AUTHENTICITY IS THE NEW BULLSHIT 2016 (ROUGH DRAFT)
Here are the basics:
- gapingvoid.com was launched back in May, 2001. This e-book has some of the things I’ve learned since then. Hopefully y’all will find it inspiring at best, useful at worst.
- The rule is, to download this book, first you have to subscribe to the gapingvoid newsletter. You can cancel the subscription any time after that. If you’re already subscribed, you just have to enter your email again and re-subscribe- don’t worry, you won’t be double-listed, you’ll be cross-referenced appropriately. Goes without saying: I won’t sell your e-mail address to anyone; you have my solemn oath.
iii. This book is a work in progress, IT’S NOT DONE YET. I expect to be adding to this book again and again, editing and over time, tweaking and re-tweaking it over time. I’ll let you know via the newsletter when new editions are available, I’m thinking, every couple of months. Who knows, maybe the book will grow and grow over the years, becoming this huge, unwieldy beast. Here’s hoping…
- I realize I probably could have published this book in a more conventional manner- hardback, paperback, Kindle etc- but I thought with the traditional publishing model in such a state of flux at the moment, now would be a good time to experiment with other forms.
- This book is dedicated to my favorite people- my newsletter subscribers. YOU are the ones who drive the gapingvoid engine along, more than anyone else. I am truly grateful for your support; I just sincerely hope this effort is worthy of your increasingly-valuable attention. Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Love and Godspeed!
-Hugh MacLeod, Miami Beach, 2012.
- We’re all connected.
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?
- The jobs waiting for me after I finished college, simply aren’t there anymore.
And yet the schools still act like they are. That’s partly the fault of the schools, sure, but it’s also party the fault of the parents.
- It’s not enough to be good at doing the work, you have to be good at creating your own platform.
If you think of your job as just a paycheck, and not as a platform, you’re doing something wrong.
- Own something.
When I was just starting out, I was just one more piece of paper in a tall stack of resumes. I didn’t have to present myself that way, I just assumed that was the done thing. That was an expensive mistake.
- Everybody is just as scared as you.
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.
- How to be successful: Find out what matters, find out who it also matters, then carry on.
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 stay relatively pure-of-heart.
- Food is medicine. So are people.
Karma is spiritual. But it’s also emotional and physical. Be careful about what you let into your body and your brain.
- It’s either a platform, or it’s something that will eventually drown you.
I loved my first job, working in a bar. Sure, it was low paid and noisy and stressful and all 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.
- Have one eye looking out, one eye looking in.
You have your inner life, you have your outer life. Art and religion meets business and science, whatever. Both need to be talking to each other in a constructive way, or your life will just end in failure.
- Be nice. Be helpful. The alternatives won’t make you happy.
“Nice guys finish last” might work 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.
- You were born to be happy.
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, probably something to do with your relationships.
- Fail like a child.
And keep on failing like a child. Until you die. Enough said.
- You must discover what your real joy is.
Nobody discovers what their real joy is right away. It’s an ongoing dialogue, even with super talented people.
- Small Art can be just as powerful as Big Art.
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.
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.
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”.
- We are ready for the third age of education: The Creative Age.
A lot of people worldwide are relying on America not becoming, like I said, a second-rate nation. Even some of the people who don’t particularly like America.
And how is that going to happen, exactly? How are we going to remain at the top of our game, or at least, make a damn good show of it?
The same way we’ve always done it: by creating new, interesting products and ideas that people need, want, value and are inspired by.
To massively over-simplify, there were two main phases in the history of education, pre-industrial and industrial. The first meant only the clergy and the sons of the elite were properly educated. Then along comes the second, industrial phase, which meant universal education on a mass-scale, that emerges along with the “Age of Reason”, the industrial revolution and the whole modern era.
As Seth Godin famously likes to talk about, in this second, industrial phase, schools became little more than factories, churning out young people educated enough to work in bigger factories one day. Whether we’re talking blue collar or white collar, it didn’t matter, it’ still a factory job, basically. You’re still a cog in the factory machine, basically. This factory-model was perfect for when the factory was still the cornerstone of the industrial economy. A factory-centered model for a factory-centered world. This was true whether in elementary school in Iowa, or Harvard Business School in Cambridge, your reality was the factory because your career was the factory. Own the factory, work in the factory, live near the factory, become the factory. Factory, factory, factory…
And of course, this factory-centric model which worked fine for a hundred-plus years is now broken. We can no longer compete long-term that way. Just owning a factory doesn’t give us the same edge it used to, the same economic security, as anyone who’s ever tried competing lately in the global economy has been finding out.
A new model is needed.
WE ARE READY FOR THE THIRD AGE OF EDUCATION: THE CREATIVE AGE.
Personally, I had a pretty good formal education, where I learned the basics– reading, writing, math, a bit of science, history, languages and a wee smattering of the arts. I learned to study and pass tests. Like most students, I learned how to learn, basically. I leaned how to work in a foctory, basically.
I don’t think that’s enough anymore, as the THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS of under-employed and unemployed university graduates with good grades in Europe and America will testify. They passed all their tests fine, they all ticked off the right boxes… and yet, look at them now, poor things.
Kids in the future are simply not going to leave school with this big, bumper crop of plum jobs waiting for them to fill, not like they used to. In the future, kids will leave school and increasingly be expected to create their own viable realities.
Like David Gergen alluded to, these young adults will be expected not just to do the work, but expected to ACTUALLY invent something. Create something, not just obey orders, not just fulfill some sort of social role.
And somehow, we have to teach our schools how to teach our kids exactly that. It’s not going to be easy.
HOW DO YOU BEST PREPARE FOR THE CREATIVE AGE?
As I see it, there are basically two ways, at least if you go at it from a college-age, entrepreneurial, startup mentality. One is the more risky path advocated by my wonderfully lucid friend, Jason Calacanis, to forget college and instead, “Spend Your College Tuition on Being Mentored and Starting a Company.” That’s probably what I would have chosen for myself, nowadays. That, or apprenticing for a master at something, the way English tailors learn their craft, or how the advertising legend, Dave Trott used to hire kids right off the street in London and give theme a chance at writing ads (Hence the earlier Jiro/Mastery reference]. Learning on the job, as it were. The street-fighter’s approach. Tough, brutal, intense, but nonetheless a first-class education in the University of Life.
The second way is what I see Len Schesinger trying to do at Babson College.… shaking things up… evolving the idea of school (business school, anyway) as not just a place of learning, but also as a place of DOING.
Where. Stuff. Gets. Done.
In the real world. Here and now.
Where students don’t just learn about running businesses, but are expected to actually start running businesses and making them viable. All while still getting good grades. It’s a pretty intense curriculum, but hey, the best students seem to thrive at it.
Michael Dell’s company was started in a dorm room. Ditto with Mark Zuckerberg. Hey, my cartooning career was, too.
This is the idea of a college as not just a seat of learning, but an incubator, of sorts.These days, business schools like Babson aren’t just competing with Harvard or Wharton, they’re competing with Y Combinator and 500 Startups. The most talented kids in the country aren’t waiting around for the grownups in the ivory towers to get their act together. They’re already inventing their own futures; they’re in a hurry.
I don’t have all the answers. All I know is that it’s already happening. It’s already begun, the genie is already out of the bottle… and it’s damn exciting to watch.
[PS: This chapter only took me a short morning and a couple of hundred words to write. Ideally, it would’ve taken me a couple of years and enough words to fill an entire book. I’m sorry if it’s incomplete, I’m sorry if there are massive holes everywhere. It’s a vast minefield of a subject that’ll take the cleverest people in the land more than a few decades to work out fully. But like I inferred, it still damn exciting to think about. I just hope we’re all up for it.]
- “My work doesn’t belong in galleries, it belongs in offices…”
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…
- “Only Connect.”
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.
Think about it.
- Creativity comes after the fact.
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.
You can’t plan for creativity. You can only plan to do the work.
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.
- The Era of Career-On-Autopilot is over.
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.
- Find The Holy in everyday activity.
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.
- “Culture Hacking” is the next trillion-dollar industry.
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.
- 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.
- 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…
- Never go mainstream.
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…]
- People must treasure you.
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 phenomenal, 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:
- 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.
- 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 anywhere else. Nice local people working there and all, but nothing to write home about.
iii. 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.
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.
- Beware of Gurn-nomics
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 canonical 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…
- How to really use the Internet
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 Salon.com, 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.
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.
- Learn how to present.
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.]
- Avoid drama.
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.
- Keep it new. Keep it fresh.
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.
- To my jaded veteran blogger friends: Get over yourselves.
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…
- Winning is for losers.
Everybody wants to be on the winning team.
Some people don’t care what team they’re on, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, so long as they’re winning.
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.
- Get yourself a good 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.
iii. A very dated-looking photograph from 1978. Eleven young, goofy-looking techies. They turn out to be the founding members of Microsoft, including Bill Gates.
- Michael Dell founding his computer empire in his dorm room at the University of Texas.
- Ben & Jerry’s started making ice cream in a converted gas station in Vermont.
- The business guru, Tom Peters often writes about how his time as a young man serving in the US Navy helped evolve his now-famous worldview.
vii. Rock star physicists, Brian Cox talks passionately about the Big Bang Theory.
viii. How a despondent, burned-out, second-rate advertising copywriter FINALLY got his groove when he started drawing cartoons on the back of business cards.
- The Beatles playing those early gigs at The Cavern Club in Liverpool.
- The famous tech blogger, Robert Scoble talking about his job working in a discount camera store, back when he was a kid.
- 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.
xii. Abe Lincoln was born in a log cabin.
So… What do these all have in common?
They’re all Creation Myths. That’s right; just like The Garden of Eden.
We humans seem to need them, somehow. They manage to articulate who we really are, somehow. The help explain our core values, somehow.
And for whatever reason, REALLY successful people are even more likely to have them, even more likely to need them, somehow.
Does your schtick have a good creation myth? If not, maybe it needs one?
Think about it.
- Follow your bliss.
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.
- The product doesn’t get to kick ass until the user kicks ass, first.
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.
[This is a work in progress, a brain-dump of sorts; it is by no means finished, BY NO MEANS definitive… More later.]