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The Practice builds on Seth Godin’s Akimbo workshops. These workshops highlighted the importance of adopting the courage required to produce and share creative work. To Seth, creative work does not have to involve a paintbrush and easel. Instead, creative work is that which helps others. The Practice highlights the importance of consistency over authenticity. Consistency requires you to keep turning up over a sustained period but also stay consistent with your voice.
About Seth Godin
Seth Godin is an American author and former ‘dot com’ business executive. Seth Godin is the author of over 18 books. Free Prize Inside won Forbes’ Business Book of the Year in 2004, while The Dip was a Business Week and New York Times bestseller. In 2018, Godin was inducted into the American Marketing Association’s Marketing Hall of Fame. He also runs a blog named in 2009, by Time, as one of the 25 best blogs.
“Shipping, because it doesn’t count if you don’t share it. Creative, because you’re not a cog in the system. You’re a creator, a problem solver, a generous leader who is making things better by producing a new way forward. Work, because it’s not a hobby. You might not get paid for it, not today, but you approach it as a professional. The muse is not the point, excuses are avoided, and the work is why you are here.” – Seth Godin
Defining Creative Work
“The proven truth about creativity: it’s the result of desire—the desire to find a new truth, solve an old problem, or serve someone else.” – Seth Godin
We Have Been Indoctrinated
Being a cog in the big industrial machine will not allow you to be creative. If your job does not involve a degree of creativity, you will eventually be replaced by a computer. Creative work never guarantees success but has the potential to make things better. Therefore, creative work is not specific to the arts. Plus, creative work will often be something you do even when you don’t feel like it.
Comparatively, most people in society have been encouraged to adopt simple and undemanding jobs where they know exactly what they are doing. Their chances of making mistakes are minimal, but so are their opportunities to be creative. Seth Godin offers the example of Avis. If you are working on their rent a car counter, there is little risk of you making a mistake. All you have to do is press seven buttons. Some people enjoy these jobs because they are just being told what to do, and they don’t have to think independently. However, the reality is we only crave these jobs because we have been indoctrinated.
We Crave Proximity to Creative Work
We prefer for others to take up the mantle of engaging with creative work while we become a mere cog within the system. Seth describes a study that supports this point. A study in New York asked thousands of 17-year-olds to choose between a selection of jobs. They could either pick to be a US senator, Supreme Court Justice, head of a Fortune 500 company, or assistant to a celebrity. The overwhelming winner was working as an assistant to a celebrity. The researchers concluded that this finding shows we crave creativity, but we flee from the risk associated with creative work. Working for a celebrity matches these cravings by allowing you to be near someone who is creative but without the corresponding risk.
We all dream of engaging with creative work. However, we currently struggle to incorporate it into our lives.
A Fear of Creative Work
“We have to trust ourselves and then we have to trust the people we serve.” – Seth Godin
One of our greatest fears is putting ourselves out there for others to judge. Subsequently, there are several instances of talented individuals working painstakingly on one piece of creative work their whole lives. They dedicate all this time to this creative work because they do not want to spread this work without it being perfect. Seth Godin argues this is a mistake. He offers the example of Isaac Asimov. Asimov was able to write and publish 400 books during his lifetime. Each of these books can be described as an act of creativity. Fundamentally, Asimov improved the world considerably more than if he had spent this lifetime on one book. The latter is characterized by personal torture and is driven by ego. Godin calls this creative work with a capital C. We need to stop glorifying this type of creative work and instead encourage people to incorporate creative work with a lowercase c into their lives. This type of creative work is primarily for the purpose of contribution.
Most Creative Work on the Internet Isn’t Creative Work
Technology and the internet have facilitated opportunities to learn new skills and express ourselves. However, Seth Godin highlights that the majority of work published on the internet is not creative work. 90% of Twitter is arguments, agreeing with someone, or copying content. The same is true for videos published on YouTube. Similarly, most content marketing is less about creativity and more about ticking off tasks on a checklist. Subsequently, people are not doing work they are proud of and are not doing anything extraordinary. They are doing the ordinary to get by. Alternatively, those who are doing the extraordinary are a tiny voice. They are the minority due to how scary it is to put yourself out there on the internet.
How to Find Your Own Voice
There are specific areas where you cannot find a unique voice. There are only a few natural laws, and they have already been discovered. Therefore, you cannot just go and invent a new natural law. Instead, the creative work you should be engaging with is whatever will be missed if you were to die. Essentially, the unique contribution that you can make to this planet. Despite this, Seth Godin does not believe that we actually have a voice. We are not naturally born with a voice and instead choose to adopt one. For example, Seth explains that being born in a completely different culture would have made his ‘voice’ entirely different. Instead of having a genetic predisposition for a voice, we interact with our environment to mold our role. Then, as we grow up, we engage with actions and see if they work. If they do work, we do them more. Hence, our role in the world starts to develop.
Once we have developed our role, we have to live up to this role. Seth Godin explains his job is to maintain a consistent version of himself, even if he does not feel like it. This is what Seth describes as our voice. Our voice is the role and persona we consistently adopt after years of testing and pivoting. Ideally, this voice will have a positive impact on the world.
Consistency Trumps Authenticity
Seth Godin challenges the common notion that authenticity is a positive characteristic. People fall back on authenticity when they try something, and it doesn’t work, or it is deemed offensive. For example, many individuals will defend an ill-informed opinion by claiming they were authentic to their truth. In reality, people are saying things to others in the hope it has a positive outcome. Therefore, when your actions do not produce a positive outcome, you should simply own it. Seth offers the example of surgeons. If a surgeon is struggling in their personal life, this does not excuse her from making a mistake. We want consistent surgery rather than authentic surgery.
On top of this, consistency is the key to effective creativity. Creativity is not a mystical characteristic, but the act of doing work with skill to make things better for other people. Seth points out that hobbies are still essential and do not require you to adopt a creative mindset. However, as soon as your actions are to impact other people, then your work is no longer a hobby. Godin argues that this work we are doing makes a promise to the audience, and we have to keep the promise of being consistent. We must also keep the promise of being persistent when we are offered opportunities. Seth uses the example of Bob Dylan to reinforce this point. Bob Dylan is still performing in front of millions of people a year. The only difference between him and another highly talented musician from the 1960s is that Bob Dylan kept showing up. He was consistent in his creative work. Part of this consistency involved continuing to present himself as the voice of Bob Dylan that people fell in love with.
How to Start Seeking Creative Work
Most of the time, you will not be highly talented in the area you want to engage with creatively. Therefore, Seth Godin recommends convening with people who are highly skilled in this area. This choice to engage with other talented individuals is a creative act in and of itself.
The Story of Esther Dyson
Seth Godin offers the example of Esther Dyson. He describes her as one of the most influential people in the history of tech. Seth met her in 1983, and in that year, she had a newsletter. This newsletter was written on blue paper, mailed to subscribers, and was eight pages long. This newsletter was built on Dyson’s decision to engage with talented people. Each newsletter introduced people she had met in tech who were launching innovative companies. The newsletter cost subscribers $3,000 a year. However, the newsletter became a hugely important tool for venture capitalists. Therefore, at her peak, she had 3,000 subscribers. Therefore, merely by talking fortnightly about the talented people she had met, Esther was earning nine million dollars a year.
Esther continued to buy into the voice she had established. She started elite conferences where she only invited those who were subscribed to the newsletter. At these conferences, she would have her favorite companies of the year present themselves to the audience. This conference offered significant value for both investors and entrepreneurs. Therefore, she was creating even more connections by remaining consistent with her voice. However, the most important outcome of these five years was that she now knew more about the future of tech than anybody else. She had hustled no one and had become so knowledgeable that she became a highly impactful angel investor.
The story of Esther Dyson shows you do not have to be born a genius to become a genius. Every successful individual gets there inch by inch. Hence, you have to commit to your choices and take generous action.
Branding Is Not Your Logo
Companies can have a logo without having developed a successful brand. The brand of your company is your core values. For example, you can imagine what a Nike owned hotel would be like. However, you cannot imagine what a small non-branded company’s sneaker company would look like. As individuals, we also have our own personal brand. Our personal brand is simply a promise or expectation of how we will act in different scenarios.
Taste Is Being a Little Ahead of Your Audience
Good taste is knowing what your audience wants three minutes before they do. If you know what they want 30 years before they do, then you will be ostracized. This is considered going too far. If you let your audience know three minutes after they do, no one cares. Hence, the act of good taste is knowing enough about the genre and your audience to be just far enough ahead. All you have to do is watch the cresting wave of the podcasting world to see what it means to be just a little bit ahead.
Comment below and let others know what you have learned or if you have any other thoughts.
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