AUTHENTICITY IS THE NEW BULLSHIT 2016 (ROUGH DRAFT)

INTRODUCTION:

 

Here are the basics:

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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…

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

  1. 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?

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Fail like a child.

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

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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”.

Exactly…

  1. 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.]

 

  1. “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…

 

  1. “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.

Only con­nect.

Think about it.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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 res­ponsesome­ti­mes 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.

 

  1. 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.

  1. “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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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…

 

  1. 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…]

 

  1. 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:

 

  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.

 

  1. 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…

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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…

 

  1. 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.

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.

  1. 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.]

  1. 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.

Appa­rently not…

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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 20002005 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…

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

  1. Michael Dell foun­ding his com­pu­ter empire in his dorm room at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas.
  2. Ben & Jerry’s star­ted making ice cream in a con­ver­ted gas sta­tion in Vermont.
  3. 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.

  1. The Beat­les pla­ying those early gigs at The Cavern Club in Liverpool.
  2. The famous tech blog­ger, Robert Sco­ble tal­king about his job wor­king in a dis­count camera store, back when he was a kid.
  3. 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.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

Thanks, Tom…

….

….

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