My next book: “The Art Of Not Sucking”




When I was attending University in the 1980’s, I went and got a suit-and-tie summer job in a large office in downtown Houston, doing white-collar drudgery for a big oil company.

It sucked.

That summer, I was also in a painful, Nowheresville relationship with a lovely young woman. That also sucked.

That year my college grades sucked, as well. As did my social life and financial situation.

The whole year sucked, frankly. I sucked, my job sucked, my love life sucked, my situation sucked. Sucked, sucked, sucked.

Over two decades later, I’m frankly still quite traumatized by it. Ha.

Since then, I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out how to keep myself out of jobs, careers, relationships and situations that suck, how to keep life from sucking in general.

Learning how to NOT SUCK is one of our most important pursuits.

Sucking is the enemy. Indeed.

So when I was recently asked to give a talk to marketing students at Unibe University in the Dominican Republic, I decided that helping them learn “The Art Of Not Sucking” would be far more useful for them, or at least, welcome, than the usual textbook marketing stuff they have to read on a daily basis.

Let’s face it, “Success” and “Failure” are still too far away in the distant future to be truly tangible most young adults, they’ve still got way too much in front of them. That was certainly true in my case, and every other case I knew well at the time.

However, leaving the comfy surroundings of college life and hitting the adult world and finding out right away that you suck at everything? That everything is going to suck from now on? That’s a real burning issue.

“What if I suck?”

With graduation looming, that’s what college seniors are REALLY worried about. I speak truth.

College kids aren’t afraid of failing, they’re afraid of sucking.

The talk I gave to the kids was so much fun, I thought I’d spread the love some more, by turning my notes into a little e-book and sharing it with everybody. This is it. I hope it’s helpful; thanks for taking the time to download it.

[NB: Many of the themes below were covered before, in both my blog and my books, some points more than others. If you experience déjà vu, that is why. Secondly, to make it more fun to read, I did my usual thing i.e. randomly inserted some of my favorite recent cartoons in the mix, similar to how The New Yorker inserts unrelated cartoons into their pages.]



Don’t let the drama queens and marketing dorks fool you, success is actually pretty easy… or at least, simple. It basically has four elements:

i. Work hard.

ii. Be nice.

iii. Have great product or service.

iv. Don’t suck.

Of the four, “Don’t suck” is the most daunting. The other three are fairly straightforward.

“Work hard” and “Be nice” are just a matter of personal choice. Having a great product is just a matter of having enough perseverance, and a little bit of luck.

Whereas “Don’t suck” is really, really hard for most people. It’s the one most of us trip over. Especially the drama queens and marketing dorks.

To be successful, first you need to learn how to not suck.

You need to learn The Art Of Not Sucking.

After that, the rest should take care of itself.



For sake of brevity, I narrowed “Not Sucking” down to three elements. “Not Sucking” is much easier with these three, much, much harder without them:




There’s also a fourth section,


which is also the longest secton. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And with that, my friends, let the adventure begin!


“Creativity” just means the ability to come up with original, useful ideas. It could be through the art of painting, starting a company or designing car engines. It could be just an innovative way of how you do your nine-to-five job at the office or how you make coffee for your customers at Starbuck’s.

Thought “Creativity” is a messy, loaded, overused word, it’s also what our brains were actually designed for.

Creativity is who we are at our deepest, biological level. That’s why everybody is given a box of crayons in Kindergarten. This is what allowed our ancestors to discover how to make a fire, paint the occasional Sistine Chapel or learn that the earth was round.

People who want a more thorough overview of creativity should perhaps read my first book, “Ignore Everybody”, but here are some general pointers to get you started:



Like I said in “Ignore Everybody”, everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.

Some kind of personal heroic quest, as it were.

For me, that meant getting good as a cartoonist. For others, it could have something to do with starting a business, getting a PhD in Linguistics, becoming the most kick-ass divorce lawyer in town or learning to play violin. It doesn’t matter what it is, what matters is that it’s a manifestation of our higher selves; it’s the one big deed that we want to be remembered for. It’s the thing you need to do if you want to eventually take leave of this world, knowing you managed to play your best game.

Most people don’t try to climb their own Mount Everest, or at least, they give up on it far too early. They get busy with jobs, family, TV, shopping, eating tacos, drinking beer and all the usual stuff.

And most people who end up never climbing it, do so because they didn’t realize it was there in the first place. Admitting that it’s there is a scary and uncertain business. Admitting that it’s there is half the battle.



This is the advice I witnessed the esteemed CNN news correspondent, David Gergen give a small group of young entrepreneurs at a talk in Boston not long ago:

“Learn how to invent, that’s the only advice I really have to give you.”

Simple? Yes. Easy? No.

Gergen is a very clever and accomplished fellow. He could have suggested much more that evening; he basically chose not to. Why was that?

Because once you learn how to invent, the rest of the world’s opportunities open up to you in Glorious Technicolor. If don’t learn, there’s not much anyone can do to help you, except maybe help you lift some random rock to crawl under.

Harsh but true.

The good news is, you don’t need to be Albert Einstein, Picasso or some other god-genius to invent something. You can be anybody, and you can do it anywhere. On the job or after hours. Working as a cog in a big corporation or painting unknown masterpieces in a garret. Size doesn’t matter, mindset matters. Decision matters.

To invent means to create a thing of beauty, large or small, in a place where beauty was lacking.



The world will always conspire to make you less than you are. Even the well-intentioned parts of it. The question is, do you let it? Decide.

Generally, the real world doesn’t go out of its way to tell you to go create something useful and/or meaningful. Usually, it just tells you to keep your nose down and don’t rock the boat. The fact that this could quickly destroy your soul in the process is irrelevant to them.

So I’m afraid it’s you who must take the initiative; I am equally afraid that it’s you who has to take the heat if things go terribly wrong.

The good news is, things don’t always go wrong forever. And a few bumps along the way is the best education known to man.

The only alternative is crawling under that aforementioned rock. And you don’t want that. No.



Before the Internet came along, I spent a lot of time sending my cartoons off to publishers, hoping to get the fish to bite. They didn’t, for the most part. Sure, I got a few nibbles here and there, but not nearly enough to support myself spiritually nor professionally.

So I did what all young, renounced starving artists do, I got a day job. In advertising.

Yes. It sucked. And quickly.

As much as I tried my best in that very interesting industry, I was never very good at it. Oh, well, live and learn. At least it gave me a GREAT education, and I met a lot of smart, lovely people along the way.

Luckily, the Internet came along and, no longer willing to wait around to be discovered by some hypothetical big-shot, I just started publishing my cartoons on my blog,

Hey, it worked (EVENTUALLY).

gapingvoid became a pretty big success story. With the help of Jason Korman and our team, my business partner, I now make a great living, doing what I love, with a fantastic fan base. Happy ending.

My advice is, you’re much better off starting something yourself and, if you still need help scaling it, only then do you take it to the guys with the big offices.

Don’t go there until you don’t really need them, until you can leave money on the table anytime. Otherwise you’ll be little more than fresh meat to them.



This was the main thesis of Ignore Everybody: That great ideas don’t start out life being that obvious to most people. It’s only in retrospect that they take on that delicious, million-dollar obviousness that we all know, love and read about in the papers.

But knowing that it’s perfectly normal to feel isolated and ignored in the early days a new idea’s life, simply makes it more likely that it will happen (or at the very least, much easier to bear).

It’s when you feel “This should not be happening”, that’s when you’re most likely to give up.

People are far more willing to put up with unpleasant experiences, like the loneliness of a good idea, if they think it’s a normal part of being human.

Losing your shirt in the stock market is far worse if you’re the only one doing it. If millions of you lose out because of some massive world event causes the Dow Jones to plummet, that’s much easier to bear individually.

Same with childbirth. If you were the only woman who ever felt pain doing it, it would be a problem. But you’re not, so it’s not, either.

Some things are really just bigger than we are, so there’s no point taking it personally.

Therefore, when the first pangs of lonely isolation hit you when you embark on your life’s great adventure, just remember that you’re actually not really alone; that you’re swimming in a great sea of normal…

And that it’s wonderful.



This was another tidbit from Ignore Everybody. In most organizations, not everybody is out to “make a dent in the universe”. Sadly, some people are only there for the paycheck. Their job is just a means to an end, not an expression of anything truly meaningful.

A lot of these people may be smart, nice, happy and productive enough, but be careful letting their worldview seep into yours. One day you’ll look back on your life and realize your life could’ve been so much more than just a stack of pay slips.

But by then it’ll be too late, sadly. By then a big part of you will feel empty inside, and will mourn bitterly forever.



The successful, creative life needs to know clearly where lies the red line, the one that separates what you’re willing to do from what you’re not.

Regardless of what specific compromises one is asked to make in order to pursue one’s dream, the likelihood is that there will be a lot of them; that they will be never-ending.

Personally, I’m more than happy to do work for large corporations, i.e. cartoon commissions. I am unwilling to do work I despise, no matter how much they’re paying. Luckily, I let my clients know this well in advance. It’s give and take.

It’s too easy to let the easy path boil your life slowly, like a frog. Choosing not to is harder than it looks. Be forewarned.



This quote by William Butler Yeats is one of my all-time favorites. To paraphrase badly- Savor obscurity while it last, be joyful in the process; you’ll never have that opportunity to create such new work, new life, ever again.

It’s hard to be creative when everybody’s watching you, with everybody expecting ever more unlikely miracles from you. Fame and fortune opens a lot of doors, true, but it’s pretty good at closing some others, as well. Be careful.




The best way to not suck is to MASTER something useful. Obvious, yes?

“I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it.” – Jiro.

Like every­body else I know, I give a lot of thought to “Suc­cess”. What does it take to be suc­cess­ful, pros­perous, happy, have a sense of pur­pose etc? What does THAT actually look like?

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. That kind of success is something you don’t control.

Of course, the media LOVE suc­cess models of the outra­geously for­tu­nate– cele­brity artists, cele­brity busi­ness­men, cele­brity spi­ri­tual lea­ders, celebrity rich kids, lottery winners, not to men­tion the Rea­lity TV, famous-for-being-famous crowd.

The thing is, I know TONS of super suc­cess­ful peo­ple, but none of them fit this extreme, celeb-lottery-winner-Reality-TV model. Some of them are actually pretty boring, to be honest. But they lead happy, friendly lives and do VERY well career­-wise.

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 for us to learn that much useful stuff.

So I was thin­king about this again, recently, HARD.

What model would work for folk like you and me? A model that didn’t mean you had to sell your soul to Wall Street, Holly­wood, Washing­ton or the tabloids? A suc­cess model that doesn’t rely solely on the unli­ke­lihood of outra­geously good for­tune or acts of evil?

Then quite by chance, I saw a great docu­men­tary recently: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, a film about the world’s grea­test sushi mas­ter, and a light ­bulb EXPLODED in my head.

Our man, 85-year-old Jiro Ono is the world’s greatest sushi chef- the only sushi master to ever have been awarded three Miche­lin stars. He’s also the oldest person to have ever been a recipient of that award.

The thing is, he doesn’t have a lot of money or own a fleet of trendy res­tau­rants in all the world’s capi­tals, a-la Wolf­gang Puck. No syndicated TV shows, celebrity-chef book deals or TV talk-show circuits, either.

He just has just a small, plain, dull, ordi­nary-looking, low-key sushi bar with ten seats in the basement of a Tokyo office building, near the sub­way, the kind of nondescript place you’d pro­bably just walk by without stop­ping, if you saw it. Ten seats! Yet he REALLY IS the best in the world at what he does.

Jiro works seven days a week, over 350 days a year (he hates taking vacation), 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 minimalist, bare-bones for­mula, he’s become the best in the world.

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, at 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 an office basement!

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.

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. With 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.

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.

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.

So 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, I may not be as talented as Picasso or Whitman, but I can be like Jiro and the tai­lors… or at least, more like them.

So like them, I live quietly, I get up every mor­ning and quietly get on with the busi­ness cran­king out my pro­duct, my car­toons. Like I said, it’s quiet, calm and kinda dull.

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?

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.

Though, having watched these mas­ters care­fully first-hand, I can honestly say MASTERY is more satisf­ying than money. If you’re up for it, yes, MASTERY MATTERS MORE THAN MONEY, MASTERY MATTERS MORE THAN SUCCESS.

And it’s por­ta­ble. It tra­vels with you, whe­re­ver you go. No land­lord, no boss, no reces­sion, no round of layoffs, no Wall Street analyst, no news­pa­per cri­tic can take it away. It’s something that truly belongs to you, for always.

You earned it. It’s yours. Forever.

So when a young per­son asks me for career advice these days, I tell her, “Don’t worry so much about money, fame, suc­cess, rockstardom, wha­te­ver. Worry about achieving Mas­tery– that is something pre­cious you can actually con­trol. And yes, if you’ve truly achie­ved Mas­tery, you’re more likely to be suc­cess­ful and pros­pe­rous and rockstar, any­way.”




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.

You also have to be deter­mi­ned and relent­less. David is all that as well, as this inter­view nicely demons­tra­tes.

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.

Cir­cum­vent, relent­lessly.




The 10,000 Hours Rule was made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, “Outliers”.

The book talks about how it takes 10,000 hours working at something to really master it. (10,000 hours means a couple of hours a day for decade, roughly). And he cites people like Bill Gates and The Beatles to prove his case. It’s a good read.

Ten thousand sounds about right to me… though I prefer “The 20,000 Hour Rule”.

It took me 10K hours to get good at cartooning, but then it took me the same amount of time again to figure out the business.

Even then, I still feel I have a long way to go.

It takes about 10 years to become a Savile Row tailor, that is, assuming you have both the talent, the will and the stamina to go the entire apprenticeship. Most kids don’t, which is why the trade is slowly dying out: They can’t find enough young talent to replace the old ones when they retire.

Coincidentally enough, according to the movie, that’s also how long an apprenticeship at Jiro’s lasts.

I once met a master gunsmith from Holland & Holland, the makers of those famously exquisite, $100,000 English hand-made shotguns.

For his first assignment as a young apprentice, he was given a two-inch steel cube and metal file. He was told from the guy training him, that as soon as he could turn the two-inch cube into a one-inch cube, using nothing but his file and a workbench vice, he could have his second lesson.

It took him two years to get to Lesson Number Two.

Two years of filing that same damn cube, eight hours day. Until the Master said OK.

It was “Wax-on, Wax-off” for only a couple of days in the movie. The gunsmith apprentice did it for two whole years. Think about it.


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Sure, a bit of talent and good fortune comes in handy. It’s nice that you could draw better than any other kid in your small town, or that your parents had the money to afford tennis lessons after class.

But that just gets you to the starting line. The actual race is what happens after that, day in, day out, for many years to come.

And the ones who win, the ones who really elevate their craft, are generally the ones who work the hardest. Life is unfair.



As my friend, Austin Kleon brilliantly pointed out, your work is a mash up of everything that you allow into your brain. If you fill your head with junk, you will produce more junk. Even if it’s postmodern, ironic and hipsterish, it’s still junk.



It’s too easy to easy to put marketing in the “Sleazy & Cheesy” box, it’s too easy to just dismiss it because it isn’t “My Art” or whatever, or that it’s something only “the suits” do.

But the thing is, marketing does matter. Heck, if you’re Seth Godin (one of my personal heroes), you can make the case that, in fact, marketing is one of our most important activities.

Why? Because the best idea, product, skill, service or cause (or whatever you decide to master) isn’t much use, if nobody knows about it. This is true whether you’re selling something pretty trivial or trying to save the world though some noble effort.

Seth defines marketing not so much in terms of sales and selling, but the art of getting ideas to spread.

“The ideas that win are the ideas that spread.” That’s probably Seth’s most lucid sentence ever, and he’s already got a ton of those.

Trivialize marketing at your peril.

[PS: To learn more about my philosophy on marketing, well, there’s always my books, but I would also recommend Seth Godin’s “Tribes”, Mark Earls’ “Herd” and The Cluetrain Manifesto. That’s enough to get you started.]

Screen Shot 2013-02-15 at 10.32.57 PM



For a lot people, “Successful” just means having a lot of stuff, of having a lot of worldly appetites indulged.

For a lot of people, “Successful” just means helping a rich people get even richer, in exchange for a piece of the action.

And yet…

We all know there’s more to life than that; that if all we care about is all that material, carnal, consumer crap, life would dry up and turn grey really quickly.

And we don’t want that, we want to feel as alive as we possibly can.

We want a good life.

Deep inside our frail, little selves, we know that’s true.

And the way to have a good life is, do stuff that matters. With people who matter. Day in, day out.

What some people call “Art”.

Art Is: The stuff you do that matters.

How do you know if the stuff you do is “Art” or not? You don’t. Not at first. But you carry on, regardless. And maybe one day your equally frail and fragile hunch will pay off.

Because you know in your deepest self, that’s the right thing to do.

Because it matters. And if it doesn’t, God help you.



What goes around comes around, so they say. What they don’t tell you so much is, when it does come around eventually (as it must), it’s had plenty of time to build up momentum, like a wave, so it comes at you even harder, good or bad. Compound Karma. Wave Karma. Exactly.

I like to live my life with the belief that karma last for eternity, that small events in the present will cause titanic events in the future, good or bad. Compound Karma. My own private Butterfly Effect. So I’m careful. And humble. I try to keep my head down.

Truly understanding that there’s no way out or the karmic equation, that Karma does its thing with or without my permission, is actually quite liberating.

Because then you’re not trying to outsmart it, not using up precious bandwidth trying to in vain to find a new angle, freeing you up to just get on with things in their proper order, not futzing around, looking for shortcuts.

You may not be able to control the universe, but you can control your actions within it.

That is the best kind of freedom there is, no?



“To study philosophy is to learn how to die.” –Cicero.

“Be happy while you’re living, for a you’re a long time dead.” –Scottish proverb.

“Life is short. Make it amazing.” – gapingvoid cartoon.

The British author, John Mortimer once described Life as “A tiny blip of time, separating two vast expanses of eternity”.

Ain’t that the truth…

The insanely brilliant stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius famously coined the phrase, “Live every day as if it were your last, for one day it will be.”

The great mythologist, Joseph Campbell thought that religion came about once human beings first learned of their own mortality.

I believe all these great thinkers were right on the money, in their own way.

Without death, life would have no meaning. It is death that gives life its edge.

And it’s that edge that gives life its meaning.

That gives us the experience of being alive.

Which is what the meaning of life is really all about.

To know life, is to know death. And maybe, just maybe, be OK with it.

Now go do good work, with all your heart. Yes.



You lose everything eventually. Your looks, your career, your possessions, your libido, your health, your memories, your family and friends, your life. But as the poet, Philip Larkin once said, Love is the only thing that outlives us.

It’s also the only thing that truly makes us happy.

“Without Love, I am nothing….” Saint Paul knew what he was talking about.



By the time you’ve figured all this out, figured out how “not to suck”, figured out how to master your calling, figured out the real meaning of it all, you’ll most likely be old and close to death.

But that’s OK.

That’s what Life is for.


[Just some other stuff I picked up along the way etc.]


I know that’s old news. We all know that, thanks to the Internet, everything is just one click away. But do we actually act like we know that; are we actually living it?



And yet the schools still act like they are. That’s partly the fault of the schools, sure, but it’s also part the fault of the parents.

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If you think of your job as just a paycheck, and not as a platform, you’re doing something wrong.

If you think of your job as just a paycheck, and not as a platform, you will probably never be successful.



When I was just starting out, I was just one more piece of paper in a tall stack of resumes. Though really, I didn’t have to present myself that way, I just assumed that was the done thing, and that’s what I did in the end. That was an expensive mistake.



Nobody knows the future, especially our current future. Google, Facebook, Washington, Wall Street, Hollywood, Madison Avenue… they’re all as clueless as we are. The Internet changed everything. The rise of China and India changed everything. And one day this future will be something we’re thankful for.



It isn’t rocket science. If you have something that you care about, chances are there are other people who also care about it. These people are easy to find, on the Internet. Try to find out what they’re hungry for, and try to feed that hunger. It shouldn’t be too hard, if you keep it simple.



I loved my first job, working in a bar. Sure, it was low paid and noisy and stressfuland al that, but I didn’t care. I was eighteen years old even then, I knew that this job was giving me something I would never get in school- access to adults. I saw it as something much bigger than a meager paycheck, I saw it as my platform into manhood… which is was.



You have your inner life, you have your outer life. Art and religion, meets business and science, or whatever. Both need to be talking to each other in a constructive way, or your life will just end in failure.

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“Nice guys finish last” might work TEMPORARILY on Wall Street or in the court of Emperor Nero, but for 99.99% of humanity, we’re simply not made to act that way. We’re made to be nice to each other.

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Unless something truly wrong is going on- war, plague, famine, pestilence etc- nature made us to enjoy our lives. So if you’re not happy in spite of everything happening around you, it’s probably because you’re doing something wrong, and probably something to do with your relationships.



And keep on failing like a child. Until you die. Enough said.

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Nobody discovers what their real joy is right away. It’s an ongoing dialogue, even with super talented people.



Summer, 2011. A friend of mine was in Paris, where she went and chec­ked out the mas­sive Anish Kapoor sculp­ture, Monu­menta 2011, on exhi­bit at Le Grand Palais.

This got me thinking…

I like Kapoor’s work. He makes very big art.

I, on the other hand, make very small art i.e. the “car­toons drawn on the back of busi­ness cards”. And the prints aren’t too large, either.

Though I like a lot of “Big Art”- Kapoor, Serra, Gorm­ley, Smith­son etc etc– I’m pretty happy I stuck with “Small Art”.

Small Art can impact another per­son on a mea­ning­ful level, just as power­fully as Big Art. Fif­teen lines from Shelley’s Ozy­man­dias had as much impact on me as fif­teen hun­dred pages of Tolstoy’s War & Peace did, as much as I loved the latter.

And Small Art is A LOT less hassle to make.

And you can make more of it. More often. Without ban­krup­ting your­self or put­ting your life on hold for months on end.

And perhaps more impor­tantly, there’s the “Per­so­nal Sove­reignty” angle. With Small Art, there’s no need to wait for someone else to deem it worthy befo­rehand, no need to wait ner­vously for the rich patron, the movie stu­dio exec, or the illus­trious museum direc­tor to give it the green­light. There’s no need for the poli­tics or the sch­moo­zing or the bureaucracy.

Or the sleaze and corrup­tion. The Big Art world is rife with that, as we all know full well.

With Small Art, you just go ahead and make it, and then it exists, and the rest is in the hands of the gods. Your work is already done, and you can get to bed at a decent hour. And not lose any sleep over it, either.

Hey, it wor­ked for Joseph Cor­nell, Saul Stein­berg and Edward Gorey… three artists who I rate WAY higher than Kapoor or Serra.

And what is true for Art is pro­bably true for your thing, as well. Worry less about how BIG you want your busi­ness to be, ins­tead think about how much LOVE you actually want to give out while your still have time left on this earth. “Mea­ning Sca­les”.




Another riff on Marcus Aurelius’ “Live each day as if it were your last, for one day it will be.”

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.

Early morning.

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?



I get asked all the time: “Why don’t you show in art galleries?”

And I always ans­wer the same: “Because my work doesn’t belong in art galle­ries, it belongs in office cubicles.”

Even if you go back to the 1990’s, back when I was star­ting out, it was the same story. I always liked making art SPECIFICALLY for the work­place. I always liked making work that pushed that aspect of human exis­tence further in the right direction.

After family, the time you spend in your place of work is the most impor­tant arena of your exis­tence. That is where you go to find out, over time, who your true self really is.
And your true self needs art around it, your true self needs cons­tant remin­ding that your true self ACTUALLY exists.

Your true self needs TOTEMS around that INSPIRE it on a daily basis.

That’s what I hope the car­toons help arti­cu­late, help bring to the sur­face. Unlike most of the knuc­klehead art you see around the gallery scene…

Besi­des, it’s a niche most other artists don’t really think about– they’re too busy trying to con­quer other worlds. Which is fine, even if those other worlds are already too crow­ded; already SATURATED with the froth of other knuckleheads.

“My work doesn’t belong in art galle­ries, it belongs in office cubicles.”

It’s not a bad life, I suppose…



As artists and/or mar­ke­ters and/or busi­ness peo­ple, it’s not enough to just think about the money and the ROI. We need to know that we “con­nec­ted”, somehow. Deeply so, sometimes.

Or else we just become very dull, making very dull stuff for very dull peo­ple, living very dull lives.

Which except for the occa­sio­nal face­less cor­po­ra­tion, is not much of a sus­tai­na­ble busi­ness model.

E.M. Forster’s very famous advice to aspi­ring authors had a mere two words: “Only connect.”

Exactly. In both art and business.

Only con­nect.

Think about it.



Kids come up to me and ask me all the time…

Kid: How do I get a “crea­tive” career-thing going like yours?

Hugh: Make something. Grab a piece of paper and a pen or wha­te­ver and get cracking…

Kid: What if it isn’t any good?

Hugh: Then you’re screwed.

Kid: Ok, what if it’s pretty good, but it’s still going to take me another twenty or thirty years before the world unders­tands it?

Hugh: Then you’re slightly less screwed.

At that point, they’re already sick of asking me any more ques­tions and so they move on, unhappy. Oh well…

The thing is, peo­ple think there’s some set of ideal con­di­tions out there, floa­ting inde­pen­dently in space, that somehow have be met, some magic fairy boxes that need to be tic­ked off, before you can go and “be crea­tive”, wha­te­ver that means.

“I’ve got to quit my job, leave my wife, move to India and become an opium addict yada yada yada…” “I’ve got to drop out of college, move to New York and carry on a for­bid­den and tumul­tuous les­bian affair with a Japa­nese nove­list twice my age yada yada yada…”

Actually, no. The way to be crea­tive is to make stuff. You wake up in the mor­ning, have some break­fast, hit the work bench and get on it with it.

Or not. Maybe you’d rather just hang out, light a joint and watch Star Trek reruns. Your call.

Whether it ends up being “crea­tive” or not, is deci­ded later. Long after you’ve finished the thing and moved on to something else.

That’s what I mean by it coming “after the fact.”

And so there we are.



Hardly a mor­ning goes by these days without me hea­ring some story on NPR Mor­ning Edi­tion about Ame­ri­can eco­no­mic woe. 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, Christmas 2011: 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 2011 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 Great Con­ver­gence is upon us, and our friend, the Inter­net is acce­le­ra­ting the pro­cess. This would be hap­pe­ning with our without “The 1%” mis­beha­ving them­sel­ves– wha­te­ver the mains­tream media and the Occupy Wall Street crowd might say.

The good news is, if you have a talent, the world wants it, and it has never been so easy to show your talent to the world.

The bad news is, espe­cially for us fat & lazy Ame­ri­cans, is that the great, century-long era of Prosperity-on-Autopilot is over.

The world still wants serious talent. And it still wants peo­ple doing the grunt work: pushing mops, dig­ging ditches, wai­ting tables, ans­we­ring pho­nes, flip­ping bur­gers etc..

It’s the peo­ple in the middle that nobody knows what to do with any­more. And the poli­ti­cians who claim that they do, are lying.

It’s pro­bably too late for my gene­ra­tion, that ship has already sai­led. But for the kids out there rea­ding this, who are just star­ting out?

Learn how to work hard, work long hours. Find something you love, and then excel at it. Above all else, learn how to create, learn how to invent. That’s your only hope, really.

Like I said, no more Autopilot.



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.



SO WHAT COMES AFTER ADVERTISING? The Gol­den Age of adver­ti­sing– the “Mad Men” era– star­ted about 50 years ago, with peo­ple like David Ogilvy, George Lois, Bill Bern­bach lea­ding the way, and shops like Wei­den & Ken­nedy, BBH, Fallon, BMP, GGT, CDP and Goodby follo­wing in their wake.

This gol­den age came to an abrupt end, when our friend the Inter­net came along, with a lot of peo­ple on Madi­son Ave­nue sud­denly star­ting to fear for their jobs.

So if tra­di­tio­nal adver­ti­sing is “dead”, what comes after it? That’s a ques­tion I’ve been asking myself for the last ten years, ever since I launched gaping­void back in 2001.

Though I wasn’t paying too much atten­tion at the time, the ans­wer kinda-sorta came to me back in 2004, in a line I wrote in The Hugh­train:

The har­dest part of a CEO’s job is sha­ring his enthu­siasm with his collea­gues, espe­cially when a lot of them are making one-fiftieth of what he is. Selling the com­pany to the gene­ral public is a piece of cake com­pa­red to selling it to the actual peo­ple who work for it. The future of adver­ti­sing is internal.

You can call it “Inter­nal Adver­ti­sing” if you want; I find that a bit old-school, frankly. I pre­fer the term “CULTURAL HACKING”- chan­ging your company’s for­tu­nes NOT by trying to directly change what the gene­ral public thinks of you, but by trying to change what YOU think of you.

Impro­ving the com­pany by impro­ving the cul­ture, by sub­ver­ting the cul­ture via coun­te­rin­tui­tive means. Exactly.

And yes, Cul­ture Hacking also dri­ves the Occupy Wall Street move­ment and AdBus­ters. Same idea, dif­fe­rent aims (And if you read Greil Mar­cus’ “Lips­tick Tra­ces”, you’ll learn that the same riff goes back to punk rock, 1950s French Mar­xism, early 20th-Century Dadaism, even back to the Middle Ages…].

The new busi­ness model will be the inter­sec­tion of the three follo­wing things: Pur­pose, Com­pany Cul­ture and Media.

i. Pur­pose: It’s the “Why” of what you do, it is not the pro­duct, it is the Purpose-Idea, as expres­sed by Mark Earls, or “The Why” as expres­sed by Simon Sinek.

ii. Com­pany Cul­ture is infor­med by “Pur­pose”, it is that actions that a busi­ness takes each and every day to remind peo­ple of their pur­pose. Pur­pose is a set of beliefs, and Cul­ture is the expres­sion of those beliefs in busi­ness (Action).

iii. Media: Adver­ti­sing, PR, ear­ned media, paid media, call it what you will. Once you have a “Pur­pose” and a com­pany “Cul­ture”, those two things inform all of your adver­ti­sing, PR, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, social inte­rac­tion and points of con­tact with the outside world. From your logo, to your ads, Social Media, How your pla­nes and trucks are pain­ted, etc. It all informs, rein­for­ces and feeds each other.

Cul­ture Hacking is why “Deli­ve­ring Hap­pi­ness” became an inter­na­tio­nal best seller. Cul­ture Hacking is why peo­ple flock to Nevada in dro­ves to take the Zap­pos tour. Cul­ture Hacking is why peo­ple will one day pay Jenn Lim and Tony Hsieh millions of dollars for the ser­vi­ces of the “Deli­ve­ring Hap­pi­ness” company.

This is also why Racks­pace, Intel, Hewlett Packard and Bab­son College hired us (gaping­void) to draw car­toons for them. This is why we pro­duce Cube Gre­na­des. This is why big PR firms like Weber Shand­wick or Edel­man, if they get it right, will steal millions of dollars’ worth of busi­ness AWAY from tra­di­tio­nal Madi­son Ave­nue agencies.

Cul­ture Hacking is all about crea­ting social objects. Exactly.

[One more time:] Stop was­ting your life in the tra­di­tio­nal advertising-era quick­sand. There’s a new game in town. Cul­ture Hacking is a multi-billion dollar industry, still in its infancy. Get in early if you can…

[Note: If you like what you see, please subscribe to my daily cartoon newsletter, thanks.]



Back when I was a kid and aspi­ring to be a pro­fes­sio­nal car­too­nist one day, I had this dread­ful fear han­ging over my head:

That the only way to become suc­cess­ful as a car­too­nist, was to go mains­tream. Cute and cuddly, warm and fuzzy. In the world of the big money car­too­ning, there was little room for “Edge”.

Check out the tra­di­tio­nal US Sun­day comics sec­tion of any news­pa­per, and you’ll see what I mean. Utter, cutey-pie dreck.

I just couldn’t see myself doing it. My stuff was just too “out there”, and when I tried to reign it in, it just made it worse.

Of course, that was before the Inter­net came along and chan­ged everything…

Any­body who courts the mains­tream deser­ves everything they get. There’s far more action in niches.

[Further Rea­ding: The Clue­train Mani­festo, Deli­ve­ring Hap­pi­ness, Crea­tive Age, Tri­bes, The Hugh­train and Lips­tick Tra­ces. All must-reads to bet­ter unders­tand this brave new world of ours. Plus my friends at Laughing Squid and PSFK always seem to have their fin­gers on the pulse…]



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 peo­ple KNOW that.

Lights Jerky is one of these. So is The Pizza Foun­da­tion, The Marfa Book Com­pany, Harry’s Bar, The Murphy Street Raspa Com­paany, Novak’s Bar­ber Shop, Tacos Del Norte,The French Gro­cer and The Saddle Club, just to name a few.

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…



Blogs are like ham­mers. They are tools for buil­ding stuff.

When you talk about buil­ding a house with a car­pen­ter, you don’t mind him tal­king about his ham­mer for a while.

Nobody minds indul­ging a crafts­man, within reason.

“This ham­mer is great for this,” he’ll gush. “This ham­mer is great for that…”

So you think yes, ham­mers are good things, and indeed his ham­mer looks like a par­ti­cu­larly fine example.

But even­tualy you’re going to inte­rrupt his joyous ode to ham­mers. After a cou­ple of minu­tes you’re going to abruptly change the subject:

“Cool. Now let’s talk about the ACTUAL HOUSE you’re going to build for me…”

And if the car­pen­ter is any good, he won’t have any pro­blem with that.



It’s not a bag gig, I suppose…

You have a suc­cess­ful blog, read by lots of peo­ple, where you dole out lots of advice on how to create a suc­cess­ful blog, read by lots of peo­ple. And you rake in the cash doing so.

i.e. You’re a “Guru”.

I’ve been there myself. I’ve sha­red TONS of my tricks of the trade over the years, which has indi­rectly hel­ped my bot­tom line no end… And I have to say, it’s a good fee­ling to think you’re actually hel­ping peo­ple in real and mea­ning­ful ways.

Sure, com­pa­red to how most peo­ple have to pay their bills, being a “guru” is not a bad gig, not a bad gig at all. And there’s some good ones out there, doing a splen­did job hel­ping peo­ple move their lives for­ward. No won­der why so many other peo­ple are also cha­sing after the very same gig, themselves.

But guru-dom has never sat well with me, somehow, no mat­ter how good it was for busi­ness. And for the lon­gest time I couldn’t quite put my fin­ger on it why that was.

Then recently I got tal­king to an old friend, some­body who spent a lot of time prac­ti­cing as an Eas­tern mys­tic, who stu­died under REAL gurus and knew all about guru­dom. The clo­set thing to a real Holy man that I ever had the pri­vi­lege of calling a friend.

Then one day he just gave it up com­ple­tely. Just totally stop­ped. As he explai­ned in his email:

I found enligh­ten­ment to be ove­rra­ted. It turns out that when this comes about, all of the Karma in your life comes due at once… both good and bad. I’ve had to pay the sufi mas­ter three times to get out of town and leave me alone.

Many groups, end up in a sycophan­tic embrace and I found that to be dis­tas­te­ful, be care­ful. Since we live so many lives, There is plenty of time for this state to take effect. I’d advise anyone to take it slow. Howe­ver, there are a few good ones out there, who really aren’t into all these she­na­ni­gans. At least that’s my experience.

Really believe that kno­wing the future crea­tes a boring life, no sur­pri­ses any more. Remote vie­wing opens one up to things that one would rather not know. Powers of hea­ling, brings all kinds of sick peo­ple around from all over the place and you end up trip­ping on them. Deci­ples, needy and clin­ging. More and more I think that it is all about gai­ning the abi­lity to hang in there and keep it together in the face of life’s shit-storms. I espe­cially like the abi­lity to make peo­ple laugh at the absur­dit­yof it all. You already have that power.


There is a big dif­fe­rence bet­ween being an influen­cer with a blog and being a guru. But the same kind of thing applies. I never tried it because I never really had anything mea­ning­ful to say. If I said it, then there always see­med to be a cer­tain “fals­ness” to it. The influen­cers have a can­no­ni­cal form, that requi­res tal­king more than lis­te­ning, and feig­ning lis­te­ning, which is taken as agree­ment, when maybe it’s not. Which is disho­nest. Cha­risma is a way of crap­ping on half the peo­ple you meet in such a subtle way, then they thank you for it.

Yep. That sums up a lot of my fee­lings. Something about the job-tile, “Guru” just kinda makes me queasy. I just don’t think I like the bag­gage, the “karma” that comes with it; I just don’t think I like the guru-nomics of it all.

I don’t want to write for DISCIPLES, I want to write for MY PEERS. There’s a dif­fe­rence, a BIG one.

i.e. I don’t want to write about how I can help ran­dom peo­ple do great work, I want to TRY to do great work myself, and CELEBRATE other peo­ple who are ALREADY doing it.

You don’t get suc­cess­ful because some enligh­te­ned being told you how. You get suc­cess­ful because somehow cir­cums­tan­ces for­ced you to ACTUALLY put your balls on the line. And this has always been the case.

But maybe I’m weird for thin­king that…



I remem­ber my first really big Inter­net “A-Ha!” moment like it was yesterday.

It was about a decade ago, just after the Dot­Com crash, around the same time I first heard about blogging.

I had just heard from somewhere that, one of the first big-time maga­zi­nes to launch exc­lu­si­vely online (that was still a big deal in those days) had blown through $60 million set­ting itself up, before the crash. Was it ever expec­ted to make back its inves­tors’ money? Of course not.

Sixty. Million.

Then I heard from somewhere that Arts & Let­ters Daily, a blog that appea­led to the same kind of rea­der as Salon, had been set up for a cou­ple of grand; I think $10K was the number.

Peo­ple would tell me at the time that yeah, of course Salon was more expen­sive. It had an office in San Fran­cisco and a big staff of pro­per jour­na­lists. It had all the overhead of con­ven­tio­nal maga­zi­nes, minus the paper and prin­ting press. A&L Daily was just an aggre­ga­tor blog that poin­ted to inte­res­ting bits and pie­ces across the web.

Yes, that was true, but as a ran­dom, semi-educated dude loo­king for a place that offe­red me something inte­res­ting to read on a regu­lar basis, I pre­fe­rred A&L Daily to Salon.

As far as I could see, A&L Daily was not only a bet­ter pro­duct, it was offe­ring its bet­ter pro­duct for ONE SIX-THOUSANDTH the cost of Salon. For 0.0166% the overheads.

The idea that media could now be viably made for not just pen­nies on the dollar, but MICRO-PENNIES, hit me like train. BAM!

So I star­ted blog­ging. The rest is history.

Ten years later, my only dis­con­nect would be, with this ama­zing oppor­tu­nity that hyper-cheap media offers us, why are so many of us squan­de­ring it?

While others Twit­ter or Face­book or Fours­quare for hours on end about what hips­ter food truck they’ve just been to or what dumb TV show they just watched, my young car­too­nist friend, Aus­tin Kleon is using social media to trans­form his life and career (and the lives and careers of others).

This is a totally dif­fe­rent lea­gue of Inter­net use I’m tal­king about. And Aus­tin is just one exam­ple. So am I. So is John T Unger or Willo O’Brien of Willo­toons fame. I could give hun­dreds of others.

The Inter­net has given you a HUGE, life-changing oppor­tu­nity that simply didn’t exist a gene­ra­tion ago. Don’t waste it. A life just sur­fing the net for hipster-friendly dum­bass stuff is no less a waste of a life than sit­ting in front of the television.

The way to use the Inter­net is to be more like Aus­tin or Willo or John. Use it seriously.



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.]



Why are some peo­ple such drama queens?

Why do some peo­ple get so obses­sed with the little stuff, the gos­sip, who said what to who, who’s slee­ping with who, who’s no lon­ger slee­ping with who…?

The short ans­wer: Because it gives them something to do.

Life is short. You’d think we would have lear­ned by now, how to make bet­ter use of our VERY limi­ted time here on Earth.

Appa­rently not…



The Inter­net chan­ged my life. Totally, utterly trans­for­med it. Of course it did. In a very short period of time. A cou­ple of years, tops.

And then there’s also my Internet-famous rocks­tar friends: Those who, simi­lar to myself, somehow mana­ged to create these inte­res­ting, web-enabled, pros­pe­rous, func­tio­ning little online micro-empires of their own. Inter­net mavens like Robert Sco­ble, Doc Searls, Mike Arring­ton, Seth Godin, Brian Clark, Sonia Simone, Loic Le Meur etc etc.

If you read gaping­void, chan­ces are you know what I’m tal­king about. You’re pro­bably one your­self, or if you’re not, you’re pro­bably aspi­ring to be more like that. At the very least, you’ll pro­bably have a few friends like that.

In other words, this “Internet-Transformed Life” is not something alien to you. You GET it. It’s around you all the time.

And heck, even of you’re not one of these so-called rocks­tar folk, your life has still been trans­for­med utterly, whether you’re aware of it or not. You may not be “Internet-famous”, but try ima­gi­ning your life without it. Try going a year without Face­book or Goo­gle or Twit­ter or even even email and Inter­net access. Ima­gine going without it while still hol­ding down your current job and get­ting your bills paid.

I’m gues­sing that would be difficult.

It cer­tainly would be impos­si­ble for me. I don’t even want to think about it.

Hey, guess what? This state of affairs is per­ma­nent. It’s never NOT going to be trans­for­ma­tive, it’s never NOT going to be chan­ging everything and utterly cen­tral to ful­fi­lling your needs. Cer­tainly not in our lifetimes.

The Inter­net is here to stay, and it’s cons­tantly re-inventing itself, and the world that surrounds it.

And yet we still take it for gran­ted, even after all it’s done for us. It’s only been avai­la­ble en masse for little over a decade and already it’s no big deal. Twit­ter and Face­book? Dude! That’s so 2007!

It’s a mis­take to think like that. So blog­ging is past-tense. Same with Face­book or Twit­ter. Who cares? The Inter­net is SO MUCH BIGGER and long-term than any of that. That’s like com­pa­ring a bottle of Perrier with the Paci­fic Ocean.

If the Inter­net doesn’t seem new and fresh to you, you’re doing something wrong, end of story. You are basi­cally extinct, end of story.

That’s my advice to any adult, regard­less of age, class, race, natio­na­lity or gender.

Keep it new. Keep it fresh. By any means necessary.



Peo­ple think that blog­ging has chan­ged a lot in the last few years, far from the heady early blog­ging days of 2000?–?2005 etc etc.

Hmmm. Maybe. Cer­tainly having things like Twit­ter and Face­book make it easier for peo­ple to nat­ter to each other without having to write con­ti­nual blog posts first… the lat­ter is cer­tainly time con­su­ming, and peo­ple are already way too busy.

Actually, the busi­ness model for gaping­void hasn’t chan­ged very much over time. I can only handle so many pro­jects at one time– a dozen at the most. So as a way of gene­ra­ting busi­ness, I only need enough rea­ders to attract one new pos­si­ble colla­bo­ra­tor every so often.

Which works out to be how much? Maybe one out of ten thou­sand rea­ders. Or something.

Wha­te­ver the final num­bers might be, com­pa­red to the ad-driven blogs like Gaw­ker or Techc­runch, they’re rela­ti­vely small ones. And Thank God for that, “Audience” is a bitch.

And then there is the fun of dra­wing and pos­ting car­toons on the blog. In busi­ness terms, that really can’t be mea­su­red. All that can do is create good karma. But I enjoy it immen­sely so what the hell… same is true for the daily news­let­ter car­toons.

I keep hea­ring the same com­plaint a lot these days. That blog­ging isn’t as much fun or as inte­res­ting as it used to be. It used to be sub­ver­sive. It used to be cut­ting edge. Now it’s mains­tream and boring. That kinda thing.

To my jaded vete­ran blog­ger friends: Get over your­sel­ves. Blog­ging hasn’t chan­ged, you have. What’s hap­pe­ning on the Inter­net isn’t impor­tant; What’s impor­tant is that the world knows how you intend to change it. Right here. Right now.

Same as it ever was…



Every­body wants to be on the win­ning team.

To to paraph­rase Bob Dylan, some peo­ple don’t care what team they’re on, so long as they’re winning.

People who like winning more than they like the actual playing. I’ve been around those peo­ple all my life. Most were for­got­ten, by me and every­body else.

Some peo­ple don’t mind if they win or lose, as long as they don’t get hurt.

Some peo­ple don’t mind losing, so long as they get to play the game they want to play.

And then there’s the peo­ple who want to win, and win big, but ONLY if they somehow manage to improve the game overall.

Not just raise THEIR game, but raise THE game alto­gether. Even if when they’re losing, they seem to manage it.

Those peo­ple have the most fun. They’re also the most fun to play with.

And they also seem to win the most, over time.

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 3.00.02 PM
[Diary entry, May 2008]


Though I started doing my “Cartoons drawn on the back of business cards” in December, 1997, it took me a few months to really get into it… as this photo from my old 1998 diary shows.

At first, I thought I should just do a few dozen of them for kicks and giggles, then move on to something else.

That I’d still be doing them 15 years later, didn’t even cross my tiny little mind.

But then it took on a life of its own. Its meaning, purpose and scope snowballed slowly over time.

The lesson here is, be careful of seeking out “The Big Moments” on purpose. Because when the big moments actually happen, they don’t seem very big at the time (like the one in the May, 2008 diary entry above). And too many moments that seem big at the time, often end up going nowhere (“The Failed Superbowl Ad Graveyard” is full of those).

Of course, the more you love your work, the less you need (or want) the “Big Moments” to sustain you. What you really end up needing (and wanting)is just to wake up fresh every morning, and get busy without a lot of fuss.

“Simple. Easy. Happy. Boring.” Exactly.

[So far I’ve drawn over 10,000 of the business card cartoons. You can see the latest ones on my Tumblr page etc.]



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

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.

Leaving only time for the important “Stuff”…



I remem­ber the day, back in the early 1990s, when I first came across the great busi­ness wri­ter, Tom Peters. Most TV shows are for­got­ten within hours of watching, but this one still stays with me, two deca­des later.

Tom was doing a PBS pro­gram on the Mit­tels­tand, those ama­zingly plucky, medium-sized Ger­man com­pa­nies that somehow manage to com­pete suc­cess­fully on a glo­bal level, in spite of their rela­ti­vely small size.

Tom was inter­vie­wing Horst Brandstät­ter, the owner and CEO of Play­mo­bil, the famous Ger­man toy company.

And this is the part I REALLY remem­ber– to paraphrase:

TOM: Hmmm… These Play­mo­bil toys of yours… they do ama­zingly well, all over the world. So what’s their sec­ret? What do they do that’s so interesting?

HORST: It’s not what the toy does that’s inte­res­ting. It’s what the child does with the toy that’s interesting.

BOOM! A moment of cla­rity. One that sticks with me, like I said, twenty years later.

When I was doing that car­toon work for Intel last month– “A pro­ces­sor is an expres­sion of human poten­tial”, I was still thin­king about what Horst had said, all those years ago. Very much so.

What Horst said is true, whether you’re run­ning a small mom n’ pop cheese empo­rium in Green­wich Village, or a mul­ti­bi­llion titan like Intel: To borrow hea­vily from Kathy Sie­rra, the pro­duct doesn’t get to be kick-ass until the user kicks ass first.

Don’t talk about your­self. Talk about something else. Aim for something higher. Talk about the user. Remem­ber Play­mo­bil. Never for­get the child pla­ying with it.

I know I like to yack on end­lessly about “It’s all about human poten­tial.” I know its cliche, but then again, I’m not wrong, either. This is why we exist. To find out.

Thanks, Tom…



Karma is spiritual. But it’s also emotional and physical. Be careful about what you let into your body, into your brain, into your heart.


[This is my bliss- Drawing cartoons on the backs of business cards.]


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:


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 car­toons just for the heck of it. I hope people will like them, but I’m fine if they 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.



It’s a very sad and poignant story that’s already been all over the Internet
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?
Only you can answer that.



Long before I acqui­red even the fain­test inte­rest in modern art, I was down visi­ting my dad in Hous­ton, han­ging out with a college buddy, Andrew. We were both about twenty at the time.

Loo­king for something to do, Andrew sug­ges­ted we should go see the Rothko Cha­pel, and so we did. I had never heard of either Rothko or the cha­pel before.

When we got there, all I saw were these big, dark, blank can­va­ses, not unlike the mono­lith in Kubrick’s “2001”.

I didn’t get it, frankly… I wal­ked out, unim­pres­sed. Some big, black rec­tan­gles. Any half decent house pain­ter could’ve made those. So what?

But the visit sta­yed with me, somehow. For rea­sons I couldn’t explain, for weeks after­wards I couldn’t get the Rothko’s out of my head. The pain­tings struck a nerve, one that I didn’t even know I had.

Nearly three deca­des later, I think I now know why. By pain­ting these big, black mons­ter pain­tings, Rothko was trying to get the vie­wer to “gape into the void”. He wan­ted us to con­tem­plate “The Mys­tery”, the awe­so­me­ness (good or bad) that is Crea­tion, that is the Divine, that is the Universe.

Deca­des later, I rea­lize that all art– the good stuff, any­way– is trying to get us to do the same thing: Unders­tand the immen­sity of exis­tence, wha­te­ver that might mean.

Do you have to be reli­gious to do that? Of course not. No mat­ter what you believe, call it either God or The Void or the Phy­si­cal Uni­verse or something else alto­gether, the immen­sity is still there. What Wer­ner Her­zog calls the “Ecs­tas­tic Truth” is still there.

And it’ll always be a mys­tery; your exis­tence in it will also remain a mys­tery, no mat­ter what the cle­ver folk in the TED videos may tell you.

So I wrote that line down, “All Art Is Reli­gious Art”.

All art is trying to be a con­duit… of Ecs­ta­tic Truth.

You don’t have to agree with me, but the older I get, the more I believe it myself, the more I want to live like it IS true.

And we are here. And it’s immense. And it’s a mys­tery. And…

And maybe it applies to stuff other than “Art”? Like maybe some of the stuff you do, to make a living, perhaps?

Maybe what you do for a living is more mea­ning­ful than it sounds.

Just askin’…




[Note: If you like what you see, please subscribe to my daily cartoon newsletter, thanks.]

[This is a work in progress, a brain-dump of sorts; it is by no means finished, BY NO MEANS definitive… More later.]

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Hugh MacLeod is a genius.  Genius.

Seth Godin
Best Selling Author

His work acknowledges the absurdity of workaday life, while also encouraging employees to respond with passion, creativity, and non-conformity...   MacLeod’s work is undeniably an improvement over the office schlock of yore. At its best, it’s more honest, and more cognizant of the entrepreneurial psyche, while still retaining some idealism.

The New Republic
Lydia Depillis

Last year my State of the College address was 76 slides loaded with data. This year it was 14 cartoons that were substantially more memorable.

Len Schlesinger
Former President, Babson College

"There are only two daily newsletters that I look forward to opening and reading every time they show up to my inbox: Seth Godin's and gapingvoid."

Tony Hsieh
CEO, Zappos

In moments of indecision I glance at the wall [to Hugh's work] for guidance.

Brian Clark
  • Seth Godin
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