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Icarus DeceptionFor a couple years now I’ve been following Chris Guillebeau and paying attention to the people that he follows. One of those is Seth Godin and when I saw that Chris was praising Seth’s new book, The Icarus Deception I knew I needed to pick it up. Interestingly, Will thought the same thing because he bought it the same day I was going to (luckily Amazon has that banner that indicates that something has been bought or we might have ended up with two copies). We both read it during January and had a few discussions about its contents.

While the book said a lot of what I already know from reading Chris, Seth and others, there were nuances that put a different spin on things. I quite enjoyed it, and I found myself noting many passages as I read. Sometimes it’s because they were key things that reinforced what I already knew. Sometimes they were a-ha moments for things I had not considered before.

I decided to share the notations here, both as a good way for me to keep them, and to share my thoughts on them.

“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 do to 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.” – page 19

This is painfully true. Think about how often someone says “I want to do x” and then they never do. Art, in the case of this book, doesn’t necessarily mean going out and painting, or writing, or dancing. It’s doing the thing(s) that enriches you, that can reach people and that have meaning. That could be writing a new piece of software, creating a foundation, crafting your dream job, baking cookies. To me “making art” means being yourself and creating the things you want to create. Of course it’s easy to sit back and not create, and simply tinker with what’s already out there in the world.

“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.'” – page 48

This starts way back in the earliest days of being in school. There are those who are picked first and those who are picked last. It’s important to have the courage to pick yourself and go after what you want and don’t less to the detractors. I’m up every morning ridiculously early to workout and write because I need that. Many think it’s a little crazy–why wouldn’t I want to sleep more??? Why would I want to go to bed so early so I can be up early??? But it is what I do because I know I’m at my best for these activities in the morning. It’s also what I need to do to get the writing done. I don’t necessarily write fast, but I write what I want and I get it shipped out as often as possible.

“When we humanize the person at the other end of the counter or the phone or the Internet, we grant them something precious–personhood. When we treat the people around us with dignity, we create an entirely different platform for the words we utter and the plans we make.” – page 56

In the age of everyone seemingly so busy and walking around with their face in their smartphones, it’s important to be engaged with other people. Even before I read this, I was making an effort to be engaging with the people at the other end of the counter in whatever situation I am in. In Starbucks, for example, I make it a point to engage with the person taking my order, the person ringing it up and the person giving me the cup. I know it’s how I’d want to be treated if I were the one offering the service. Sure it’s easy to not engage because we live in a world where we’re lead to believe that there’s always something that needs to be done, an email that needs to be read or a phone call to make. But it’s a lot more calming to the soul, and better for everyone overall, to take a few minutes and engage with a person rather than a device.

“It’s what we wrestle with every single day. … The willingness to take responsibility for caring enough to make a difference and to have a point of view.” – page 69

This is something I deal with all the time. Do I speak up, potentially giving myself more work or risking someone else’s feelings to point out something that needs to change? Or, do I keep quiet to maintain the status quo? It’s particularly tough if the status quo isn’t so great. Usually if I have something to say, I’ll say it. I’m not good at keeping quiet if I think something needs to be said–but my brain can certainly scream about it, or at least make me pause before I leap into the void.

“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.” – page 81

It’s the [title of show] principal–“I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing than one hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.” Reaching a niche audience is easy to do. What’s not easy is creating the work that engages with the niche and to sustain that engagement. The opportunity is there though and it’s up to the individual to figure out how to make the engagement work. If the work’s is engaging enough, the audience will grow. Seth points out that the first Harry Potter book initially had a niche audience and the word of mouth turned it into the mass market success that it was. Luckily J.K. Rowling stayed true to her vision and her initially small niche grew into a huge one. I certainly would like a Harry Potter-sized audience, but if I can get one that likes and is moved by my work that will be high satisfaction for me.

“We continue to fly too low. We’re so afraid of demonstrating hubris, so afraid of the shame of being told we flew too high, so paralyzed by the fear that we won’t fit in, that we buy into the propaganda and don’t do what we’re capable of.” – page 90

This ties back to the first quote… you’ve got to have the guts (or the hubris) to create whatever it is you want/need to create. That’s true no matter what your endeavour is. There’s nothing wrong with flying high. You may fail sometimes, but then you’ll learn something and fly better next time. And, yes, I think flying high is also being true to yourself, so I put something like coming out or telling someone you’ve got a crush on them into this category too. That’s as much putting yourself out there as making art is.

“Love is a commitment to a person, not to that person’s behavior.” – page 95

This line simply speaks for itself.

“An unheard symphony isn’t a symphony; it’s notes on paper. Art doesn’t become art until it meets an audience. Your goal as an artist is to make art that moves the audience of your choice.” – page 128

I face this currently as I have a mostly finished novel on my computer and I’m striving to make it as near perfect as possible before it is sent into the world (that’s another issue–trying to know when it’s perfect enough). It’s had an audience of some half-dozen who’ve been helping me revise it. But it won’t be art of any kind until it’s actually available for anyone to read. It’s a slow process making art (at least it is for me), but my hope is that indeed does move people once it’s out there. I’ll take all my learning from that project–good and bad–and roll them into whatever the next one is.

“With our true friends… we talk about our hopes and our dreams and our fears. We let down our guard, set aside our armor, and open ourselves up. We’re vulnerable and trusting and willing to speak (and to hear) the truth.” – page 129

This is another brilliant quote. It’s important to have these people who you can open up to. It’s connections like this that can be scary to have, but they are invaluable when they are there. In the age of Facebook, where it’s easy to have hundreds and thousands of friends, it’s important to understand who the true friends are who support you and who you support.

“Part of our heard work is to shun the nonbelievers and to focus on the audience of your choice. The mass marketers and the industrialists need everyone. You don’t. You merely need to matter to a few.” – page 141

This is the hardest part I think. It’s easy to take all the input you’re getting and try to digest all of it, and even more so to take it personally. What comes from true detractors needs to be ignored. Whether it’s some one trying to discourage a volunteer effort or your latest idea at the office or a reviewer who rips on your latest writing. You do need to recognize constructive criticism, but the detractors, while they likely can’t be silenced, they do not need your time.

“You need the good taste to see your own work for what it is, and you earn that taste not only be emulating those who made art before you but by failing, by repeatedly discovering what works and what doesn’t.” – page 153

Good advice, but so hard to do. I work at this all the time and it never seems to get easier. Nor is it easy to stop second guessing your work when putting it against the work of those you admire.

“The fact that people are artist in only one part of their lives is more proof that art isn’t something you’re born with. Art is an effort, an opportunity to devote enormous emotion and energy in a specific direction. It means that you care, not that you’re a loner or a loon.” – page 163

Definitely words to remember no matter what your art of choice is.

“‘What did you do and why did you do it?’ These questions matter more than ‘Did the critics like it?'” – page 167

This links back to the quote on nonbelievers. It’s easy to give too much credit to the critics. I try to focus on the enjoyment I get from creating–it can be hard work, but I do enjoy most of the “art” endevours i take on. Most importantly I strife to create things that are important to me.

“The meeting is a temporary collection of people waiting for someone to take responsibility so everyone else can go back to work.” – page 173

I have found this to be true of 40 to 50% of the meetings I’ve attended in my work life. They’re not all bad. Some of them are great for planning and creation, but way too many are rather useless. Luckily where most of my art is concerned I only have to have meetings with myself. Sure I try to create art at work, but I try to keep meetings about that to a minimum too.

“We’re all masses sometime. We’re part of the masses when we don’t appreciate nuance, when we merely want what is good enough, when price matters more than impact. The explosion of niches, of diverse tastes amplified, of weirdness, means that the masses are easier to ignore now.” – page 179

I relate this to the Broadway show Mamma Mia. It was created to get people to fork over cash to hear ABBA songs wrapped into a story. I find the show pretty awful from a story perspective. The masses eat this show up, while many shows I dearly love–that are original and have a voice run–for too short of time and are thing gone. Every now and then, things click and you get a Rent, but not often enough. It’s more common for the amazing to be gone too quick, like Bare or The Dead or [title of show]. The nice thing about the niche is that it can be big enough to let these non-mass appeal things exist, even if it is for a short period.

“Freedom isn’t the ability to do whatever you want. It’s the willingness to do whatever you want.” – page 189

It’s too easy to have the freedom of time. It’s more about what you do with it. I know I’d be happy to be writing and attempting to create all the time. It’s easy though to let the part of my brain that says I should not be creating to win out and have me simply be lazy. It’s a constant battle. I’m better at winning it now, but not always.

“Art is the act of doing work that matters while dancing with the voice in your head that screams for you to stop.” – page 194

Speaking of the voice…this is exactly what tries to get me to be lazy or sleep in or whatever it is that keeps me from creating whatever art I’m working on. It’s a powerful voice and it’s constantly there. Overtime I’ve learned to mute it a bit, but it’s not always successful (an I noted above). Most satisfying though is when I complete something and I can then stick my tongue out at it.