Shipping Creative Work

The Practice: Shipping Creative Work by Seth Godin, 2020

Another great book by Seth. Consistent practice yields results no matter how slow it is.

6 Mar 2021

The practice is not the means to the output, the practice is the output, because the practice is all we can control.

The practice demands that we approach our process with commitment. It acknowledges that creativity is not an event, it’s simply what we do, whether or not we’re in the mood.

This practice is available to us—not as a quick substitute, a recipe that’s guaranteed to return results, but as a practice. It is a persistent, stepwise approach that we pursue for its own sake and not because we want anything guaranteed in return.

For the important work, the instructions are always insufficient. For the work we’d like to do, the reward comes from the fact that there is no guarantee, that the path isn’t well lit, that we cannot possibly be sure it’s going to work.

Art is the generous act of making things better by doing something that might not work.

If we believe that it’s not our turn, that we’re not talented enough, we’ll do whatever we can to make that story true. We’ll sit back and wait to be chosen instead.

Once you decide to trust your self, you will have found your passion. You’re not born with it, and you don’t have just one passion. It’s not domain-specific: it’s a choice. Our passion is simply the work we’ve trusted ourselves to do.

Only after we do the difficult work does it become our calling. Only after we trust the process does it become our passion. “Do what you love” is for amateurs. “Love what you do” is the mantra for professionals.

Lost in this obsession with outcome is the truth that outcomes are the results of process. Good processes, repeated over time, lead to good outcomes more often than lazy processes do.

Focusing solely on outcomes forces us to make choices that are banal, short-term, or selfish. It takes our focus away from the journey and encourages us to give up too early.

The practice of choosing creativity persists. It’s a commitment to a process, not simply the next outcome on the list. We do this work for a reason, but if we triangulate the work we do and focus only on the immediate outcome, our practice will fall apart.

Our commitment to the process is the only alternative to the lottery-mindset of hoping for the good luck of getting picked by the universe.

Forgive the repetition, but it’s here for a reason. A lifetime of brainwashing has taught us that work is about measurable results, that failure is fatal, and that we should be sure that the recipe is proven before we begin.

“You can’t really decide to paint a masterpiece. You just have to think hard, work hard, and try to make a painting that you care about. Then, if you’re lucky, your work will find an audience for whom it’s meaningful.” It might not be what we want to hear, but it’s true.

The practice has nothing at all to do with being sure the work is going to be successful. That’s a trap.

Hoarding Is Toxic Hoarding your voice is based on the false assumption that you need to conserve your insight and generosity or else you’ll run out of these qualities.

Hoarding your voice is based on the false assumption that you need to conserve your insight and generosity or else you’ll run out of these qualities. Hoarding is a way to hide from the fear of being insufficient. Hoarding isolates you from the people who count on you and need you the most.

A scarcity mindset simply creates more scarcity, because you’re isolating yourself from the circle of people who can cheer you on and challenge you to produce more. Instead, we can adopt a mindset of abundance. We can choose to realize that creativity is contagious—if you and I are exchanging our best work, our best work gets better. Abundance multiplies. Scarcity subtracts. A vibrant culture creates more than it takes.

Choosing to offer only comfort undermines the work of the artist and the leader. Ultimately, it creates less impact and less hospitality as well.

Solvable problems are usually solved by surprising, non-trivial alternatives. If an obvious solution from an obvious source could have provided an answer, it would have happened already.

If enough peculiar people get together, something new is going to happen. Author Scott Page has shown that as systems get more complex, diversity creates ever more benefits.

We’re pushed to default to the “regular kind” even if that’s not going to solve our problem. Even if it’s unfair.

There are other ways to make an impact than enduring the grueling grind of stand-up, of course. Each of them requires finding a way to not hide. To say, “Here, I made this.” To trust yourself enough to ship the work. Of course, it might not work. That’s built into the process. Do it anyway. And then do it again. If you care enough, it’s worth doing as many times as it takes.

Generous doesn’t always mean saying yes to the urgent or failing to prioritize. Generous means choosing to focus on the change we seek to make.

Reassurance is simply a short-term effort to feel good about the likely outcome. Reassurance amplifies attachment. It shifts our focus from how we persistently and generously pursue the practice to how we maneuver to make sure that we’re successful. We focus on the fish, not the casting.

Reassurance is helpful for people who seek out certainty, but successful artists realize that certainty isn’t required. In fact, the quest for certainty undermines everything we set out to create.

If you are using outcomes that are out of your control as fuel for your work, it’s inevitable that you will burn out. Because it’s not fuel you can replenish, and it’s not fuel that burns without a residue.

The practice is agnostic about the outcome. The practice remains, regardless of the outcome.

Choose to commit to the journey, not to any particular engagement. Because you’re dancing on a frontier, it’s impossible that all of your work will resonate. That’s okay. Great work isn’t popular work; it’s simply work that was worth doing.

If you’re on a journey but it’s rarely causing a spark, you probably need to make better work. Braver work. Work with more empathy. Once you learn to see, you can learn to improve your craft. Combined with your commitment to the practice, it’s inevitable you’ll produce an impact. If you care enough.

Selling is simply a dance with possibility and empathy. It requires you to see the audience you’ve chosen to serve, then to bring them what they need. They might not realize it yet, but once you engage with them, either you’ll learn what’s not working in your craft or they’ll learn that you’ve created something that they’ve been waiting for, something that is filled with magic.

When we get really attached to how others will react to our work, we stop focusing on our work and begin to focus on controlling the outcome instead.

The practice requires you to seek out this experience of uncertainty, to place yourself in the room where you will create discomfort.

The time we spend worrying is actually time we’re spending trying to control something that is out of our control.

Go too far to please the audience and you become a hack. Lose your point of view, lose your reason for doing the work, become a hack. Focus only on the results, become a hack.

When we decide that the change we seek to make is dependent on mass popularity, when we chase a hit, we end up sacrificing our point of view.

The system established credentials to maintain the consistency of our industrial output, but over time, they’ve been expanded to create a roadblock, a way to slow down those who would seek to make change happen.

It’s hard to get blocked when you’re moving. Even if you’re not moving in the direction that you had in mind that morning.

Criticism reminds us of the outcomes, not the process. Criticism takes us out of our commitment to the process—this time, for some people, the work didn’t work.

Most criticism shared in the internet age is useless, or worse, harmful. It’s useless because it often personalizes the criticism to be about the creator, not the work. And it’s useless because most critics are unskilled and ungenerous.

True fans require idiosyncrasy. True fans are looking for something peculiar, because if all they wanted was the Top 40 or the regular kind, they could find it far more easily from someone who isn’t you.

If the practice you’ve developed isn’t getting you what you are after, you can politely walk away from it. If the audience you’ve worked so hard to build trust with is making it clear that your vision doesn’t match theirs, you can move on.

Desirable difficulty is the hard work of doing hard work. Setting ourselves up for things that cause a struggle, because we know that after the struggle, we’ll be at a new level.

If you need a guarantee of critical and market success every time you seek to create, you’ve found a great place to hide. If the need for critical and market success has trapped you into not being bold again, you’ve found another place to hide.

If you want to complain that you don’t have any good ideas, please show me all your bad ideas first. Befriending your bad ideas is a useful way forward. They’re not your enemy. They are essential steps on the path to better.

Negative criticism is easier to spread than positive feedback, most public criticism of our work is negative. On the other hand, people who are fairly satisfied say nothing.

It’s much more likely that we’ll succeed by overinvesting in just one or two skills. If we can do this without becoming a diva or sacrificing resilience, we have a chance to make a real contribution.

Skills are more easily available than ever before. Not only the easily tested ones, but the real skills that drive our contributions and our reputation.

We’re under short-term pressure to remove all identifying marks. But in fact, the work that stands the test of time and finds its audience is filled with identifying marks.

It would have been easy to lift the constraints, but the very tension the discomfort caused created the energy the band was looking for. And the record spent more than two years on the charts.

Your work is never going to be good enough (for everyone). But it’s already good enough (for someone).

Good ideas come from bad ideas, but only if there are enough of them.

Ideas hate conference rooms, particularly conference rooms where there is a history of criticism, personal attacks, or boredom.

Greed seems like a good idea until you discover that it eliminates all of your joy.