The Icarus Deception, arguably the best book I’ve read in 2017, well the year is still early. Seth Godin drawing inspiration from the Greek legend of Icarus says “We’ve built a world where it’s possible to fly higher than ever, and the tragedy is that we’ve been seduced into believing that we ought to fly ever lower instead.” Here are some of the fascinating things I read from the book, I’m certain it will inspire you.
Art isn’t something that’s made by artists. Artists are people who make art.
Art is not a gene or a specific talent. Art is an attitude, culturally driven and available to anyone who chooses to adopt it. Art isn’t something sold in a gallery or performed on a stage. Art is the unique work of a human being, work that touches another. Most painters, it turns out, aren’t artists at all—they are safety-seeking copycats.
Most People Don’t Believe They Are Capable of Initiative
If It Doesn’t Ship, It’s Not Art
Initiating a project, a blog, a Wikipedia article, even a unique family journey. Initiating something particularly when you’re not putatively in charge. We avoid these acts because we’ve been trained to avoid them.
At the same time, almost all people believe they are capable of editing, giving feedback, or merely criticizing.
That means that finding people to fix your typos is easy. Finding someone to say “go” is almost impossible.
I don’t think the shortage of artists has much to do with the innate ability to create or initiate. I think it has to do with believing that it’s possible and acceptable for you to do it. We’ve had these doors open wide for only a decade or so, and most people have been brainwashed into believing that their job is to copyedit the world, not to design it.
Do you think we don’t need your art, or are you afraid to produce it?
You want the authority to create, to be noticed, and to make a difference? You’re waiting for permission to stand up and speak up and ship?
Sorry. There’s no authority left.
Oprah has left the building. She can’t choose you to be on her show because her show is gone.
YouTube wants you to have your own show now, but they’re not going to call you.
Dick Clark has left the building. He’s not going to be able to get you a record deal or a TV gig because he and his show are long gone. iTunes and a hundred other outlets want you to have your own gig, but they’re not going to call you, either.
Neither is Rodney Dangerfield or the head of programming at Comedy Central. Louis C.K. has famously proven that he doesn’t need the tyranny of the booker—he booked himself. Marc Maron didn’t wait to be cast on Saturday Night Live—he started his own podcast and earned a million listeners.
Our cultural instinct is to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission, authority, and safety that come from a publisher or a talk-show host or even a blogger who says, “I pick you.”
Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you—that Prince Charming has chosen another house in his search for Cinderella—then you can actually get to work.
The myth that the CEO is going to discover you and nurture you and ask you to join her for lunch is just that, a Hollywood myth.
Once you understand that there are problems waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound. The opportunity is not to have your résumé picked from the pile but to lead.
When we take responsibility and eagerly give credit, doors open. When we grab a microphone and speak up, we’re a step closer to doing the work we’re able to do.
Most of all, when we buckle down, confront the lizard brain, and ship our best work, we’re becoming the artists we are capable of becoming.
No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.
How much responsibility are you willing to take before it’s given to you?
The Typo Trap
Let me show you how pervasive the industrial mind-set is.
If I show you a political tract or a blog post or a remarkable new poduct with text that contains a typo, what’s your first reaction?
If all you can do is say, “You’re missing an r in the second paragraph,” you’ve abandoned your humanity in favor of becoming a spell checker.
Compliance over inspiration.
Sure, yes, please, let’s kill all the typos. But first, let’s make a difference.
Correct is fine, but it is better to be interesting.
You have no idea what you’re doing. If you did, you’d be an expert, not an artist.
Six Daily Habits for Artists
Sit alone; sit quietly.
Learn something new without any apparent practical benefit.
Ask individuals for bold feedback; ignore what you hear from the crowd. Spend time encouraging other artists.
Teach, with the intent of making change.
Ship something that you created.
The goal needs to shift. The opportunity is not in being momentarily popular with the anonymous masses. It’s in being missed when you’re gone, in doing work that matters to the tribe you choose
The Problem with Blaming the System
. . . is that we know the system is broken.
If you blame being late to the conference on the airline’s messing up your flights, we have no sympathy because that always happens.
If you blame your poor quarterly numbers on the declining power of television advertising, we cut you no slack because we see it dying all around us.
And if you blame your lack of job prospects on the tepid demand for hardworking, competent, but replaceable workers, you haven’t told us anything we didn’t already know.
Blaming the system is soothing because it lets you off the hook. But when the system is broken, we wonder why you were relying on the system in the first place.
Gambling with People
I had a gambling addiction with people’s opinions of me. When someone says, “I don’t like that guy,” I like to sit down and talk to him, and make sure he’s not misunderstanding me, and sometimes you can save it. So it only makes sense that I would scale that up to a million. And as soon as I’d get it back to even, I started making big bets again. What I didn’t realize was that one of the best things you can do is walk away. I’ve arrived at something that I wish I’d known a long time ago, which is that I have to let people not respect me.
—John Mayer, Rolling Stone, 2012
Engineering and Art
Engineering has a right answer. It is a consistent set of best practices and demonstrable proofs, repeated again and again until the answer is found.
Art has no right answer. Art can work, surely, and it can fail. Art involves the intent of the artist and the reception of the audience. And art involves an unpredictable leap.
It’s possible that you have an engineering problem. If you do, go solve it.
If you have an artistic challenge, though, quit looking for the right answer.
Plenty of engineering breakthroughs begin as artistic challenges. The artist sees what hasn’t been seen before or has the guts to start with a blank slate. After the artistic leap has been made, the engineers can dive in and optimize and productize the original insight. And yes, even if your job title is “engineer” or “direct-mail executive” or “letterpress operator,” it’s possible (and even an obligation) for you to be an artist, too.
You can risk being wrong or you can be boring.
No one ever gets talker’s block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say, and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down.
Why, then, is writer’s block endemic?
The reason we don’t get talker’s block is that we’re in the habit of talking without a lot of concern for whether or not our inane blather will come back to haunt us. Talk is cheap. Talk is ephemeral. Talk can be easily denied.
We talk poorly and then, eventually (or sometimes), we talk smart. We get better at talking precisely because we talk. We see what works and what doesn’t and, if we’re insightful, do more of what works. How can one get talker’s block after all this practice?
Writer’s block isn’t hard to cure.
Just write. Write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.
Everyone should learn to write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squidoo or Tumblr or a microblogging site. Use an alias if you like. Turn off comments, certainly—you don’t need more criticism; you need more writing.
Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). Tell us how to do something.
If you know you have to write something every single day, even a paragraph, you will improve your writing. The resistance, of course, would rather have you write nothing, not speak up in public, keep it under wraps.
If you’re concerned only with avoiding error, then not writing is not a problem, because zero is perfect and without defects. Shipping nothing is safe.
Fortunately, the second-best thing to zero is something better than bad. So if you know you have to write tomorrow, your brain will start working on something better than bad. And then you’ll inevitably redefine bad and tomorrow will be better than that. And on and on.
Write like you talk. Often.
On Good Taste
Ira Glass understands how you feel:
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. . . . And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. . . . It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.
I don’t believe in much, but I do believe in you.