Book — The War of Art

Showing Up

It is not a matter of “how much” I produced or “how good” is the outcome as long as the focus remains on the long term. The craftsman — the pro — is the one that shows up everyday.

He persists and devotes himself to the craft.

How many pages have I produced? I don't care. Are they any good? I don't even think about it. All that matters is I've put in my time and hit it with all I've got. All that counts is that, for this day, for this session, I have overcome Resistance.

The truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.

Do I really believe that my work is crucial to the planet's survival? Of course not. But it's as important to me as catching that mouse is to the hawk circling outside my window. He's hungry. He needs a kill. So do I.

Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. "I write only when inspiration strikes," he replied. "Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp." That's a pro.

The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.

Friends sometimes ask, "Don't you get lonely sitting by yourself all day?" At first it seemed odd to hear myself answer No. Then I realized that I was not alone; I was in the book; I was with the characters. I was with my Self.

Resistance

It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

Some things about Resistance

  • It is the space between our life and the the unlived life within us.
  • Derives from any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity.
  • It will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work.
    • It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean.
    • It cannot be reasoned with. It understands nothing but power.
    • It is an engine of destruction, programmed from the factory to prevent us from doing our work.
  • Resistance is fear. But it is too cunning to show itself naked in this form, then it brings in Rationalization.
    • A series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work.
  • The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it. Therefore, the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
  • It aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us.
  • Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it.

This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.

What does Resistance feel like?

First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We're bored, we're restless. We can't get no satisfaction. There's guilt but we can't put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We're disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves.

Trouble, critics and self-made conditions

The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she knows trouble prevents her from doing her work. The working artist banishes from her world all sources of trouble.

Trouble is a faux form of fame or attention. It's easier to get busted in the bedroom with the faculty chairman's wife than it is to finish that dissertation on the metaphysics of motley in the novellas of Joseph Conrad.

Entire families participate unconsciously in a culture of self-dramatization. […] Dad gets drunk, Mom gets sick, Janie shows up for church with an Oakland Raiders tattoo. It's more fun than a movie. And it works: Nobody gets a damn thing done.

If you find yourself criticizing other people, you're probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.

How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don't do that thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to? Resistance defeats us.

The acquisition of a condition lends significance to one's existence. An illness, a cross to bear. Some people go from condition to condition; they cure one, and another pops up to take its place. The condition becomes a work of art in itself, a shadow version of the real creative act the victim is avoiding by expending so much care cultivating his condition.

When we drug ourselves to blot out our soul's call, we are being good Americans and exemplary consumers. We're doing exactly what TV commercials and pop materialist culture have been brainwashing us to do from birth. Instead of applying self-knowledge, self-discipline, delayed gratification and hard work, we simply consume a product.

Artists and fundamentalists

Who am I? Why am I here? They're not easy because the human being isn't wired to function as an individual. We're wired tribally, to act as part of a group. Our psyches are programmed by millions of years of hunter-gatherer evolution. We know what the clan is; we know how to fit into the band and the tribe. What we don't know is how to be alone. We don't know how to be free individuals.

The artist and the fundamentalist both confront the same issue, the mystery of their existence as individuals, but fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive.

The artist is the advanced model. His culture possesses affluence, stability, enough excess of resource to permit the luxury of self-examination. The artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it. […] He believes in progress and evolution.

The fundamentalist entertains no such notion. In his view, humanity has fallen from a higher state. The truth is not out there awaiting revelation; it has already been revealed. The word of God has been spoken and recorded by His prophet, be he Jesus, Muhammad, or Karl Marx.

His creativity is inverted. He creates destruction.

The fundamentalist cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to basics. To fundamentals.

Pro

The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell: a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.

  1. Shows up every day.
  2. Shows up no matter what.
  3. Stays on the job all day.
  4. Commits over the long haul.
  5. Stakes for him are high and real.
  6. Accepts remuneration for labor.
  7. Does not overidentify with his jobs.
  8. Masters the technique of the job.
  9. Has a sense of humor about his jobs.
  10. Receives praise or blame in the real world.

Knows how to be miserable. This is a great asset because it's human, the proper role for a mortal. It does not offend the gods, but elicits their intercession.

The professional understands delayed gratification. He is the ant, not the grasshopper; the tortoise, not the hare.

Gives an ear to criticism, seeking to learn and grow. But she never forgets that Resistance is using criticism against her on a far more diabolical level.

The professional conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.

The pro concentrates on technique. The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods.

The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them.

The professional cannot allow the actions of others to define his reality. Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working.

The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.

Muse

We can't be anything we want to be. We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we're stuck with it. Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

[it is our calling, you owe it not just to you, but to the world] If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don't do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

[working territorially] I trusted what I wanted, not what I thought would work. I did what I myself thought was interesting, and left its reception to the gods. The artist can't do his work hierarchically. He has to work territorially.

Book — Anything You Want

If you think your life’s purpose needs to hit you like a lightning bolt, you’ll overlook the little day-to-day things that fascinate you. If you think revolution needs to feel like war, you’ll overlook the importance of simply serving people better.

It immediately reminded of Adam Robinson's framework to put fun, enthusiasm and delight in everything you do:

  • Connect with everyone you encounter, make an effort to make a connection.
  • Create fun and delight and approach each person with enthusiasm.
  • Lean into each moment or encounter expecting magic.

As Adam puts it: "none of them have anything to do with “you”. Fun, enthusiasm and delight is for the other person. You are there to delight the other person, not to get the job or the date. This gives you infinite power, because you want nothing and you are offering everything."

Because you are in total control of these three things, this is a game you can't lose.

It also resonates with Delivering Happiness and draws a similar lesson: "I believe that there’s something interesting about anyone and everyone — you just have to figure out what that something is."

We’ve all heard about the importance of persistence. But I had misunderstood. Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently doing what’s not working.

Being efficient is not the same thing as being effective, kind of a Tim Ferriss mantra. You could be as efficient as you want, but yet performing an unimportant task. Being effective is what matters, prioritizing things that are important over the ones that are not.

It’s a big world. You can loudly leave out 99 percent of it. Have the confidence to know that when your target 1 percent hears you excluding the other 99 percent, the people in that 1 percent will come to you because you’ve shown how much you value them.

The Internet has created a world where percentages don't matter anymore. Is the Ben Thompson's theory of the Rainforest all over again: having a small fraction of a huge market is enough to thrive as a business. The Internet has unlocked infinite niches, and that of course makes owning a niche more difficult, but once is yours, you will have a sufficiently large market for your business to flourish.

Same reason why back in the 80s the Mac struggled in a PC dominated world: having a small percentage of the PC market was not enough to attract developers and create a sustainable ecosystem. The PC market was simply not large enough. But on the other hand iOS is today able to thrive with a small percentage of the mobile market, because the mobile market is times larger than the PC's ever was. Again, once you have a big enough market, percentages don't matter anymore.

More business related takeaways would be:

  • When you make a business, you get to make a little universe where you control all the laws. It becomes your utopia.
  • Ideas are worth nothing unless they are well executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.
  • Make every decision according to what’s best for your customers.
  • When it comes to grow your business, also think of the tiny details that really thrill people and make them tell all their friends about you.

When you want to learn how to do something yourself, most people won’t understand. They’ll assume the only reason we do anything is to get it done, and doing it yourself is not the most efficient way. But that’s forgetting about the joy of learning and doing. Yes, it may take longer. Yes, it may be inefficient. Yes, it may even cost you millions of dollars in lost opportunities because your business is growing slower because you’re insisting on doing something yourself. But the whole point of doing anything is because it makes you happy! That’s it! You might get bigger faster and make millions if you outsource everything to the experts. But what’s the point of getting bigger and making millions? To be happy, right?

The book is full of references correlating simplicity and happiness. There are a lot of great ideas, but they all gravitate around three main axis.

First, craft - learning and building - is an end in itself and what you ought to pursue in order to achieve happiness. To have something, on the other hand, is just the means. Again, Delivering Happiness draws a similar conclusion.

In the end, it’s about what you want to be, not what you want to have. To have something (a finished recording, a business, or millions of dollars) is the means, not the end. To be something (a good singer, a skilled entrepreneur, or just plain happy) is the real point. When you sign up to run a marathon, you don’t want a taxi to take you to the finish line.

Second, focus your time and energy on the things that make you happy. Seems obvious, but there are so many distractions and prejudgments around certain ideas that is easy to get trapped into a task - or life - you did not want to begin with.

I loved sitting alone and programming, writing, planning, and inventing—thinking of ideas and making them happen. This makes me happy, not business deals or management. So I found someone who liked doing business deals and put him in charge of all that.

And third, it rounds back to material possessions. There is an appropriate balance for everybody, but generally the less you own, the more freedom you will earn to focus on craft and stuff that makes you happy.

Material happiness is not long lasting happiness, but on top of that it adds an additional layer of complexity and you will be entitled to:

  • Store it, both mentally and physically.
  • Maintain it.
  • Worry if it breaks.
  • Sell it when it comes the time or you just get bored of it.

I live simply. I don’t own a house, a car, or even a TV. The less I own, the happier I am. The lack of stuff gives me the priceless freedom to live anywhere anytime.

Book — Delivering Happiness

I made a list of the happiest periods in my life, and I realized that none of them involved money. I realized that building stuff and being creative and inventive made me happy.

Money and happiness do not correlate linearly. Its relation looks to me like a logarithmic curve, where deltas in money at the very beginning have a huge impact on happiness — because they unlock fundamental and necessary things, such as food, health care or shelter. But as you move to the right, the curve flattens out and additional amounts of money do not have an impact on the overall happiness. At that point, happiness is entirely up to you and what do you want to make of it.

At the end of the book, there is an accurate framework to categorize the types of happiness, and I paraphrase here:

  • Pleasure: is about always chasing the next high. I like to refer to it as the “Rock Star” type of happiness because it’s great if you can have a constant inflow of stimuli, but it’s very hard to maintain unless you’re living the lifestyle of a rock star.
  • Passion: is also known as flow, where peak performance meets peak engagement, and time flies by. Research has shown that of the three types of happiness, this is the second longest lasting. Professional athletes sometimes refer to this state as “being in the zone.”
  • Higher Purpose: is about being part of something bigger than yourself that has meaning to you. Of the three types of happiness, this is the longest lasting.

One of the things that he found from his research was that great companies have a greater purpose and bigger vision beyond just making money or being number one in a market.

This last bullet is also a recurring theme during the book. The idea of "being part of something bigger than yourself", not only at a personal level, but it also can also be extrapolated at a company level.

Having a vision of a higher purpose means being about something bigger than whatever you are selling. It transcends mere profits and drives the whole organization towards a larger goal.

They were expensive lessons, but I guess what I ended up learning was that it’s a bad idea to invest in industries you don’t understand, in companies you don’t have any control or influence over, or in people you don’t know or trust.

I realized that the day-trading and investing I was doing weren’t really fulfilling. I didn’t feel like I was really building anything. It felt more like I was gambling, but with the odds stacked against me because I was investing money in things I didn’t understand.

Do not invest in business you do not understand. There are two main ideas merged together here:

  • Be curious and learn as much as you can. This should be a state of mind by default. It does not matter if you think of the subject as "useless" knowledge, there is no such thing. Everything is related and learning, in opposition of money, compounds and therefore, is exponential.
  • Do not get involved in things just because of money. Money does not have a soul and can't be considered an end in itself. Going back to the first quote: building stuff and being creative and inventive is what really gives life a meaning. Money is a powerful external driver, but it won't get you too far.

To me, connectedness—the number and depth of my relationships—was an important element of my happiness, and I was grateful for our tribe.

Connectedness, and feeling like part of a tribe makes people happy and creates a sense of fulfillment. Both are strong motivators. When a group of people feels connected, like a family, there is a strong sense of obligation to the whole team, to work harder and treat each other better.

Here there are several apparently unrelated, but deeply connected ideas floating around: happiness as a function of building stuff and being creative, getting money and material possessions out of the equation. Then the idea of vision or purpose larger than yourself, which in itself is related with the connectedness and this sense of tribe, empowered by the aforementioned vision.

Every interaction with anyone anywhere was an opportunity to gain additional perspective. [...] I believe that there’s something interesting about anyone and everyone—you just have to figure out what that something is.

Every interaction is an opportunity to learn something new. Each person is unique in some dimension, if you learn how to how to spot that uniqueness and exploit it, you will develop a super power and create an ubiquitous, always available supply of knowledge.

So the challenge to everyone is this: Make at least one improvement every week that makes Zappos better reflect our core values.

There are more references of compounding effects throughout the book, but this particular one is a really good framing of how small improvements can have a huge return over time.

I started thinking about all the things that I took for granted in life, and how much more I should appreciate the things I had.

A clear reference to the stoic negative visualization.

As unsexy and low-tech as it may sound, our belief is that the telephone is one of the best branding devices out there. You have the customer’s undivided attention for five to ten minutes, and if you get the interaction right, what we’ve found is that the customer remembers the experience for a very long time and tells his or her friends about it.

Usually you tend to look at a call center as a cost from an expense minimization lens, a necessary evil that comes from getting more customers. But this fresh perspective on the matter turns this assumption on its head and leverages it to delight the customer once she is on the line.

Hidden Gems

Business

  • Cutting marketing expenses and refocusing on customers who had already bought Zappos forced them to deliver a better customer service.
  • One of the biggest mistakes they made was to outsource on of their core competencies. A third party would never care about your customers as much as you would.
  • Do not try to chase the attention of the press. If you just focus on making sure that your product continually WOWs people, your will naturally create interesting stories as a by-product of delivering a great experience and eventually, the press will find out about it.

Company Culture

In the section about Core Values, you’ll read stories of how Zappos employees apply the same values outside the office. Without a separation of work and life, it’s remarkable how values can be exactly the same.

If you are passionate about something, you do not make any distinction between life and work, it becomes a continuum. You speak about it either during a dinner with friends or a meeting room. The context becomes unimportant.

Have the entire company celebrate great service. Tell stories of WOW experiences to everyone in the company. [...] Over time, as we focused more and more on our culture, we ultimately came to the realization that a company’s culture and a company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin.

Celebrating small wins and having employees telling stories - extremely powerful medium - creates an atmosphere of empowerment for the rest of the team.

Be Humble is probably the core value that ends up affecting our hiring decisions the most. There are a lot of experienced, smart, and talented people we interview that we know can make an immediate impact on our top or bottom line. But a lot of them are also really egotistical, so we end up not hiring them.

Sometimes "humble" is negatively associated with "poor" or "lack of resources". But the term "humility" actually comes from the Latin word humilitas, a noun related to the adjective humilis, which may be translated as "grounded" or "from the earth" which I think is a more accurate definition.

Others can copy our images, our shipping, and the overall look of our Web site, but they cannot copy our people, our culture, or our service. And they will not be able to evolve as fast as we can as long as embracing constant change is part of our culture.

Think of a moat, differentiation or competitive advantage not in the supply chain, not in a patent, but rather in the people, in the culture. Is a really powerful idea.

Leadership

At Zappos, we think it’s important for employees to grow both personally and professionally. It’s important to constantly challenge and stretch yourself, and not be stuck in a job where you don’t feel like you are growing or learning. We believe that inside every employee is more potential than even the employee himself/ herself realizes. Our goal is to help employees unlock that potential. But it has to be a joint effort: You have to want to challenge and stretch yourself in order for it to happen.

To build a great company, you have to pursue growth and learning. Continual growth should be a goal for your overall business and for all the people that are part of it.

The best leaders are those that lead by example and are both team followers as well as team leaders. We believe that in general, the best ideas and decisions are made from the bottom up, meaning by those on the front lines that are closest to the issues and/or the customers. The role of a manager is to remove obstacles and enable his/her direct reports to succeed. This means the best leaders are servant-leaders. They serve those they lead.

Lead by example and create the necessary conditions for others to thrive. Simon Sinek masters this idea: leadership is the practice of putting other people before ourselves in a regular basis.