Austin Kleon’s third book, “Keep Going,” contains a wealth of practical advice for how to persevere and how to summon the energy and to start over with new creativity.
Austin Kleon’s “Keep Going” Offers Practical Advice on Perseverance
Austin Kleon’s third book, “Keep Going,” contains a wealth of practical advice for how to persevere and how to summon the energy and to start over with new creativity. I have blogged earlier about the “Make Lists” section where he offers several suggestions for different types of lists. This post focuses on some of the clever drawings and images that use humor to make his point. The book is highly recommended. All of the images and quotes come from the book except where noted.
Every Day is Groundhog Day
“Every Day is Groundhog Day: The creative journey is not one in which you’re crowned the triumphant hero and live happily ever after. The real creative journey is one in which you wake up every day with more work to do.”
Austin Kleon in “Keep Going“
Customers are asking, “What have you done for me lately?” Prospects want to know, “What can you do for me now?” Sisyphus did not know the half of it; he just had to keep rolling the same rock up the same hill, not come up with new business ideas, creative content, and competitive features that continually differentiate your products and services. Success is the combination of a few sparks of creative insight, considerable effort, and periodic pauses to refine your methods (and sometimes your goals) so that you can persevere.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Log Off, Mute All, Carry On
In the 60s, Timothy Leary told everybody to “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” I tried to think of an update for today: Log off (get out now), mute all (turn off notifications), and carry on (without hope and without despair).
Austin Kleon in “Log off, mute all, carry on“
In Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke speculates that Hitler might have been neutralized by a smallradio transmitter: “How long do you think Hitler’s career as a dictator of Germany would have lasted, if wherever he went a voice was talking quietly in his ear?” We are running that experiment today with digital heroin freely available in a wide selection of flavors. I spent my childhood with my nose in a book, but I am not sure scanning tweets or Facebook updates is as innocuous as reading a lot of science fiction.
“The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds and makes all political and social life a mass illness. Without this housecleaning we cannot begin to see. Unless we can see, we cannot think. The purification must begin with the mass media. How?”
Thomas Merton in “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander” (1966)
See Your Flaws and Have the Courage to Carry On
The Dunning-Kruger Prayer
Let me be smart enough
to know how dumb I am
and give me the courage
to carry on anyway.
The Dunning-Kruger effect comes from a 1999 paper by David Dunning and Justin Kruger, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.”
Here is an excerpt from the abstract: “People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. This overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: they not only reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.”
I think one way to immunize yourself against blindness to your own incompetence is to adopt what Julia Galef (@JuliaGalef ) calls a “scout mentality” in “Why You Think You’re Right Even When You’re Wrong.” She suggests striving to see what’s there as honestly and accurately as you can–even if it’s not pretty, convenient or pleasant. This requires a focus on exploration, on mapping the situation to identify assets and obstacles. I think a “scout mindset” is critical to the sales process for startups. It helps you avoid premature elaboration, prescribing before you diagnose, and winning the argument but losing the sale. It makes a demo a conversation driven by mutual curiosity and not soliloquy listing features.
What I also like about this prayer is the say it echoes the Serenity Prayer, asking for help with self-awareness and perseverance. The humble improve.
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed, courage
to change the things which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Reinhold Niebuhr “The Serenity Prayer” (1942) [Niebuhr’s preferred form, as declared by his widow]
Marks, Dents, and Fast Breakage
“I think it instructive, sometimes, to think about some of the slogans we use for creative work.
MAKE YOUR MARK.
PUT A DENT IN THE UNIVERSE.
MOVE FAST AND BREAK THINGS.
The slogans presuppose that the world is in need of marking or denting or breaking and that the cosmic purpose of human beings is vandalism.
Things are already a mess out there. We’ve made enough of a mark on the planet. What we need are fewer vandals and more cleanup crews. We need art that tidies. Art that mends. Art that repairs.
Let’s find some better slogans. Maybe we could look to medicine:
FIRST, DO NO HARM.
Or maybe we could lift the language from signs you see in parks:
LEAVE THINGS BETTER THAN YOU FOUND THEM.
It’d be a start.”
Austin Kleon in “Keep Going“
There is a lot packed into this passage. For entrepreneurs, I don’t think “move fast and break things” is baked into Schumpeter’s “creative destruction.” I think Schumpeter is pointing out that when you create new items of value, sometimes existing ones are obsoleted. But the focus remains on creating value, and the destruction is the result of decisions by buyers and consumers. Especially when you are in early market exploration for a novel technology, patience, and appreciative inquiry are called for. You don’t want to break what’s working or what you may need to build on.
The other risk to a focus on vandalism as a prelude to creativity is C.S. Lewis’ injunction in “Letters to Malcolm” that you need to “Take care. It is so easy to break eggs without making omelets.” You can accomplish a lot of breakage without ever offering a satisfactory replacement, much less a superior one. Mindfulness and determination are both required to create anything of lasting value. Entrepreneurs need to move carefully and prove the value of their new offering.
“Only bad things happen quickly. Virtually all the happiness-producing processes in our lives take time, usually a long time: learning new things, changing old behaviors, building satisfying relationships, raising children. This is why patience and determination are among life’s primary virtues. ”
Gordon Livingston in chapter 15 “Only Bad Things Happen Quickly” of Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart (2004)
Walk it Off: To Exercise Is To Exorcise
“Walking is really a magic cure for people who want to think straight. “Solvitur ambulando,” said Diogenes the Cynic two millennia ago. “It is solved by walking.”
Austin Kleon in “Keep Going“
If you could put a walk into a pill, you would have a wonderful cure for many of life’s challenges. I have gotten out of the habit of walking and am much the worse for it. When I was a manager at Cisco, I would ask folks to take a walk with me. It normally led to calmer and more creative conversations. I can remember during a one on one conversation that was heating up, my subordinate suggested, “how about we continue this discussion by taking a walk?” Which we did, and it much improved the conversation.
“I walked myself into my best thoughts.”
To Everything–Even Creativity–There is a Season
“You have to pay attention to the rhythms and cycles of your creative output and learn to be patient in the off season. You have to give yourself time to change and to observe your own patterns.”
Austin Kleon in “Keep Going“
We cannot always see the patterns that we are operating within. I have learned to embrace creative inspiration when and where I find it. And not to force a decision unless the situation absolutely requires it.
I think of the trees and how simply they let go, let fall the riches of a season, how without grief (it seems) they can let go and go deep into their roots for renewal and sleep. […] Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember nothing stays the same for long, not even pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.”
May Sarton in “Journal of a Solitude”
Related Blog Posts
- Austin Kleon on Making Lists: To-Do, Ideas, and Do’s & Don’ts
- Innovation: the Trick is Managing the Pain
- Wynton Marsalis on Humility, Self-Mastery, and Learning
- Self-Mastery, Expertise, Connections, and PEerer
- Superstimulus: Refining Online Interactions Into Digital Heroin
- Kierkegaard: Creativity Must Master Dread of the Unknown
- Failed Fast, Now What?
- Larry Smith: Fail Fast, Fail Often, and Die
- Octavia Butler: Cultivate Habits That Enable Persistence and Learning
- William Feather on “Perseverance Rewarded”
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