breakfast” that’s really heartbreaking. Everybody gets “eaten” sooner or later. That’s just life, we all get old, we all get sick, we all die.
I can’t speak for Linds, I didn’t know the guy, I’m sure he was a lovely fellow who, like the rest of us, did the best he could. I’m so sorry for him and his family.
What is heartbreaking about his story is it reminds me of something that has always haunted and terrified me since I first entered the working world: the idea of getting to the inevitable end of your life, and in spite of all that talent, passion and energy spent working insane hours for decades, you don’t have a meaningful and lasting body of work to be proud of, money or no money.
And that can easily happen, when, early on in the game, you decide to take the easy money. When you let your path be defined by short cuts, short-term needs and the outward assurances of social status.
When you do things just because they look good on paper, just because they impress your peers…
This is not a rant against the advertising business; it’s a great choice for some folk, I personally got a TERRIFIC education out of it.
No, this is a rant against somethiong MUCH larger, i.e. a rant against not “following your bliss”, to quote Joseph Campbell.
Luckily, there’s no law saying that you have to make the aforementioned short-cut decision. There’s another decision you can make.
The question is, will you make that decision? Will you actually follow your bliss?
Aaaargh. Don’t get me started on complexity; don’t get me started on “Stuff”.
Everybody wants to be successful. The bad news is, we are trained by society to associate success with “Stuff”.
Not just in the material sense (fancy cars, big houses, trophy wives, expensive mistresses, hot tubs, designer furniture, designer clothing, designer kitchens with Italian marble floors, fine wines, art collections etc), but also “Stuff to do”:
Dinner parties, ladies’ luncheons, social climbing, networking, cocktail parties, second homes, community involvement, political activisim, PTA, Soccer Mom’ing, complicated love affairs that go nowhere, unsuitable daillances, social intrigues, obsessive gossiping, cooking classes, yoga classes, pottery classes, creative writing classes, tennis lessons, tango lessons, poker games, theatre, symphonies, art openings, magazine launch parties, opera, epicurian delights, horse breeding, ethnic restaurants, wife swapping, cult joining, celebrity worshipping, name-dropping, online forums, online rants, online dating, Instagramming, Twittering, Facebooking, blogging, cool hunting, culture-vulturing, Summers in Tuscany, Autumns in New York, Winters in Colorado, weekends in San Francisco… a totally full schedule, jam-packed with “Stuff”, all day long.
And we don’t just stop there! Because we now need our total, never-ending “Stuff” fix, it’s no longer enough to have our personal lives crammed with “Stuff”, we need to cram it into our professional lives, as well:
More product features, more product upgrades, more marketing campaigns, more advertising campaigns, more junk mail, more focus groups, more endless meetings that start at 7am for no reason, more memos, more mission statements, more white papers, more working weekends, more brainstorming sessions, more blue-sky thinking, more team-building exercises, more PowerPoint slides, more sharp-dressing employees with fancy job titles, more visually-pleasing personal assistants, more prestigious office addresses, more buzzwords, more catchphrases, more infographics, more international conference calls, more office politics, more hysterical emails sent at 2.am.
Stuff, stuff, stuff…
Which is kinda strange, considering the most successful and happy people I know generally don’t live that way. The most successful and happy people I know are very good at ruthlessly editing out “Stuff” from their lives. They tend to live calmly and quietly, like a New England pond on an early morning in August.
The big Web story last week was about how Instagram just removed its API from Twitter. My old friend, Dave Winer (he is also one of the great web pioneers of the last decade or so) wrote a great post about it. I drew the cartoon above in response to Dave (“Commons” refers to the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, in this case, the Internet. It’s also where people grazed their sheep in the old days).
Then yesterday, another blogging buddy from the old days, Anil Dash wrote this great blog post, “The Web We Lost”, about how much the web has changed in the last 5 – 10 years, along similar lines.
In the early days of the social web, there was a broad expectation that regular people might own their own identities by having their own websites, instead of being dependent on a few big sites to host their online identity. In this vision, you would own your own domain name and have complete control over its contents, rather than having a handle tacked on to the end of a huge company’s site. This was a sensible reaction to the realization that big sites rise and fall in popularity, but that regular people need an identity that persists longer than those sites do.
When I think about the era Anil speaks of, I feel like an old hippy talking about how great the ‘sixties were, but he does have a point. The early-blogging seemed a much more fun, edgy, interesting, giving and independent place back then. And then the big boys came along and took over, sucking in all OUR content like a big ol’ industrial turbine. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.
I’m not saying everything was better back then, a lot of things we far harder and slower. But I do miss that indie, “We’re on the verge of something important and wonderful” feeling that permeated the air. It’s not nearly as palpable as it once was. I hope we can one day get that feeling back.
Or I buy the print version of The Economist when I’m getting on an airplane. Keeps me busy when the captain makes me turn my Kindle off during take off and landing.
As far as mainstream journalism and journalists, well, my blogging buddy Mathew Ingram moved over from writing for the Toronto Globe & Mail to writing for the much leaner Giga Om. His move is just one example of what already happening to thousands. Or if it isn’t, they’re in trouble.
Print just going to increasingly be a little “artisnal” niche; the ones who disagree are old and dying off.
I don’t know why this is even a debate anymore. It’s been happening for years.
So I drew a cartoon about it…
[*Not three billion $, as previously stated]
[UPDATE:] Kathy Sierra left a great comment below:
Only when a thing is made obsolete can we discover if there was some underlying value — beyond utility — that some people found compelling enough to keep alive or evolve into something new. The horses bred today for “recreation” are dramatically different from the workhorses of the past, but they are still… horses.
What ELSE is being made obsolete now that might emerge from the ashes in a new, powerful form?
A totally appropriate thought for “The City That Never Sleeps”, sure, but it’s also applies to the human spirit, something that blesses New York in abundance. As long as New York endures, as long as the light shines bright there, I have hope in humanity. It’s that simple.
I realize that Sandy hit more than New York City, but the lights going out in our old neighborhoods really affected us personally. (Jason grew up in Long Island and was there for five days, in darkness, after it hit; I used to live in Manhattan as well) .
For my friends in New York and nearby, this is for you. Godbless.
[This is what we have so far. Jason (our CEO) wrote most of it. We feel we’re on the cusp of something, now we just need to make it more real for other people. Feedback welcome, thanks. Exciting!]
Business is language. Business is about communication.
Art is is the undiscovered UX of business.
We live in incredible times.
Every single person on this earth has the capacity to make a difference… the
ability to lead, and leave their mark.
Every business is driven by forces far more powerful and profound than money.
We help businesses discover and articulate their purpose,
We help people make a difference,
We help leaders inspire.
We help businesses kick ass.
We create social objects that transform organizations, start conversations,
and spread ideas at lightning speed.
We live in incredible times. And as long as there is one person on this earth who does not agree, there is still work to be done.
Any Company/Cause/Political Party/Religion that communicates more clearly and concisely stands a better chance at winning. Art bridges this communication gap.
It is perceived as more genuine, More honest, less varnished.
Well conceived art gets attention organically
Art allows you to have conversations that you couldn’t otherwise have.
Art is a lever for action.
Art creates connection.
Art is shorthand to communicate complex issues.
Art creates community.
Art connects with a different part of the brain.
Art is Visual. Visual communications are 10x more effective than written communication.
Give a gift basket and be remembered for a week, give a print and be remembered forever.
We want to transform the world of business by transforming the world of office art.
Most people believe that the act of decorating the walls of their office is seemingly one that is decided by taste: The colors of the art on the wall need not clash with the furniture, carpet or CEO’s aesthetic sensibilities.
In reality, act of decorating the walls of your office is a critical business and we believe, a moral decision. It can either set the stage for greatness and innovation, or set the stage for perpetuating the dreary, gloomy and monotonous world that is your business. It has nothing to do with aesthetics, and everything to do with purpose. The purpose and beliefs of your business.
If you could steer the course of your business by simply making a different decision about what hangs on the walls, why wouldn’t you?
Many business leaders do not realize that environment influences everything at work: Job satisfaction, problem solving, creativity, contentment and effectiveness.
You want positive outcomes? Then start with positive work spaces. Your office environment is the compass that guides how people view what they do and how they live their work life.
If you understand what your beliefs are, what your core values are, and how you want people to view why you do what you do, then you should shout those beliefs and values from every available space in your office.
Let the walls talk, guide and ground. Let inspiration hang in the air and have your people breathe and be surrounded by the bright glow of the goodness that your business represents.
The idea of deciding what wall coverings hang on your walls, isn’t about décor.
It is about purpose, culture, and values. Inform your culture, motivate your teams and send a message to the world that will have astounding impact every day of the year.
This is not your value proposition. It’s just a fact, a feature, an attribute. Same with “transforming office art”. That’s the WHAT, but does not answer WHY. There’s the why YOU do it, and of course the WHY your customer/user wants it. Their benefit. Their result. Their awesomeness-as-a-result. Turning up the soul… Yes there is certainly something there that’s a hell of a lot more valuable than simply saving them on the cost of a pricey decorator or architect.
WHY do they want those architects and designers in the first place? What are they hoping to gain? Your work is not just a cheaper replacement. It’s getting to the heart (soul?) of something deeper and richer… You know this better than anyone
And of course, Kathy is right. But one has to try these things. Like I said many times before, we’re on a mission to transform office art or die trying. “Business Needs More Art”. Rock on.
[Buy the print etc.]“Fail cheap, fail fast, fail often” is damn good advice. Especially for someone who wants to be successful. So it’d make a good something — perhaps a reminder to hang on your wall… Voila!I also love Esther Dyson’s great line, “Always make new mistakes” (she’s the well-known futurist and venture capitalist). In fact, I liked it so much that in 2008 I went ahead and made a drawing and gave it to her. Good times.It’s all about the same stuff: That our ability to succeed and to thrive is in direct proportion to our ability to make mistakes and learn from them.It ain’t rocket science, but it’s easily forgotten by some. Myself included. Ouch…[Originally sent out earlier today in the newsletter etc.]
A US defense contractor (Mav 6) had their main project, the Blue Devil 2 airship cancelled by the Air Force, so they wanted to make a statement about that. They wanted to make a statement about how the nature of warfare is changing A LOT FASTER than the defense industry is. The Blue Devil 2 was designed to help fill the gap, but then it was cancelled by the usual suspects. Quite a sad story, really, especially for patriotic American taxpayers. So I think the job deserved something that went for the jugular.
Glasgow artist, David Shrigley is one of my favorite cartoonists. And I have very few of those.
Unlike a lot of my cartoonist heroes (Steinberg, Gorey etc) David can’t draw to save his life, at least, not in the conventional sense. His formal drafting skills (the ones he chooses to show the world, anyway) are just plain bad. I mean, REALLY bad.
And you know what? It doesn’t matter. Actually, it may even be a good thing.
You see, the whole point of Dave’s work is NOT about the drawing. It’s ALL about his ideas.
And his VERY crude drawings work brilliantly for that. In fact, I’d wager that if his drafting skills were more formally developed, his cartoons wouldn’t be nearly as sharp, as interesting or wickedly subversive.
His is a great example of what I like to call “circumventing one’s limitations”. Turning weaknesses into strength. Shrigley is a master of that, he really is.
And yes, I think if you’re to achieve mastery in your craft, your job or your career, you have to learn how to do what David did: Circumvent.
Even if you can’t draw to save your life. Even if you didn’t go to the right university. Even if you’re not that good at making money. Even if you have an average IQ. Even if you can’t get venture funding. Even if you weren’t born insanely talented at something. Even if you have to wait tables or bartend for a couple of years.
If you look at the picture above, you might see a sunset. Some of you will see a sunrise. Much like the famous philosophical discourse between skeptics and optimists, a glass can only be either half empty or half full. I believe nonetheless
that the above picture is that of a sunrise. I’m an optimist. I also believe that a glass is reflective of its current state. Either you just poured into or poured out of it.
Otherwise, it’s a glass with water sitting at the half-way mark.
This theoretical circle of dissension is constant and without the ability to achieve closure or satisfaction. It all comes down to perspective.
That’s why in a time where we’re actively pushed out of our comfort zones, perspective is a powerful enabler.
For those struggling with where to steer the ship of transformation, this is for you.
What it is you see. What it is you feel. Where it is you want to go and why. These are the things that matter. The gift of perspective is matched only by the gift of perseverance. As you seek to change or improve “what is” and set out to bring “what could be” to life, you will be met by the champions of mediocrity who do not wish to align with your vision. Remember, it is passion and persistence that outlasts resistance. But, it takes courage… It takes courage to endeavor in a new direction where you’re greatest allies, passion, hope, vision and optimism, are consequential yet intangible. Their value however, is well, in the eye, heart, and mind of the beholder.
Change is invertible. But, how change “changes” your reality isn’t as explicit or defined as it is affected by evolutionary forces of which you play an important part.
I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have” –Thomas Jefferson
There’s a difference between management and leadership. There’s a difference between pioneering and following. There’s a difference between exploring possibilities and chasing them.
This is a time when there are more questions than answers. You are not alone, however. For without questions, we wander through life assuming we either already have the answers or we underestimate the value of rethinking what we know.
Direction, inspiration, need, aspiration… these are individually or collectively among the emotional drivers that become catalysts for change. The minute you say the word “emotion” however, your mission or case suddenly suffers or loses crediblity.
Emotions are after all, soft, intangible, and in of themselves, not true sparks for transformation right? Wrong.
Let me ask you something…
How are you?
I have a point, I promise.
Again, how are you?
To answer, you might say, “fine,” “good” or “well thanks for asking.” The exchange is more of a casual ice-breaker of sorts and not necessarily a genuine invitation to share any form of emotional depth. The question is often relegated to a verbal handshake, a necessary ritual to begin a conversation. That’s my point. Today, organizations in large part, take emotion for granted. “How was our service today?”
It’s a superficial exchange that sets impressions for the moment rather than investing in long-term experiences.
Now, what if I asked you, “how are you feeling?”
Add one word and you unlock a vault of emotion and valuable dialogue. In a social economy where paying it forward and reciprocity serve as the currency of relationships, emotional exchanges form strong ties. It takes asking, listening, and responding to instill trust and a sense of meaning into any engagement. What you walk away with however is priceless; for you now have felt empathy. And, empathy is the secret ingredient to feeling the need for transformation…the inspiration to find a creative or passionate spark to design new and significant experiences.
The key for you however, is to package what it is you feel and translate it into a set of relatable and relevant objectives, pragmatic steps in how to achieve them, and defined metrics that demonstrate progress and performance. Your inspiration will at some point inspire others around you and they will feel it as a result of your work.
The truth is that the answers you seek lie in engagement, listening, and the empathy that surfaces as a result. Leadership unfolds in how you translate what you learn and feel into appreciation and understanding. The state of sentiment as experienced and expressed by those that matter to you directly correlates to the state of relationships.
Leadership begins with a vision for not only where you want to go, but why it’s important to those you care about.
In a world where we’re taught the importance of monitoring and measuring sentiment with the new tools before us, we miss the essential ingredient to meaningful relationships…empathy. Once you listen, not monitor, but truly listen to customer activity and observe online behavior, you cannot help but feel both empathy and harmony. And naturally, the response it begets is only human.
[As many people know, I’ve given a lot of thought to the subject of “Mastery” lately. With that in mind, here are the VERY ROUGH notes of the talk I gave recently at the first ever Ignite Miami:]
1. Like everybody else here tonight, I give a lot of thought to “Success”. What does it take to be successful, prosprous, happy, have a sense of purpose etc? What does THAT actually look like?
2. And by successful, I don’t mean “lucky”. I don’t mean people born rich or lottery winners. That kind of success never comes from within, that kind of success is too external and random to bother worrying about.
3. Of course, the media LOVE success models of the outrageously fortunate– celebrity artists, celebrity businessmen, celebrity spiritual leaders, not to mention the Reality TV, famous-for-being-famous crowd.
4. The thing is, I know TONS of super successful people, but none of them fit this extreme, celeb-lottery-winner TV model. Some of them are actually pretty boring, to be honest. But they lead happy lives and do VERY well careerwise. THAT is what most success looks like, if you think about it. The stuff on TV or in the movies just isn’t REAL enough to be that useful for us.
5. So I was thinking about this again, recently, HARD. What model would work for these people, folk like you and me? A model that didn’t mean you had to sell your soul to Wall Street, Hollywood or Washington? A success model that doesn’t rely solely on the unlikelihood of outrageously good fortune or plain, dumb luck?
6. Then quite by chance, I saw a great documentary the other week: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, a film about the world’s greatest sushi master, and a lightbulb EXPLODED in my head.
7. Our man, Jiro is eighty five years old (EIGHTY FIVE!), doesn’t have a lot of money or own a fleet of trendy restaurants in all the world’s capitals, a-la Wolfgang Puck. He’s just being doing it for 60 years; he just has just a small, plain, dingy, ordinary, low-key sushi bar with ten seats in a Tokyo subway, the kind you’d probably just walk by without stopping if you saw it. Ten seats! Yet he’s the best in the world at what he does.
8. Jiro works over 350 days a year, serves sushi and sashimi to people in very small numbers, and THAT’S IT. Just sushi. No salad, no appetizers, no deserts. Like I said, JUST SUSHI. And by sticking to this bare-bones formula, he’s become the first sushi chef in the world to win three Michelin stars.
9. A tiny little sushi bar in some random subway station. Yet people wait in line, people book a stool at his sushi bar as much as a year in advance, a prices starting around $600 a head. People have been known to fly all the way from America or Europe, just to experience a 30-minute meal. In a subway station!
10. I was lucky enough to have a similar experience first-hand when about eight years ago, I started working with the English Savile Row tailors. They make the best suits in the world; all hand-made, they go for about $5000 a pop.
11. The tailors have a similar shtick as Jiro. They’re generally not that rich, their businesses are tiny, yet the great and the good worship at their feet. Celebrities, captains of industry, people who are also world-class at what they do, like Jiro’s customers, waiting as long as a year in advance to get their next suit.
12. Like Jiro, the tailors just get up every morning and do their thing, day-in-day-out, humbly, quietly, without a lot of fanfare, totally dedicated to their jobs. I’ve seen it. On the surface, it’s quiet, calm and kinda dull.
13. And like Jiro, from my observations they seem to have this sense of inner satisfaction my Wall Street trader friends (who easily make ten times as much, on a good day) can only dream of.
14. As a result, Jiro and the Savile Row tailors are the people I really try to emulate. Because it’s doable. I can do that. I may never be as rich as Steve Jobs or Warren Buffet, I may never be literally a rock star like Bono or Jagger, but I can be like Jiro and the tailors… or at least, more like them.
15. And like them, I live very low-key; I get up every morning and quietly get on with the business cranking out my product, my cartoons. Like I said, quiet, calm and kinda dull.
16. So what’s their secret? THE secret? What is the secret sauce that lets these otherwise quite ordinary people like Jiro and the tailors, lead such extraordinary lives?
17. In a word: MASTERY. They’ve MASTERED something. Something interesting and valuable. They are MASTERS of their craft. It may be an old-fashioned word that makes people uncomfortable, but that’s only because it’s something that eludes most people.
18. Though, having watched these masters carefully first-hand, I can honestly say MASTERY is more satisfying than money (and I’ve seen both, trust me). If you’re up for it, yes, MASTERY MATTERS MORE THAN MONEY, MASTERY MATTERS MORE THAN SUCCESS.
19. And it’s portable. It travels with you, wherever you go. No landlord, no boss, no recession, no Wall Street analyst, no newspaper critic can take it away. It’s something that truly belongs to you, for always.
20. So when a young person asks me for career advice these days, I tell her, “Don’t worry about so much about money, fame, success, whatever. Worry about Mastery– that is something precious you can actually control. And yes, if you’ve achieved mastery, you’re more likely to be successful and prosperous, anyway.” Again, MASTERY MATTERS MORE THAN SUCCESS. So go for it. Thank you.
[P.S.: Thanks to Alex and Ana for making this happen for me. I had a great evening!]
[Today’s guest post is by Brian Solis, Principal Analyst, Altimeter Group.]
It’s inevitable that I will get the question. You’d think by now that I would learn to expect it…that I would prepare for it…or have a response that would be purely second nature. But I don’t. I’ve no standard answer that automatically inspires anyone in the moment to take action. And, to this day, I neither expect the question nor do I have a rehearsed or standard riposte committed to memory.
So what is “the question?”
The question faces those who see disruption all around them. They believe survival requires change and they aspire to fight for transformation. But, at some point in their quest to pursue a new course, a direction in which they deeply believe, they will ask reluctantly, even desperately, “How do I convince others to see what I see” or “how can I get those in control to recognize the importance of what’s happening around us so that we can move forward in the right direction?”
While my response in each moment always attempts to zero-in on the individual circumstance, the truest, most genuine answer that I can share is that…to bring about change does not take technology, it takes courage. And, this is why change is not a commodity. Change is not easy nor is it formulaic. But I can say this with the utmost conviction, change.is.inevitable and it is yours to define.
We live in disruptive times. As such, everything we know transcends into everything we once knew. How we communicate, connect, discover, learn and share is changing. New and emerging technology is becoming increasingly relentless and it is forcing evolution or complete transformation. And, it touches your personally and professionally. In our own way, we each are gravitating toward dissonance or disarray and it can be distressful. As students, parents, role models, employees, managers, entrepreneurs, artists, or some or all of the above, we will at some point collide with disruption. And in that moment, we will have a choice to make. We either fall down, choose to embrace change, or we will see the possibilities beyond what’s immediately apparent to pave the way toward a more meaningful outcome.
But again, it takes courage. It takes courage to see what others don’t or do what others won’t. It takes courage to push forward when pushed back.
Courage is the ability to do something that frightens one, yet it is the very thing that all leaders share. See, courage takes great strength to stand in the face of pain or inevitable grief and without it, your vision, no matter how brilliant or essential, is merely a masterpiece painted on a napkin — a promise that is never fully realized.
We stand today upon a foundation of uncertainty and apprehension. Everything is changing. What is constant however, is the absence of clarity, direction or answers. To tell you that there is an easy path toward transformation or that there are a series of “top 10 ways” to help you change the perspective of leadership or those around you is, well, misleading or a complete falsehood.
Contrary to popular belief, there are no rules for revolutionaries…just as there are no leaders who don’t continually strive to earn a position of leadership. It takes courage to be a change agent, to rise up and lead the way when others are filled with fear. It takes courage to walk in a different direction when others walk along a contrasting path. Most important, it takes courage to drive persistence to overcome resistance…to find comfort outside your comfort zone when the promise of reward is ambiguous. For, it is the vision to see where you need to go and the conviction to shepherd the march toward relevance that earns the greatest rewards of all, leadership, significance, and advocacy.
This is your time…
“Courage is grace under pressure.” — Ernest Hemingway
Hardly a morning goes by these days without me hearing some story on NPR Morning Edition about American economic woe. Especially around this Christmas time. People who’ve been working hard all their lives, suddenly can’t afford presents for their kids. Those kind of stories. They’re sad as hell, and they seem to be getting more and more frequent.
At the same time I keep seeing news stories like this one from the WSJ: About how competition in Silicon Valley for engineering talent is so fierce, they’re fighting over interns now:
Silicon Valley’s talent wars are going younger.
Bay Area tech companies, already in a fierce fight for full-time hires, are now also battling to woo summer interns. Technology giants like Google Inc. have been expanding their summer-intern programs, while smaller tech companies are ramping up theirs in response — sometimes even luring candidates away from college.
And then there was another story from the BBC, about how Brazil has now overtaken the UK as the world’s sixth largest economy.
A lot of the world is in flux, so it seems. And to this cartoonist, it has a simple enough explanation:
The benefits of Consumer Capitalism– the dominant ideology of our age– are pretty self evident:
Lots of people having stuff, lots of things being invented, lots of livelihoods being attained, plus the greatest measure of them all– life expectancy– being increased.
But there is a cost, mostly psychological. Consumer capitalism makes us more covetous.
And covetous makes us more stressed out and less happy.
There’s no answer to it really, other than greater self-awareness…
My friend, Euan Semple is probably the guy who convinced me to switch from PC to Apple, about five years ago.
“Even opening up the cardboard box is a religious experience!”, he said.
Heh. A slight exaggeration, certainly.
But then I’m thinking… Perhaps not?
As somebody who likes to study religion, I’ve always thought that one of the more interesting questions in the world to ponder is, “What is Holy?”
Exactly. Holy. What does it actually mean?
And the same with Unholy…
When a mundane act (such as the opening of a cardboard box) is elevated (in this case, by great package design), we experience what the mystics call “The Divine”.
This doesn’t have to mean a strong belief in God, either way. They’re called mystics for a reason: the whole thing is indeed a mystery. Call it “God” if you will, call it something else completely. The mystery remains, either way.
Work, whether business or craft or just plain hard, sweaty labor, is far more interesting, fun and meaningful when one can channel one’s own sense of divinity into it, religious or otherwise. This is how we find the Holy in everyday life, religious or otherwise.
This is how we plug into “The Mystery”.
Steve Jobs knew this, instinctively. It was glaringly obvious.
For reasons too tedious to mention, every time I start Firefox I am automatically taken to this Comcast Xfinity homepage, the same people who connect my apartment to the Internet.
So this is the first thing Comcast wants to tell me about this morning, when I booted up my computer? Some trivial thing about some creepy kiddie video? OK…
Really, Comcast, Of all the amazing things in the world you could’ve shared with us, you chose this?
Seriously, is that the best you can do? Is that how you really see human potential?
Is that REALLY the signal you want to be giving out about how you see your customers?
I think you can do better. You just have to decide to. Just sayin’…
[P.S. For people working in large companies (like Comcast) who wonder why appealing to the mainstream mass market doesn’t work as well as it used to, my friend Seth Godin has a REALLY GREAT new book on the subject.]
Not too far down the road from my house in Far West Texas, my friend, Glenn Short and his team make, and I kid you not, the best store-bought beef jerky I have ever tasted (And I have tasted A LOT over the years). The Lights Jerky Company is phenominal, check it out.
After a few years struggling to get it off the ground, business is booming. I met one of his people last night, drinking beer over at The Railroad Blues. He was just EXHAUSTED at the end of the day from busting his ass, filling orders. It was, how you say, the right kind of exhaustion to have…
Out here in the Texas desert mountains, where it’s ALWAYS been a tough place to make a living, I’ve noticed three kinds of business:
1. THE LOST CAUSES. New ones open and close all the time. Well meaning people who don’t really get what they’re doing, don’t really get what their customers are after, don’t really get much, in spite of their often valiant and kind-hearted efforts. Retired school teachers from Dallas, who never run a business before, who just moved out here recently because they liked the scenery, who SUDDENLY decided to go into the restaurant business or whatever. These places usually close down in less than nine months. They’re not uncommon.
2. THE COMMODITIES. Stuff you’d expect to see out here. Gas stations. Convenience stores. Fast food joints. Nothing too special, but they provide some needed service, same as any where else. Nice local people working there and all, but nothing to write home about.
3. THE TREASURED. These are the rarest birds. Products that are not only INSANELY GREAT, but are done with such, imagination, love, flair , or even just plain ol’ hard work and good manners, failure JUST isn’t an option.
And treasured they are. If you live out here long enough, you start to realize soon enough that if you don’t ACTUALLY TREASURE the businesses you love, I mean REALLY treasure them more than you would in a big city, say, these places will just close down eventually, just blow out of town like tumbleweeds. Their unique magic will be gone, forever, without nothing to take their place.
And yes, these businesses are Social Objects. When something happens in one of these places– somebody loses their job, or somebody gets sick etc– news travels WAY faster around town than with the other places. Because people ACTUALLY do care. BECAUSE they are treasured, the social dynamic is far more intense than in say, a national fast food chain.
And what is true in small-town West Texas is true in any big city. You don’t have to be Amazon or Apple or IBM or McDonalds to be a social object. You can be a small jerky company, bookshop or taco stand. As I’ve always said, “Meaning scales”.
But The Treasure Factor HAS to be there, somehow.
Is your business treasured? Or do people just give you money? Serious question…
Earlier today I was thinking of certain “thought leader” friends of mine, people that I know personally. Rockstars in their field.
Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Kathy Sierra, Gary Vee, Prof. Brian Cox, Joi Ito, Ben Hammersley, Doc Searls etc.
Looking for a common thread, it suddenly hit me– besides being hugely talented in their field and the aforementioned rockstardom, what else do they have in common?
Short answer: Presentations. They’re all REALLY REALLY good at standing in front of a crowd and wowing them. Every one of them. I’ve seen them. They knock your socks off. No wonder they get invited to speak at TED, SXSW and other places. No wonder they’re able to command the big bucks for doing so.
And then, when you look at the great world-changing figures in history, you see the same. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Cicero, Winston Churchill, or Shakespeare’s fictional Henry V (“We band of brothers, we happy few” etc.)- it’s right there, front and center. The presentation.
And then if you read your ancient history, what were the most privileged people in Rome and Athens taught how to do as part of their classical education? That’s right. The art of Oration. Again, presentation. This explains why getting on the debating team at Oxford or Harvard is still considered a big deal for anyone in the know.
For anybody who ever aspires to lead.
So the question I’m asking is, if presentation is SUCH an obvious part of the magic leadership formula throughout the ages, and leadership is so integral to success, why isn’t presentation better taught in schools nowadays? Why aren’t third graders taught how to use Powerpoint, as standard? Why isn’t presentation emphasized as highly as say, grammar or history or math or athletics?
The reality is, the average person doesn’t spend one-hundredth the time working on their presentation skills, as they do on their hobbies or watching TV or going to the gym or whatever.
I think that might be a mistake…
[AFTERTHOUGHT: Yes, I know. Presentation isn’t everything. Steve Jobs’s legendary keynotes wouldn’t be nearly so impressive if Apple products sucked etc. But that’s not an excuse, either.]
2. In his book, “Delivering Happiness”, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh speaks of in great length about “The Loft”, a place where all his friends used to hang out and party, and how this sense of “meaningful gathering” went on to inform the core values of his now-famous shoe company.
9. The Beatles playing those early gigs at The Cavern Club in Liverpool.
10. The famous tech blogger, Robert Scoble talking about his job working in a discount camera store, back when he was a kid.
11. How a bunch of young, angry social misfits start a small nightclub, the Cabaret Voltaire, in 1916 Zurich [at the height of World War One] and in the process invent Dada, one of the 20th Century’s most influential art movements.
After a decade or so since I last devoured his books, these last few weeks I’ve been happily, gloriously rediscovering the work of Joseph Campbell, the famed mythologist.
My story is a common one among Campbell fans. A clueless, socially inept, lost kid with no idea about what to do or where to fit in the world, and suddenly along comes Joe Campbell with three simple, life-changing words:
“Follow Your Bliss”.
Boom! A moment of total clarity. A moment of incandescent lucidity.
Of course! FOLLOW YOUR BLISS! What else is there worth doing, besides that? How better to spend one’s life?
At the time, it made total sense. I mean, REALLY!!!!.…
I only first heard of Joseph Campbell the day I read his obituary, back in 1987 (A fact that still makes me sad, I’m not quite sure why). I then checked him out at the bookstore, and I found his work, quite frankly, mind-blowing. Transformative!
A floodgate of possibility being opened. Whoosh! Like being hit by a spiritual tidal wave.
But the thing is…
Joseph may have told me to follow my bliss, but he never told me how. He really didn’t have to many concrete tips or pointers. He just told his readers to just do it.
Much to our chagrin, it was something we were just going to have to figure out all by ourselves…
I was a bit intimidated by that. I think we all are, when we first encounter Campbell’s work. Do we have what it takes, do we have the guts to take what he said, make the necessary sacrifices etc etc and ACTUALLY apply it to our own lives?
I remember that fear well, a quarter century later…
So, now that I’m older, now that it seems I’ve followed my bliss pretty well, and it also seems to have panned out pretty OK for me creatively and careerwise, I now have young people asking me the very same question that Joseph’s students once asked him– “How do I do follow my bliss?”
Experience taught me well that there’s is no definitive answer. There is no instruction manual.
You just decide to do it, and then you go and do it. Or not. Whatever. It’s your call. It’s your path.
And it takes as long as it takes. Decades, maybe. An entire lifetime, even. There is no timeline. Nor any guarantees that you’ll succeed.
Nobody can do it for you. Nobody can go there for you– that mysterious place where the central energy of your being finds its source. Yes, you may fail in your quest to find it. But that risk is what makes it so damn powerful and interesting.
And Joseph Campbell would’ve told you the exact same thing.
Thinking about this earlier this evening, I drew the above cartoon just for the heck of it. I hope you like it, but I’m fine if you don’t.. Those little squiggly abstract drawings I do; well, that’s my bliss. Your bliss is something else. Your bliss is your own, not mine or anyone else’s.
Bliss. You have it within you, we already know that. The question is what you’re going to do about it.
Thank you, Joseph Campbell. Thank you all for reading. Godspeed!
A beacon is a navigation signal that tells you where you are when you’re lost at sea.
We spend a lot of our careers being lost at sea.… paddling away, not quite sure where we are, hoping to God that a big wave won’t come along and swamp our little boat.
And we look for beacons to guide us, to give us hope, to tell us where we are, to show us where the standard is, to show us the way forward. Beacons can be people, products, businesses or even ideas.
“Life might suck right now, but one day I’ll land a kick-ass job as Creative Director for Crispin Porter!”
“Life might suck right now, but one day I’ll write as good a novel as Jonathan Franzen!”
“Life might suck right now, but one day our product will be better than SAP or Oracle!”
These are beacons…
Obviously, if you or your product is a beacon to other people in your own industry, you have a considerable advantage going for you. Not to mention, a really good reason to get up in the morning.
So in my typical way, I’ll ask you, are you beacon? If not, don’t you think you should be?
To be honest, I wasn’t really thinking about you when I sat down to write this, sorry. I was actually thinking about my client, Rackspace. Are they a beacon? I know they’re certainly capable of it.
“TREAT IT LIKE AN ADVENTURE. AN ADVENTURE WORTH SHARING.”
1. Now that Evil Plans is at the publisher’s and in production (Release date: February 17th), the newsletter and the art gallery chugging along nicely, I’m starting to think about my next adventure.
Some people live paycheck to paycheck. Some people live project to project. I prefer living “adventure to adventure”.
I reckon that if you can’t treat what you’re doing like an adventure, it’s not worth doing. You might as well be dead.
What’s my next adventure about? Haven’t quite decided yet. Something to do with Cube Grenades and the next book I plan to write. Plus the cartooning, of course.
It’ll all fit together somehow…
2. Here’s what I’ve always noticed about us humans: We all want the feeling of adventure. It’s just about the closest you can get to God while you’re still alive.
And often, we fail to heed the call. We’re too busy with IMPORTANT things. Cars to buy, bills to pay, people to schmooze and meetings to attend.
It’s not the American Dream if it kills you for stupid reasons. Sorry.
3. I wrote this little rant earlier today, while in a grumpy mood:
You know who you are.
Your endless droning on about nothing, the endless tedium that is your career…
Well, it makes the CEO of your employer rich, but does little else.
Surrounding yourself with the overpriced, plastic baubles you learned about from TV, like anyone actually cares.
And you’re raising your kids the same way, raising them to be the same fine specimen of nowheresville. Lucky them.
You are boring. You are boredom. And that’s what you peddle.
Every day. To anyone who is desperate enough to listen.
An empty life, followed by an equally empty death.
Fuck y’all and good riddance.
My definition of “Mediocrity” is: A Triumvirate of small minds, smaller hearts and even smaller deeds. Usually with some lame-ass, entitlement power trip going on. One rarely has to look very hard to find it; it’s everywhere.
To have an adventure, is to reject that.
4. The Cube Grenade idea is all about making drawings about other people’s adventures.
“DON’T WORRY IF YOU DON’T KNOW ‘ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING’ BEFORE STARTING OUT.”
That’s probably the last thing you need…
A lot of people massively postpone their EVIL PLANS, for the simple reason that they don’t have an answer for every possible contingency.
They don’t know enough about the industry. They don’t know enough people in the industry– especially the A-Listers. They don’t know enough about where the market is going to be in five years. They don’t know enough about what could possibly go wrong. They don’t know where EVERY SINGLE LAST POSSIBLE LANDMINE is buried.
So instead of getting on with it, they spend the next few years keeping their Nowheresville day job, whilst spending their evenings surfing the web, scouring the trade magazines, researching everything like crazy, trying to get a thorough, small-time Outsider’s view about what the big-time Insiders are currently up to.
And then they often compound this by also trying to get a handle on the even bigger stuff. What will happen to the American/Asian/European/Brazilian/Whatever economy in the next 2/5/10/25/Whatever years, and how will these BIG things affect their tiny, obscure niche.
They want to have ALL the answers, before ever risking getting their feet wet. Hell, before even getting their little toe wet…
Agreed, a wee bit of prudence and informed circumspection are lovely virtues to have, but overdoing it can be ultimately unproductive, for a variety of reasons. Here are my four favorite ones:
i. Being an Outsider with too much Insider Knowledge, makes it even more likely that you’ll make the same mistakes as everybody else.
When Google– the most successful advertising business in the history of the world– started their company, their founders knew practically nothing about the inside workings of Madison Avenue. Sergey Brin and Larry Page most likely had zero inside knowledge about famous advertising titans like Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy, Lee Clowes, John Hegarty or Claude Hopkins. They were just a couple of twenty-something Stanford PhD students, who were far more interested in Internet search engines than they ever were in Nielsen Ratings, Proctor & Gamble or The Clio Awards. Which helps explain why, when the normal, mainstream, industry-obsessed kids of around the same age were just landing their first East Coast internships or junior executive positions at advertising blue-chips like McCann’s, Lintas, DDB or Saatchi’s, Sergey and Larry were already well on their way to becoming billionaires.
When I started my fine-art print business in late 2008, I didn’t wait for the acclaim of the big-city gallery scene, or a favorable review from the New York Times art critics before I took the plunge. [A] Those elite votes of approval were VERY unlikely to happen anyway, and [B] Even if did happen, it would have taken years and years. I just reckoned instead that [A] my blog readers already knew and liked my work, [B] a lot of them had disposable incomes and [C] a lot of them had a lot of wall space that needed filling. That was all the incentive I needed to get the ball rolling.
So I just put the idea out there on my blog to see if any fish would bite. And they did. A lot of them even liked the idea enough to put up money in advance, before I had spent a single penny. As a result, the business has been profitable since Day One, without me having to gain an encyclopedic knowledge of the big New York, London and Shanghai art galleries, the current career trajectories of all the artists they represent, or the recent auction prices at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Too much of that stuff would’ve just slowed me down, big time.
[Other, Far Better Examples Than My Own:] Before they launched their car companies, Henry Ford and Karl Benz didn’t decide to first spend a decade trying to win the approval of prominent horse breeders or railway magnates. Same goes for the Wright Brothers.
I love this story about Bill Gates: Some years ago, when the company he founded, Microsoft was at the height of its powers, he was giving a lecture to some college students. When the the Question & Answers came along, a keen undergraduate asked the question, “What advice would you give to a young person like me who wants to make a lot of money some day?”
Gates’ answer was as wonderful as it was short: “For Goodness’ sake, don’t do what I did. That money’s already been made by me.”
ii.“Events, Dear Boy, Events.” –Harold Macmillan, British Prime Minister 1957 – 1963, after being asked by a young journalist, what is the most likely single factor to blow any government off-course.
If it’s pretty much impossible for the smartest people in Washington, Wall Street and Silicon Valley to predict what the big, bad world is going to do next, what chance does a guy wanting to open a small, highly-specialized, hand-built EVIL PLAN bicycle operation have, from his small storefront in Brooklyn?
Trying to micromanage the Macro, from the comfort of your wee bike shop… Seriously, your time is better spent trying to manage what you CAN control. Like being nice to customers, keeping your word, staying cheerful, positive and focused, completing a task cheaper, faster and better than you had originally promised, working harder and smarter than the next guy, fighting hard to keep your ideas fresh i.e. all those good, small moves that Grandma told you about decades ago.
To get some very lucid, hardcore perspective on this, I recommend that you read Nassim Taleb’s excellent and highly readable “Fooled By Randomness” (W. W. Norton & Co., 2001). Nassim’s thesis is childishly simple: That the bigger the historical event, the more random and unpredictable the event was to begin with. Nobody saw 9/11, Pearl Harbor, the assassinations of JFK, Lincoln or Archduke Franz Ferdinand (and the subsequent outbreak of a four-year World War), the Atomic Bombs being dropped on Japan, the 1923 collapse of the German Deutchmark, the Barbarians sacking Rome in 410 A.D., The Bubonic Plague of the 1300’s, or Hitler’s 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union coming down the pike. Ditto with Detroit not seeing the threat of Japanese cars coming after 1945, or IBM not seeing the threat posed in the 1970s by Microsoft and Apple. Everything just happened when it did, everybody was shocked completely, and everybody just had to deal with the MASSIVE AND UNPREDICTABLE consequences afterward. Not too much fun at the time, but there was no other choice. Nassim makes a damn good case.
So if your EVIL PLAN is to open up a two-person internet software company, or a mom n’ pop fancy cheese shop in North Chicago, there’s little point in first waiting to see if, sometime in the next two decades, whether or not India and Pakistan decide to launch nuclear missiles against each other.
iii. Interesting destinies rarely come from just reading the instructions manual.
Yes, Louis Pasteur did say, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” On one level, he was right. That being said, the stuff you learn beforehand will never be one-tenth as useful as the stuff you learn the hard way, on the job. All the former can do is help train you to deal with the reality of the latter. The real truth is always found in the moment, never in the future. Sadly, not everybody is cut out for thriving in the present tense. Life is unfair.
iv. “Sometimes Paranoia’s just having all the facts.” –William S. Burroughs.
I’ve been in a few businesses in my time: advertising, marketing, fine art prints, greeting cards, phone sales, animation, magazines, wine, corporate consulting, English tailoring, and now, book writing. Take it from me– if I had known ONE HALF about these businesses that I know now, I doubt I would’ve bothered in the first place. Instead, I would’ve just gotten an MBA or law degree somewhere and landed a mid-level position in a bank, law firm, corporation or whatever. Maybe joined the local country club while I was at it. Lucky Me.
You were given a gift by The Creator, God, The Universe, Whatever. Until you have returned the favor, Life will have a certain, feckless emptiness to it.
So sooner or later you’re going to have to explain to your friends and family EXACTLY why you decided to quit your stable 401K job and go off on some long-term ACT OF LUNACY i.e. your EVIL PLAN.
I don’t know what exactly you’ll tell them. I do know, however, that somewhere in the back of your mind will be a feeling that you have something you want to give to the world, something that you haven’t given yet, something the world needs but doesn’t quite know it yet.
Yes, you have already learned how to make a living and pay the bills…
But you know that’s not enough.
I’ve had my fair share of crappy jobs, as have we all.
You know what? I never hated a job because of what it took from me– ALL jobs take a lot from you, especially the best ones.
I hated a job because it never allowed me to give enough to the world..
That’s all I ever wanted: My best self, playing my best game. Being an advertising hack never allowed that, somehow. But I can now do that as a cartoonist. I’m damn lucky to have found that out, even if it did take me a painfully, embarrassingly long time.
I’m not the world’s most talented person at what I do. Neither are you. That doesn’t make the gift we have to give less valid.
Giving the gift is an act of love. And Love is the only thing that matters.
That’s why we have an EVIL PLAN. Because it matters. Because Love matters.
I was on the phone to an old friend of mine, a guy in his late forties, who was born and bred in Michigan, and is living there now. He was telling me about his uncle, who, about four decades ago, got his highschool sweetheart pregnant. So instead of going off to college, he found himself with a new wife, a child on the way, and an assembly-line job at General Motors. But even though this situation clipped his wings considerably, he still ended up having a nice life in the end, with a home, a big yard, two cars, a steady paycheck, weekends fishing or hunting deer, and vacations in Hawaii every year or so. “The days where a blue collar guy like my uncle could have a nice life without doing much,” my friend said, “those days are gone. Gone forever.”
And in the back of my mind, I’m thinking the same is starting to happen to white collar guys more and more, as well. But it’s not quite out in the open yet. Society’s not quite ready to have that conversation.
I also heard a statistic a couple of weeks ago that there are at least thirty million children in China currently taking piano lessons. Thirty. Million.
We live in interesting times…
[Update: ]“Thousandists”: My long-time Spanish blog buddy, Nia left an interesting comment below:
That conversation about white-collar jobs is four years old in Spain.
This is the short version: The people who were in their 20-30s in the 1970s saw that a University degree made a big difference in your job and salary. They made their kids (anyone born 1970 – 1985) study, and that young generation believed for a while that we could do the same trick as our parents. Get a degree. The job will follow.
We now have a word for people of my generation with a handful of degrees: mileuristas. Thousandists. As in, someone who makes around 1,000 euros a month. There’s so many of us, no one’s willing to pay us more than a (barely) living wage.
I often think that the thing that probably causes the most “quiet desperation” in modern society, is the relentless pursuit of “Having it all”. “Who says you can’t have it all?” were the lyrics of an annoyingly upbeat beer jingle from the mid-1980s.
This campaign for Michelob Lite tritely asked the question, “Who says you can’t love your work, and leave it too?” as an allegory to the question, “Who says you can’t get great, satisfying taste in a beer, that also happens to be kinda light and watery?“
I remember seeing the ad as a kid. Some yuppie who looked good in a suit, looked good in a corporate office, but also looked pretty good on the basketball court with his buddies, and who also looked good wielding an electric guitar surrounded by an admiring group of ladies. Loving his work, and leaving it too, as the jingle reaches its triumphant climax. “Oh YES you caaaaan… have it ALL!” How stirring for the soul etc. Tolstoy or Beethoven would be proud etc etc.
If you read the article from 1987 that I linked to above, you’ll find the campaign wasn’t that successful.
Of course it wasn’t. Why? Because as we all know, life isn’t like that.
How many PhD’s have quit their stellar careers in academe, to go play for the NFL? How many NBA stars, after they retired from basketball, go off to run a division of IBM?
To be the best in the world at something– or even REALLY good at it– the sacrifices are utterly, utterly enormous. “Have it all?” Are you insane?
We ALL know this.
Except Michelob Lite back in 1987, it seems. Which is why, twenty-plus years later after declaring their ability to be all things to all people, their brand is still struggling away, trying hard to be something– ANYTHING– other than unexceptional. I wish them well.
Of course, this “Have It All”, sacrifice-free attitude isn’t just the domain of unexceptional beer brands. It’s the domain of unexceptional individual careers, as well. We can only hope that ours is not one of them.
[UPDATE: Just added this blog post to “Evil Plans”.]
People get “blocked”.
With their jobs, with their relationships, with their marketing, with their own passions and creativity…
And yes, with themselves. I’m as guilty as anyone. So are you.
So then the next question becomes, well, how do you become “unblocked”? How do you get your mojo back?
Wouldn’t it be great if somebody could invent a product– a book, for example, or maybe some audiotapes, or a three-day seminar, whatever– and all people would have to do is pull out their credit card, pay the fee, use the product once et Volia! Problem solved! Blockage removed!
Yes, that would be great, in theory. But knowing what I know from past experience, I’d recommend that if you ever meet somebody trying to sell you something like this, run away in the opposite direction. That fellow is selling you a bunch of psychobabble snake oil. Nobody can unblock you, but you.
Instead, read the following one-word quote. Unlike the snake oil, you can have it free of charge and yes, this actually works, every time:
An excerpt from my latest Crazy Deranged Fools Newsletter, which I sent out earlier today:
“Here’s the reality: The Creative Bug will give you everything, and it will take from you, everything. It will cost you your life, and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.
But knowing this, of course, is what ultimately sets you free.”
Welcome to The Hunger.
The Hunger to do something creative.
The Hunger to do something amazing.
The Hunger to change the world.
The Hunger to make a difference.
The Hunger to enjoy one’s work.
The Hunger to be able to look back and say, Yeah, cool, I did that.
The Hunger to make the most of this utterly brief blip of time Creation has given us.
The Hunger to dream the good dreams.
The Hunger to have amazing people in our lives.
The Hunger to have the synapses continually fired up on overdrive.
The Hunger to experience beauty.
The Hunger to tell the truth.
The Hunger to be part of something bigger than yourself.
The Hunger to have good stories to tell.
The Hunger to stay the course, despite of the odds.
The Hunger to feel passion.
The Hunger to know and express Love.
The Hunger to know and express Joy.
The Hunger to channel The Divine.
The Hunger to actually feel alive.
The Hunger will give you everything. And it will take from you, everything. It will cost you your life, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.
Welcome to The Hunger. Its day has arrived. It will never go away. You have been told.
The way artists market themselves is by having a great story, by having a “Myth”. Telling anecdotal stories about Warhol, Pollack, Basquiat, Van Gogh is both (A) fun and (B) has a mythical dimension… if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have had movies made about them. The art feeds the myth. The myth feeds the art.
We all know how mythologies build up around art and artists, that over time informs the artist’s work itself.
Warhol’s weirdly destructive social scene at The Factory in the 1960s. Pollack’s excessive drinking. Van Gough’s descent into madness. Keith Haring’s wild party times in the New York gay scene…
Let’s say you spent a sizable chunk of money on a work by an artist you love. Let’s just say you couldn’t really justify it financially, you probably couldn’t afford it, but dammit, you just HAD to have it.
Let’s say you’re showing off the work to a friend, which is now proudly hanging in your office. Let’s say your friend never heard of the artist before.
“What???” your friend says, “You spent HOW MUCH on that? But it’s only some green and blue blotches!“
So you give your friend some background information. You tell him how famous the guy was back in New York in the 1970s, how “Breakthrough” his work was at the time, how he was influenced by Famous Artists A, B and C, and how he went on to influence Later Famous Artists X, Y and Z. You tell anecdotal stories about his tumultuous marriage to a famous, Japanese novelist [who’s work is also now making a comeback], and his up-and-down, booze-soaked relationship with Famous Artist K, his brief, heartbreaking love affair with Famously Tragic Socialite P, his battle with alcohol and drugs, and the old farm he retired to up in Woodstock, New York.
Hopefully by the time you are done with your story, though he may not end up being a collector of the artist himself, he at least will understand more clearly the work’s resonance, and why you made the purchase.
And of course, so will you. Because it wasn’t just your friend who needed to hear the story. You needed to hear the story, as well. You needed to be able to tell yourself that story, that story NEEDED TO EXIST, or else you simply would have not bought the painting in the first place. Without the story, without the “Myth”, you could not have justified purchasing the work to yourself [let alone your wife].
We don’t just do this for $40K works of art, we use the some mythological techniques when we buy computers, breakfast cereal, or bars of soap. Our lives are only as meaningful as the myths we can create for ourselves. And we like to create myths around the objects that fill up our lives. That’s what “Branding” is all about.
The more I think about marketing art, the more I think how what I’m learning applies to marketing everything else. Because art is not particularly utilitarian, the myth is key.
And unless you can understand the myth that informs whatever product you’re trying to sell, the harder your job will be. The more you can TRULY understand the myth, the bigger an edge you will have over your competition. I am right on this one.
1. One of my pet peeves when traveling [and I travel quite a bit these days] is when I get assigned to the middle seat on an airplane.
We all know why; we all know middle seats are uncomfortable and nasty. We all know that they basically suck.
Sure, the good airline folk will tell me, they’ve already booked all the window and aisle seats. They’ve only got middle seats left. Sorry etc.
Which always makes me think to myself, “Those middle seats shouldn’t be on the airplane in the first place”.
Middle seats are, to me, a product of a different era. They were invented when the first long distance jet airliners came around, the Boeing 707, the VC-10 etc etc. Before that they just had aisles and windows.
Thirty or forty years ago, airplanes were designed before the airline industry was deregulated, when air travel was REALLY expensive. When people had far fewer choices. Jet Blue currently buys long, skinny airplanes to make getting rid of the middle seat economically viable. But they’re a new airline. Older, larger, more established airlines are still beholden to their old, fat airplanes, stuffed to the brim with middle seats.
It won’t happen overnight, but there will come a time when offering your airline customers a middle seat will be tantamount to economic suicide.
Because people simply don’t want middle seats. They never did. And they’ll gladly take their business over to someone who doesn’t have them on offer.
This middle-seat-free day arriving will great news for us customers, of course. But not if you’re “Middle Seat Guy”. 2. Middle Seat Guy is the guy at the airline whose job it is to figure out the middle seats– how many of them they can cram onto a plane, and how to sell middle seats as efficiently as possible [to people who never wanted them to begin with].
Suddenly, he’s out of a job. People aren’t buying middles seats anymore, suddenly the world has no more use for his services. He’s at home; he’s bitter, he feels personally betrayed by the airline who employed him for twenty years. His life sucks and he’s hitting the bottle before noon etc.
Whether we’re talking about airlines or any other kind of business, the fact is, the Internet has made it MUCH harder to sell your customers metaphorical “Middle Seats”. And the punishment for trying to get away with it keeps on getting more swift and severe. 3. No, we don’t want to give you $7500.00 in order to help you pay off your six-figure student loans from Law School. We’d much rather download something off the internet that does the same job for $99.99.
No, we don’t want be interrupted by you, so you can show us your well-crafted, multi-million dollar marketing message about how wonderful your client’s automobiles are. We’d much rather get the skinny from an online forum.
No, we don’t want to buy your generic, cardboard-tasting, mass-produced cookies from the local convenience store; we’d rather order some online from this Trappist Monk Weirdo Lumberjack in Alaska, who makes by-hand-in-tiny-batches THE MOST AMAZING cookies ever.
No, we don’t want to buy your $25 bottle of nasty, Califonian vinegar. We’d rather buy this great little $10 Australian red that this cool wine blogger turned us on to. 4. The only time I really watch TV is when I’m staying in a hotel room, like I was last weekend while visiting Austin for SXSW. Usually I just turn on CNN, and listen to the pundits blether on. Background noise. Fairly mindless stuff.
It was quite a disconnect for me to hear the guys on CNN yapping endlessly on about THE RECESSION, in contrast to all the groovy cats I met at SXSW, who told me how their businesses were booming. It was like two alternate universes colliding. Which one was the real one?
To anyone reading this who has lost their job to the recession recently, first let me say how sorry I am to hear that. I lost my job during the last recession, and I know how rotten it can be. I utterly sympathize.
That being said, while I’m watching CNN I keep asking myself the same question. What percentage of these recession victims were just plain, randomly unlucky, and how many were in the business of selling metaphorical “Middle Seats” before they got laid off?
I don’t know what’s going to happen in this recession in the long run. I do know, however, that a lot of Middle Seat Guys, i.e. those who currently make their living via “The Ignorance Premium”, are going to be suddenly out of work, with ZERO idea about what to do next. I hope that doesn’t include you. [Sign up to gapingvoid’s “Crazy, Deranged Fools” Newsletter…]
Rudyard Kipling once described Triumph and Disaster as “Imposters, both”. The longer I stay in the working world, the more I start to get what he means.
It’s funny how you can have two guys sitting next to each other in an office, both doing the same job. Both using the same computers and phones. Both with the same academic qualifications. Both with a similar IQ. Both working the same amount of hours. But why does one guy take home five times more sales commission than the other guy? What’s going on? Is it luck? Skill? Justice? Injustice?
The question of what separates success from failure, is something I’ve always liked to ponder on. Suddenly this week, out of nowhere, the following line hit me: “Success is more complex than Failure.“
Think about it. Being a failure is a no-brainer. All you have to do is sleep till noon, get out of bed, scratch your balls, have your morning visit to the bathroom, turn on the Star Trek re-runs, help yourself to some breakfast [Leftover pizza and a bottle of Jack Daniels, Hurrah!], light up your first joint of they day, download some porn, and already you’re well on your way. Sure, a few inconvenient variables may enter the picture here and there, to complicate an otherwise perfect day of FAIL, e.g. what you’re going have to say to your brother in order to convince him to lend you that $300, so you can pay off the telephone bill, that kinda thing. But for the most part, the day-to-day modus operandi of your “Average Total Failure” is quite straightforward.
Being successful, however, is a whole different ball game. Breakfast meetings at 7.00am. Conference calls at midnight. Visiting twelve cities in five days. Fielding question from a swarm of hostile journalists. Dealing successfully with an enraged, multi-million dollar customer who’s screaming bloody murder over something rather trivial in the grand scheme of things. Dealing successfully with an enraged, multi-million dollar investor who’s screaming bloody murder over something rather trivial in the grand scheme of things. Making sure there’s enough money in the account to meet the payroll of all your legions of highly-paid, highly-effective, highly-talented employees. All these hundreds of unrelenting issues to deal with, all day, every day. You get the picture.
And as always, what’s invariably true of people is also invariably true for businesses. So when I see a small but insanely-successful business suddenly implode overnight [it seems to happen quite a lot in Silicon Valley], I’m guessing chances are it wasn’t inability to manage growth per se that destroyed the business [a favorite reason cited by those writing business obituaries], but the inability for the business to manage complexity. Complexity increases exponentially with growth, most small companies can culturally only handle incremental increases in complexity. As I’m fond of saying, “Human beings don’t scale”.
Which is why walking around the hallways of large, successful companies can often seem so oppressive to somebody new to it. All that cultural regimentation is there for one reason only: To fight “The Complexity War”. Sure, it might feel a bit ghastly to the more idealist and free-spirited among us, but until somebody can come up with a better way to win this Complexity War at a Fortune-500 level, I don’t see it ever going away.
[“Edges 2″. Part of “The Edges” series. Click on image to enlarge…]
OK, so this weekend I did another “Live On The Edges” cartoon. I’ve been playing around with the idea A LOT in my head these last few days. More thoughts:
1. I prefer “Live On The Edges” more than “Live On The Edge”. Like I said in my last post, there are lots of “edges” out there. “The Edge” just sounds too “rock n’ roll lifestyle” for my taste. “The Edges”, at least to me, connote more of a feeling “Exploration” somehow.
2. Whether you prefer “The Edge” or “The Edges”, actually, I really don’t care. I really don’t think it matters either way. That being said, the blogosphere is chock full of semantic micro-managers, so I must be careful.
3. I was driving around town this morning, running errands, when suddenly it occurred to me: I have actually reached a fairly high state of what I would call “Cartoon-Enabled Personal Sovereignty”. In other words, I simply couldn’t do what I do without the cartoons. I’d have to go get a job somewhere. Ugh. My advice? Personal Sovereignty is an edgy business. Not for everyone.
4. Yes, of course, the Internet DOES make it FAR easier to be an “Edgeling”. I’ve been talking about that for years now…
5. I read somewhere that the average American today has a higher standard of living than Louis XIV, yet we’re all unhappy. Yeah, having read his history, I’m not sure King Louis was that happy, either. But hey, at least he wasn’t a 17th-Century French peasant. Count your blessings where you find them etc.
6. I’m agnostic. I see both “The Edges” and “The Middle” two sides of the same coin. Like the circle’s center and circumference, both need the other.
7. TV shows start out seeming kinda edgy, then after a while they seem mainstream and boring. This happens even when the writing’s quality stays high. We get used to stuff. We assimilate new forms of language, and then we move on. My cartoons are no different. Ashes-to-Ashes etc.
8. “Living on the Edges” for its own sake is a complete waste of time. “Mommy! Mommy! Look at Me! I’m living on the Edges! Can I have a cookie?” What’s more interesting, of course, is the idea of “Constant Renewal”, “Constant Re-invention”. Edges are a good place to go out and find it. You either have an appetite for it, or you don’t. You either have a talent for it, or you don’t. Life is unfair.
9. I remember when blogging was considered “edgy”. It was actually not that long ago. Now it seems rather mainstream. Like Point Number 7, we assimilate media as a new form of language, and then, again, we move on.
10. You get older and you start noticing how there’s a lot of people out there doing really interesting, crazy stuff, but then they go home and live these very ordinary, middle class, suburban lives. Hanging out with the family, cooking barbecue in the back lawn, movies and going out for Chinese food, playing frisbee in the park, it’s all good. Imagine the trouble these folk would get into if they didn’t have that kind of balance in their lives. By most standards, I would say I have a pretty “edgy” career. It’s why I live in West Texas in a quiet, sleepy town. It allows me push the edges internally without getting ripped apart externally. Living in Manhattan would kill me inside twelve months.
11. People often ask me, “How do you stay inspired over the long haul?” My answer: “By working hard”. Bliss through Toil, Baby. It’s all good.
12. “Edges” is not a lifestyle choice. It’s just something you do. It just happens. No, you have no real control over it.
13. All is Vanity.
I’ve been watching the American TV writer’s strike with great interest.
Back in 1999 – 2000 I spent 5 months in Hollywood, helping a friend out with his “New Media” dotcom [The latter failed miserably, of course, but that’s another story]. Having seen the Media landscape evolve so dramatically since then, I have some thoughts on the dispute:
1. What struck me most about living in LA was how nobody talked about “Art”. They wanted to talk about “The Industry”. Somebody you knew getting a job on the set of Spiderman 3 or Stuart Little 2 was considered hot stuff… even if they were not films you or anyone else you knew would ever want to see yourselves [i.e. even if the movie was kinda lame]. And the equivalent existed in the TV world. It didn’t take me very long to figure out: Hollywood is a factory town. In terms of social hierarchies, it was no different that Detroit, only instead of Ford and GM, we had Universal and Disney. And the guys I knew in it, for all their flashy cars and expensive gym memberships, were nothing more than glorified factory workers. Working on an assembly line. Shipping widgets [in the form of “movies” and “shows”] off to theaters and TV stations around the country. And indeed, they had EXACTLY the same kind of industrial alienation from their craft as the factory workers that Marx and Engels wrote about, over a century before.
2. For all the different kinds of “creative” people in the system, Hollywood has the most rigid class system I have ever encountered. With “The Players” at the top [Spielberg, Lucas, Brad Pitt, Angela Jolie etc], the grunts and the unemployed “Talent” at the bottom, and in between the middle guys: Writers, lawyers, agents, techies, all engaged in a massive cat-fight to get on top, or at least, get on top of their current peer group. It was a very well-mapped-out pyramid. Which is what made meeting people such a foggy experience. They knew that if you could figure out where on the pyramid you lay [not a hard thing to do in under thirty seconds], they’d feel exposed and vulnerable. And the writers I knew, for all the yakkin’ I heard about “the integrity” of their craft, were as every bit as complicit in preserving the pyramid scheme as anyone else I met.
In a recent Twitter conversation, Loren Feldman said to me: “I did 10 years in Hollywood, it’s a system based on fear, always has been.” I agree. And I think it will always be thus. Without fear, Hollywood has no viable business model. Without a large group of young, hungry people willing to take the pyramid/privilege model seriously, Hollywood has no business model. Privilege and fear are never far from one another.
3. In the last 20 years, we’ve seen an evolution of non-print Media away from “Theatrical” [Both cinema and TV are forms of theater], towards interactive. And the main consequences of that, besides media becoming a two-way conversation instead of a one-way conversation, has made the barriers to entry into creating “Media” a lot lower. And the people who are feeling the pain are the ones who spent the last decade or so trying to figure the pyramid scheme in a time when the world was a different place.
4. In the end, this strike is not about DVD and digital royalties. Ultimately, this strike is about the massive and traumatic erosion of privileges afforded the middle-ranking factory workers. But of course, there’s not a damn thing they or their bosses can do to bring those privileges back. The landscape of media is moving away from large studios, to college dorms, downtown lofts, and suburban garages. Like Madison Avenue, Hollywood won’t disappear. But also like Madison Avenue, it’ll never command the cultural vanguard like it once did.
My conclusion? The ice cap is melting, and all we’re seeing here is the penguins deciding to hold a picket line. In news terms, it makes for good theater. But like Hollywood, that’s all it is. [UPDATE:] Thanks to Andrew Denny for leaving the following comment: Director Mike Figgis made some similar points (and predicted a collapse of the existing Hollywood model) in a wonderful talk on BBC Radio 3 last month entitled: “Is there too much culture?”[55 minutes long]