Leave No Asset Unharvested

other day I was listening to an interview with a successful cartoon voice
actor. When asked about his work experience at a major television network, he
said the best about his job was,they used every part of him like a buffalo.

We should all be lucky enough to work that way.

Firing on all cylinders, making use of everything we are,
exploiting talents we didn’t know we had, keeping all of our passions in play, using our
strengths to do what we do best
and leaving no faculty untapped.

like the indigenous people.

According to the book The Mystic Warriorsof the Plains, two hundred years ago, buffalo actually outnumbered humans
by a factor of twenty. It’s no surprise, then, that they became a veritable one
stop shop for the early settlers. Clocking in at no less than two thousand
pounds, buffalo were used for just about everything:

meat? Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

tail? Fly brushes, lodge decorations and whips.

buckskin? Clothing, lance covers, bags and cases.

hooves? Glue, rattles, hatchets or butchering mallets.

horns? Cups, fire carriers, spoons, ladles, signals and toys.

The hair? Headdresses, saddle filler, pillows, rope and ornaments.

dung? Fuel for cooking and heating.

sinew? Ropes, cords, bow strings and thread.

innards? Containers, tobacco pouches and baby rattles.

bones? Needles, ground pegs, decorations and religion artifacts.

tallow? Healing ointments, mixing paints, food sealers and glue.

The rawhide?
Medicine bags, shields, buckets, knife cases and horse stirrups.

That’s what you call creating value. In the today’s culture, the buffalo would
make employee of the month, every month, until they retired.

so the question is,
in a world constantly conspiring to make us less
than we are, filled with people invested in keeping us in our lane, how can we
be more like the buffalo? How
can we avoid limiting ourselves to one vision of our capabilities?

Fortunately, there’s no right way to do it. There are as
many career paths as there are people to take them. Let’s explore a few of

A few years ago, I had two epiphanies.

First, that I was bored, burned out and lonely after working
for myself for twelve straight years. Second, that I had no desire to scale in
order to burn out even more.

I decided to go on summer sabbatical, in search of the next
stone on my professional path and discern the future horizon of my work. During
those three months, I read a book that had a profound effect on my decision
called The Startup of You, written by
Reid Hoffman, entrepreneur, venture capitalist and the cofounder of LinkedIn.
His observations were as follows:

“Instead of locking
yourself into a single career path, keeping your career in permanent beta,
forcing yourself to acknowledge that you have bugs, that there’s new
development to do on yourself, and that you will need to adapt and evolve.”

Eventually, I made the decision to stay true my
entrepreneurial spirit, while still enlarging my concept of work itself. I ended
up taking a full time job that allowed me to continue to expand my journey by
day, while holding onto my own unique brand, business and artistic endeavors by

This couldn’t have been a healthier path for me. Embracing
the best of both worlds, holding down a day job, but also keeping all my
passions in play by investing in multiple containers of meaning, was incredibly
satisfying. Because even though I changed my narrative to connote a different
meaning, it was still one that remained true to reality.

I’m reminded of something my mentor said that I’ll never

“The definition of
work, of career, of what is and is not a business, are forever altered and can
be molded to fit anything that excites and feeds your soul, if you choose to
explore it intentionally. Your option for how to create fulfilling work is only
limited by your imagination’s ability to create scenarios that excite you.”

So that’s one path.

But what about this one?

Jared Leto, who first achieved mainstream recognition as an actor
in the nineties, also successfully pursued careers as a musician, director,
producer, activist, philanthropist, photographer, filmmaker and businessman.

He’s one of my favorite multi hyphenates. Plus he has dreamy

During a recent interview, he said that a few years ago, he
sought out to make another film for the first time in four years, just to see
of there was anything else left in that world for him.

Apparently, there was.

Leto’s groundbreaking performance as a transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club received critical acclaim
and earned him an Oscar, Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actor’s Guild

But the best part was, once award season was over, he was
back on tour with his band, traveling the world, playing music for millions of
screaming fans.

Leto proves that we have a responsibility to remake
ourselves as we grow and as the world changes. To allow ourselves the freedom
to change as we discover. To evaluate new opportunities as they present
themselves. And to consider our evolving intellectual and experiential assets, always
willing to change direction based on what we’ve learned. Even if that means
circling back to something we haven’t done in years.

There’s a fantastic passage in The Artist’s Way about very idea, about remaking ourselves every
few years in order to pursue something exciting and new:

“In order to grow as
artists, we must be willing to risk. We must try to do something more and
larger than what we have done before. We cannot continue indefinitely to
replicate the successes of our past. Great careers are characterized by great
risks. It takes courage to jettison the mantle of what we have done well for
the chance to grab at the cape of what we might do even better. We cannot play
it safe and expand as artists at the same time. We must risk expanding our

So that’s another path.

But what about this one?

A career, after all, is the feedback about the self that
comes in response to the work. And sometimes that means gaining clarity around
what’s not for us.

During a recent public radio interview, Jerry Seinfeld was
asked if he ever considered a movie career, to which he replied, “What I do is
the only thing that makes sense to me. I’m a standup comedian, and that’s what
I call myself. As for acting, I don’t think the world needs me to do that.”

I like a man who knows who he is.

Which doesn’t mean Jerry’s not exploring new ways of being an artist, he simply doesn’t see
another corridor for himself right now. And you have to respect that kind of
artistic boundary.

So that’s another path.

And the good news is, there are a thousand more. And no two
are the same. Each one comes replete with its unique set of challenges,
rewards, experiences and learnings.

whatever path you choose––or perhaps whatever path chooses you––what matters
most is that you make use of everything you are.

The way I see it, as long as you’re going to spend you life
weaving a story about yourself, you may as well blow the ceiling off of
anything resembling a limitation.

Be like
the mighty buffalo.

no asset unharvested.

How to Initiate Momentum in the Creative Process

We’ve already explored how to get your body of work onto the
runway with the help of gravitational order.That’s one kind of momentum.

We’ve also talked about treating your work as a daily
practice and professionalizing your creative process through commitment. That’s another kind of momentum.

Next, we’re going to approach momentum from a project based level, looking at
strategies to make it a powerful driving force for your work.

I was recently reading an interview in The Paris Review with Robert Crumb, the cartoonist who helped spawn
the indie print culture of zines, graphic novels and comics, and he described
his process in the following way:

“Getting started is
like getting a rocket off the ground. You need the most energy and the most
push to get moving, but once you’re up there and you’re going, then it’s easier
to keep it going.”

Most creators have felt this way at some point. And the
question has always been, exactly how do
you get the rocket of the ground?

As someone who’s started a lot of things in his career, I’m
happy to report:

You don’t need to have
everything figured out, you just have to put energy toward it.

Something, anything, that initiates the launch sequence,
immediately plunges you into action and builds momentum.

Maisel, the world’s foremost creativity and meaning making coach,
that we choose projects and obsessions with the potential to galvanize us. Productively obsessing over
ideas generates internal pressure that vexes and consumes us in a healthy way,
he says.
In the book Brainstorm, his
case studies show that when
we really bite into a mental task, we generate a demand. This demand amounts to real
pressure, as real as any pressure a human can generate, and that builds
momentum, turning our idea into some appropriate reality.

I struggled with this a few months
ago when I found myself stuck in creative

If you’ve never been there before,
it’s a bizarre existential space.

Not a block, per se, but more of a
nervous disquiet. A lack of excitement around not having discovering something
worth doing. A knowledge that you’re on the verge of a fiery new artistic
pursuit, but an inability to turn yourself over to some pressing, meaningful creative

In short, the opposite of

During my period of creative
limbo, however, I had lunch with a professor friend of mine, and to my
surprise, that became the conversation that galvanized me.

Jim was telling me how he landed his
job as an instructor at the university. Great story. Turns out, a serendipitous
encounter with one of the department heads led to a phone call, which led to a
meeting, which led to an interesting opportunity for Jim to develop new
curriculum for the business school.

And I remember thinking to myself,
developing curriculum, now there’s an
interesting project. There’s something that might be worth obsessing over.

By the time I returned home from lunch, the launch sequence
had initiated. I literally felt the momentum accumulating inside of me as I bit
into the mental task of creating curriculum. For what and for whom, I wasn’t
sure yet. But it didn’t matter, because that lunch meeting snapped me out my
creative limbo and generated the internal demand I needed to move forward.

Since that fateful day, I’ve been on fire creatively.

Not because I had the idea figured out, but because I put
energy toward it.

That’s momentum.

Now, on a more tangible scale,
it’s also possible to activate momentum through some kind of physical object.

Tom Kelly, founder of the largest innovation firm in the
world, wrote a fascinating book about the beginning of the creative process.
His theory is, it’s all about prototyping. Prototyping allows people to make
progress before they know what progress looked like. What counts, he says, is never
wasting time, moving the ball forward, opening new possibilities of discovery
and achieving some part of your goal, albeit a small one.

Interestingly, the word prototype
comes from the Latin term prototypus,
which translates to, “first impression or original form.” Meaning, building
momentum doesn’t always require something as complex and detailed as an actual
rocket, it just has to add energy to the system.

You might say that
what momentum needs, is a moment.

I finish the first draft of a new writing project, like the aforementioned
curriculum, for example, my favorite ritual is to print out a hard copy of the
document and organize it into a beautiful leather binder. That’s my moment.
That’s my prototype for moving the ball forward.

Since I’ve been loyal to this process for over a decade,
I’ve found the experience
of watching a printer spit out three hundred pages of creative work that I’ve
personally labored over, holding those hot little babies in my hands and then
inhaling the sweet smell of satisfaction, to be one of the great joys of being
a writer.

the birth of a creative brainchild. It’s finally here. And in that instant, I
don’t care if the work is good, I don’t care if it sells, I don’t even care if
people like it, because it’s my moment and nobody can take it away from me.

And on
a practical level, the binder also works as a multifunctional device:

as a cognitive device, the binder
tricks my brain into thinking that I have my act together, even when I have no
idea where the project is going.

as a
commitment device, the binder makes the
effects of my work real and visible for all to see, even in the early stages of

Third, as
confidence device, the binder creates a visual record of progress that gives
me a psychological pat on the back and
saturates my consciousness with

as a capturing device, the binder
memorializes the process
of writing my ideas down, making them more real
and imprinting them deeply in my psyche.

as a competence device, the binder
leverages the tangibility of manual labor
to instill a sense of agency and a context of sufficiency.

All of which build momentum.

The binder is the moment that adds energy to the

reminded of one of my favorite books, Shop Class as Soulcraft, a powerful reflection on how we can live more
concretely in an ever more abstract world. Matt Crawford, who also happens to work
as a mechanic, explains that a kind of spiritedness is called forth when
we take things in hand for ourselves, and that getting an adequate grasp on the
world intellectually depends on getting a handle on it in a literal and active
sense. Producing material things, he writes, accumulates a sense of psychic
nourishment and creates a communion with the future.

I couldn’t agree more.

admittedly, I’m just a writer who prints out sheets of paper and organizes them
into a binder. That’s certainly not the same as a sweaty tradesman building
tractor parts in a welding shop. But while I may not be laboring in the
traditional sense, the binder sure beats pushing pixels all day. And you can only get so far staring at a screen.
The resolution of the paper page is much higher.

What matters, is that the binder builds momentum.

It gives my mental obsession a physical expression.

And so, whatever ritual or process or prototype you use to
get the ball rolling on your work––mental or physical––remember that it’s not
about getting everything right, it’s about getting something moving in the
right direction.


Because you don’t need an idea, you need an “I did.”

Put energy toward your idea.

Initiate the launch sequence and send your creative rocket
into the sky.

Raise your hand, break your heart, grow your brain

is life’s binding agent.

also an extremely difficult way to make a living.

for example, has twenty four thousand restaurants. But despite profound
competition, the city still receives almost five thousand new applicants each
year. Meaning the annual turnover is close to twenty percent.


topic is fresh in my mind because I recently attended a small business panel
for food entrepreneurs. The speakers ranged from chefs to farmers to
distributors to public health officials to food truck operators. Pretty compelling stuff. Especially for
someone who knows nothing about the food industry. I remember one of the
restaurant owners summarizing her work experience with the following question:

How am I going to sell eight
hundred of these sandwiches, at seven different locations, and have them all
taste exactly the same?

asking yourself that question on a daily basis.


again, every small business owner has their own version of that moment. It
comes with the territory. When you raise your hand to go down the
entrepreneurial road, you end up slaying dragons you never could have imagined.

Smith, filmmaker and podcast king, uses a delicious metaphor in his book to
describe this experience:

Imagine your plan was to walk
down to the convenience store to get some chocolate milk, and while you were there,
you were gifted with an entire milk production facility to run, complete with
chocolatizer for all the milk. And from that moment forward, for twenty years,
chocolate milk became your life. The making of, sampling of, bottling of,
vending of, marketing of, balance sheets of, and while you love it all, this
unexpected gift of a thriving chocolate milk concern, every once in a while, in
the midst of it all, you think, “How’d I get here? All I wanted some chocolate

that if you stick around long enough, you’ll see everything.

it’s not just the food industry, either.

After more than a decade running my publishing and
consulting company, I’ve certainly seen my share of these moments, including,
printing and shipping abominations, major television networks screwing me over,
email and social media hackers, website shutdowns, consecutive years of revenue
loss, multiple tax audits, septic tanks flooding my inventory storage,
cockroaches living inside cases of my books, hatemail and death threats, stress
induced hospital visits, vigilante newsletter subscribers threatening to report
me to the government for not removing their name from my list, foreign customs
officers confiscating my products at the border, major industry disruptions
that obfuscated my business model, clients paying their bills five months late,
one client who disappeared and never paid their bill at all, full blown
technology meltdowns during live performances, one actual fire during a live
performance, and my personal favorite, the disgruntled vendor who played a
practical joke on my company that backfired and nearly cost me company fifteen
thousand dollars.

And all I wanted was to write a book.

But that’s what entrepreneurs do.

We raise our hands.

The upside is, no matter how many times our heart breaks
along the way, we’re still becoming more valuable as time goes on. Every one of
those painful experiences teaches us something that becomes a shortcut for
understanding something else. Everything we do is designed to give us a
stronger base.

Scott Adams famously said that he never lets failure leave
until he picks its pocket. He doesn’t want his failures to simply make him
stronger, but to make him better able to survive future challenges. His job, he
says, is to grab failure by the throat and squeeze it until it coughs up a
hairball of success.

Damn right.

Back when I thought online training was the future of
corporate learning and development, I invested considerable amounts of time,
money and energy building my own production studio and proprietary video

Unfortunately, my prediction was wrong. Online training
wasn’t the future I thought it was. Corporate clients just weren’t buying it. Literally
or figuratively. With the exception of a few small scale projects, I never
really cracked the online training code, despite my best efforts to create a great

So after five years, I finally turned enough of a profit to
break even.

But along the way, I learned video production and design skills,
unearthed talents I didn’t know I had, extended my brand and body of work
into new places, and kicked open the door to future business opportunities that
actually did make money. I also invented a new form of media
to circulate my views and extend my sentiments and make my ideas accessible to
as many people as possible. I built something I was proud of and that I can point to, and
the person I became along the way is something nobody can take away from me. 

Ultimately, the summation of those experiences improved my
personal value no matter how the project itself did, and the insight and
perspective those experiences granted me have widened the dimensions of my
world and intensified my participation in life.

So I viewed the experience as a net gain.

Because that’s what
small business people do.

Raise your hand, break your heart, grow your brain.

It’s not about the transaction, it’s about the trust

As retail goes, so goes the world. 

The everyday interactions we have with cashiers,
waitresses, taxi drivers, front desk attendants, customer service reps and
sales associates are perfect microcosms of our society, both good and

One day we walk into a store whose employees never
let us forget how it feels to be good people. They act as if it’s an honor to
spend time with their customers. And it restores our faith in humanity, adding
lightness to the rest of the morning. 

Money well spent. 

The next day, we spend an hour on the phone with a
call center agent who treats us like an inconvenient interruption to their redundant
system of efficient operation. They act as if we’re interfering with them
trying to run a business. And it crushes our spirits, souring the entire

Thanks for caring. 

And so, retail is one of those societal institutions
that becomes the great mood changer, the ultimate barometer of humanity.

Especially when it comes to trust.

In my neighborhood, for example, most of the bodegas
are cash only. Or they have a minimum credit card balance.

But since I don’t always carry cash to buy my many snacks,
shopping can actually become a stressful experience. Sometimes I have to run
across the street to get money. Sometimes I have to buy a bunch of groceries to
hike up the bill. Sometimes I just walk out and buy food at a bigger chain
store that accepts credit card.

Either way, it’s hassle. 

But every once in a while, I encounter a shop owner
who suggests another option. An easier, friendlier, more memorable exchange. And
an approach to business that restores my faith in humanity.

You come back tomorrow, you pay me then, he says. 

That’s trust. That’s service. That’s human. In fact,
that’s way business was done long before credit cards were invented. And so, I
always come back to those kinds of stores the next, even if it’s only to repay
fifty cents.

Because it’s not about the transaction, it’s about
the trust.

Cash only policies are great for that reason. They
give people a chance to be people. They give businesses a chance to, as my
mentor used to say, be ten cents more
trusted, not ten cents less expensive.

The result is, when you trust people, they
become what you tell them you expect. That’s how we’re wired. It’s not magic,
it’s a psychological primer for future performance. When you trust someone,
their brain releases the hormone oxytocin, which causes a sense of well being
and a desire to reciprocate.

the following reviews on Yelp:

San Francisco – “The deli owner
let me borrow his own wine opener for a night because they didn’t have any in
stock, and trusted me to bring it back.”

Portland –“I placed an order
over the phone, and they actually trusted me to send a check in the mail even
after they delivered the balloons.”

Chicago – “Instead of canceling
my order, they loaned me the quesadilla and trusted me to pay them back the
next day.”

it’s interesting to note, all of the reviewers gave the retailers five stars.

It’s not about the transaction, it’s about the

I was watching recent interview with Biz Stone, the cofounder of Twitter.
He was discussing issue of trust as it pertained to their platform’s massive
organizing power, making the following observation: “
are basically good, and if we give them the right tools, they’ll prove it to us
every day.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Better to be occasionally
disappointed than walk around with your guard up. Better to approach others as already
being trustworthy, until they’ve given you reasons not to. Better to think the
best of people, to see everyone as good until proven otherwise, in the hopes
that your belief will encourage them reveal their best selves.

just easier. And cheaper. Trust burns fewer calories.

reminded of the first time I traveled to Sydney.

stumbled into a cupcake shop one morning. When the cashier rang me up, I
clumsily grabbed all the coins in my pocket, took one look at their confusing
shapes and colors, noticed the long line behind me, and then turned to cashier
and said, “Oh, here, can you just do it?”

smiled back, picked out the coins she needed and completed the transaction.

worries,” she said.

you just love that? I’ve traveled all around the world, and it always works. Because
everybody is the same everywhere. The expectation of trust psychologically primes people
respond in manner that’s honorable.
Next time you go abroad, try holding
out a hand full of money. It’s fascinating social experiment and a beautiful
way to connect with a complete stranger in very human, vulnerable way.

Because it’s not about the transaction, it’s about
the trust.

The exciting part is, now that we’re officially
entered into the sharing economy, we’re starting to see entire business models
and technology platforms and retail operating built on top of this very type of

letting complete strangers sleep and eat and bathe
our homes
loaning our bikes and cars to people we’ve never met before, delegating mundane
tasks to microfreelancers from across the globe, sharing and
trusting our secrets with thousands of people we
hardly know and leaning on existing customers of a brand to tell us whether or
not we should become one ourselves.

It appears that depositing and withdrawing from our social capital accounts
has become a way of life and a way of business.

trust isn’t the endangered species we thought it was.

If it’s
good enough for retail, it’s good enough for me.

Stress is the Culprit, Expectation is the Accomplice

When I first started my company, I had a bad habit
of counting my chickens before they hatched. The minute a request would
come in about a prospective client, a new project or a potential business
opportunity, in my mind, the deal was already done. 

Let me give
that no thought. Sounds great. Count
me in. Sign the contract. Put it on the schedule. Tell the world. It’s

That’s just how I’m wired. Expectation overload. Ever
since I was four years old, I was the easily excitable, overly optimistic,
fundamentally affirmative kid who had the answer before the question was asked.

I couldn’t say yes fast enough. 

Which is cute when you’re a kid, but when you’re
trying to run a company, counting your chickens before they hatch can royally damage
the coupe.

There’s the stress of holding too much expectation
before something happens. There’s devastation of having your hopes crushed when
something doesn’t happen. There’s the humiliation of having to recant big news
because it didn’t happen. And there’s self torture when you dwell on why something
should have happened.

Not good for business.

And, not good for your body, either.

Dr. Wolfram Schultz, one of the global authorities on the
brain’s reward system, has conducted significant research on the dangers of
expectation. His work explores the relationship between reward and risk
information in the brain.

In one particular study, Schultz found that if someone was
expecting a reward and they didn’t get it, their dopamine levels fell steeply. And,
since dopamine is affectionately known as “the neurotransmitter of desire,”
this unpleasantness felt a lot like pain. Often spinning a person into a funk
that lasts for days. In fact, according to an analysis of his study on Psychology Today, once dopamine levels
plummet in these instances, a person can also experience a mild threat
response, reducing basic motor functioning for deliberate tasks.

Schultz couldn’t be more right.

For many years, expectation
was my drug of choice. I couldn’t kick that sweet candy if my life depended on

Until my
my life actually did.

I had
reached a point in my life where I was so infatuated with the future, so
intoxicated with the prospect of good things happening, so intent on
life perpetually poised in a ballet of expectation, I was cheating on the present with a mistress called the
future. And like any torrid love affair, what started out as an innocent game
slowly grew into a dangerous obsession.

then one day, I woke up and literally couldn’t breathe. My left lung had

I knew it, I was being wheeled into the emergency room.

A few
hours later, I woke with a tube in my chest tube and morphine drip. And I
remember asking the doctor if the collapsed lung was stress related.

He said

I called bullshit. 

stress is always the culprit. And expectation is often the accomplice.

And so, something I’ve had to learn over the years­­ is how
to empty myself of expectation. How to let go of the need for outcomes and to
open myself whatever wants to come forward.

One of my favorite tools for doing so is Ten Zen Seconds, a book, a practice, an
approach to mindfulness and an invitation to live a more centered, grounded,
and meaningful life. Since becoming a practitioner several years ago, now not
single a day goes by where I don’t use the tools in some way.

The way it works is, you use a single deep breath as a ten
second container for a specific thought, matching the rhythm of your
respiration to the symmetry of your words. For example, one of the incantations
is, “I expect nothing.”

three words changed my life.

First, expecting
nothing created contentment, as I felt grateful for what I had. Second,
expecting nothing built humility, as I surrendered control. Third, expecting
nothing invited calmness, as I freed myself from meeting standards. Fourth,
expecting nothing allowed acceptance, as I was saying yes to what is. Lastly,
expecting nothing enabled stability, as I rarely felt knocked off center.

That’s what’s
possible when we shake off the shackles of expectation and end the habitual
anticipation of outcomes.

We experience
the perfect quietness of heart.

Dr. Eric Maisel, the creator of Ten Zen Seconds, explains it is a mental and emotional mistake to
have expectations, both reasonable and unreasonable. Desire as much as you
like, try as hard as you like and plan as carefully as you like, he says, but
expect nothing. If you expect nothing, you have a real shot at centering.

Keep in mind,
not expecting isn’t the same thing as not caring or giving up. Expecting
nothing means making the decision to focus on what needs to be done rather than
outcomes. Expecting nothing means accepting that reality is under no such
obligation to make you happy and give you want you want.

Which reminds me of something I learned in yoga.

When I
first started taking class, my expectation manifested in the form of numbers. I
started compulsively tracking how many days in a row I practiced.
Which was
great because it made me feel strong and committed, but after a while, all of that quantifying created
an unnecessary expectation. And that started to affect
the outcome of my practice. I would think to myself, wow, I’ve done yoga ten consecutive days. I
bet my body will start to fatigue.

enough, the next morning I would leap out of bed with searing calf cramps and
race to the fridge to suck back coconut water until the pain subsided.

what happens when make gods out of numbers.

All the more reason to empty yourself of

It’s interesting, the word expectation actually derives from
the term expectare, which means, “To defer
action.” Meaning, what expectation does is prevent us from focusing on what
needs to be done, since we’re too busy obsessing about what could or should or
might be done as a result.

And so, if we truly want to experience the perfect quietness
of heart, we have to get rid of all that flotsam and jetsam swirling around in
our heads.

remember reading this great article called
of a Trailer Guru
, which profiled the legendary
video editor Mark Woollen, the owner of a boutique production company that serves
an elite group of filmmakers. As a guy who cuts trailers for a living, he
actually isn’t a big fan of the trailer phenomenon. Woollen said, “My best
experiences as a moviegoer are when I go in knowing as little as possible about
a movie.”

what I want my life to be.

The movie I never saw the
trailer for.

Expectations are overrated.

Touched By A Hand, Struck By A Fist

The other day a friend of mine was telling a story about his

Once upon a time, her indy apparel company was featured on one
of the biggest television shows in the world. As the narrative often goes, within
hours of the broadcast, the company received so many new orders that they couldn’t
make shirts fast enough to keep up with the demand.

Instant publicity, instant credibility.

And yet, as that moment became the highlight of her career,
it slowly became the hell of her career.

Because along with the accolades came the hatemail.
Mountains of it. Complete strangers started coming from out of the woodwork to
call this woman names and discredit her work and convince the world that her clothing
was crap.

She was devastated.

And all she did was become successful.

But I’ll never forget what my friend said as he reflected on
that period of his wife’s career. He posed an incredible moral question, one
that lent a lot perspective to that experience:

Why is it that the moment
you’re touched by a hand, you’re struck by a fist?

Ain’t that the truth.

Humans, after all, are habit machines that tend to behave
predictably. And one of the patterns they fall into is, not everybody wants you
to be successful. In fact, a certain population of the world is just waiting
around––excitedly­­––for you to fail, because they feel disenfranchised by your

Dennis Crowley, the founder of Foursquare, recently talked
about his company’s struggle with this very issue. He discovered that high
expectations made everyone turn on him, famously saying, “People are in love
with you, but then all of a sudden, they can’t wait to watch you fail.”

Of course, this isn’t a new thing. The hand/fist phenomenon
has been around for years.

Davy Jones, the late musician and former teen heartthrob, once
did an interview about the British Invasion, in which he notoriously said, “As
soon as you get successful, people want to kick you in the balls and throw you
in the back yard and wait for you to make a mistake. They just want you to be
famous and then go away.”

Touched by a hand, struck by a fist.


The good news is, jealousy isn’t always a negative.

I read
an interesting study from The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
called Getting to the Heart of the Green
Eyed Monster
, in which mental health professionals explored the
history, causes and implications of jealousy. Their research showed that jealousy
was a fundamental aspect of human social life, and its absence was actually a
sign of pathology. At the heart of the green eyed monster, they say, is the
desire to feel good about the self, and any threat thereof can have negative
consequences on our well being.


fact, I would even take it one step further.

isn’t just normal­­––it’s necessary.

The root
word is jalousie, which translates
to “enthusiasm and love and longing.” Meaning, you have something I want,
that upsets me, and now I’m motivated to work hard and get the same for myself,
so thank you.

It’s kind of like listening to Tom Waits.

The man’s work is so brilliant and inspiring and
unapologetic, that when I listen to his music, I literally become angry that I’m
not as good as he is. To the point where I stop the song, go grab my guitar and
songbook and try to improve my own work.

That’s jealousy. And when channeled productively, can serve
the world well.

we run into trouble is when jealousy
morphs into envy.

The derivative
for that word is invidere,
translates to “casting an evil eye.” Meaning, you have
something I want, that diminishes me, and now I’m determined to knock you down
to feel better about myself, so fuck you.

kind of like web trolls.

When my first book went viral, I received an inordinate
amount of hatemail. Turns out, many people were surprisingly angry at a guy who
wore a nametag everyday. And they felt the need to publish awful things about
me, my work and my ideas.

Naturally, I was devastated.

Touched by a hand, struck by a fist.


I’m just trying to
make the world friendlier.

Fortunately, my web developer created a clever profanity
filter for the guestbook on my website. He wrote code that replaced each of the
web trolls’ curse words with softer phrases like pretty pink roses and cute cuddly
teddy bears.
Which, ironically, enraged them even more.

Anyway, that’s envy.

And unfortunately, the more success you have, the more
likely people are to respond with that instead of jealousy. It’s just this
weird cultural math that humans do. Almost like clockwork, as soon as someone
becomes even a little bit successful, the green eyed monster whets its
retributive appetite.

I was recently watching the fascinating documentary, Downloaded, written
and produced by Alex Winter. This film addresses the evolution of digital media
sharing on the internet. And it features exclusive interviews with software
developers and musicians about controversial file sharing software, namely,

Totally inspiring, to say the least.

And although I took copious notes on the movie, there was a passage from
one of the songwriters that resonated with me, especially around the idea of jealousy
and envy:

“I just felt like this was one of the great moments in human history. But
of course, great moments in human history usually have an opposition that is
exactly proportional to their greatness.”

Touched by a hand, struck by a fist.

And so, there may be no fighting the green eyed monster. Seems
like these emotions and feelings are fundamental
to human social life, and they’re here to stay.

What you can fight for, however, is the crucial choice to
channel your jealousy into something productive, instead of crafting your envy
into something hateful.   

Because either way, you’re burning calories.

Why not make them matter?

How to Sustain Originality of Voice

People say there’s nothing new under the sun.

But considering the sun is eight hundred and sixty four thousand miles in diameter, if you can’t find something new under it, you’re not very creative.

And to be fair, sustaining originality of voice is no easy task. Especially over the long haul of a career. In fact, even some of the world’s most successful creators struggle with this issue.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, John Mayer admitted that the songwriters who really blew him away were the individuals like Jack Johnson, those who refused to be anybody else other than themselves. He said that those were the people who were winning through the years, and that if he had to do it over again, that’s exactly how he would have gone about it.

The question is, in a world where the major scale has only seven notes, what, exactly, are these musicians doing that’s so innovative and interesting and different? And how do they stay so original for so long?

Well, for starters, the notes are only the beginning. Even if you’re not a musician.

Whatever your medium is, the process of collecting, crafting and communicating your ideas isn’t just about content, it’s also about context.

Like my statistics professor used to jokeit’s not what the data says, it’s what the data points to.

And so, our job as prolific creators and communicators isn’t just to pick up ideas, but to pull them apart and point out how they represent a beautiful reminder of what could be. Not just to take pictures of interesting moments or found objects, but to ponder those experiences and wonder if they point to a more general principle. Not just to identify solutions, but to differentiate through our diagnosis of the problem. And not just to observe things, but to choreograph people’s attention to the thing behind the thing.

One method for doing so is through hyperfocused expression. Finding the small part of the world that you can touch and setting it free.

I’ll never forget when The New York Times wrote a fascinating profile piece about Jerry Seinfeld. When they spoke about his unequaled analytical gifts, the reporter claimed that the billionaire comedian could describe a bouncing ball in a way that changed the way people look at bouncing balls forever. That he was a master of arranging life’s messy confusions, shrewdly and immaculately, into a bouquet of trivial irritants.

Who knew nothing could be the inspiration for everything?

For me, it’s the nametag.

Wearing one all day, everyday for the past fourteen years has been my passport to interestingness, my mechanism for making sense of my existence and the source against which I bounce everything I see. And as long as I’m wearing it and people are engaging around it, the nametag services as an endless source of material, a contextual reservoir that will never run dry.

And yet, nobody cares about nametags.

But I do. Probably more than anyone on the planet. In fact, caring is an understatement. Nametags are an obsession. A religion. An addiction. A pathological psychosis.

At least that’s what my therapist says.

Not sure what the source of your hyperfocused expression is?

Try the following exercise:

Everything I need to know, I learned from my ___________.

And so, whatever little world you investigate to a great, high level, is a surefire path to prolificacy. So don’t be afraid to mine that vein. People become successful because there’s something about this world that fascinates them and ignites them and they’ve spent years scratching that itch.

What’s interesting is, the word “context” derives from the term contextus, which literally means “to weave together.”

That’s where originality and prolificacy are born.

Whatever you’re creating, always take time to look for original facets and angles and refractions of light that create a context adjacent to the content.

And you’ll find there are plenty of new ideas under the sun.

Creating a Framework for Inspiration

I’m a big believer in awareness plans.

That’s a metacognitive procedure or mental recipe for perceiving and thinking about the environment around us. A lens for interacting with the world. A plugin for the human operating system.

It’s a framework for inspiration. A strategy to help inspiration seek you out.

Let’s say you decide to start writing a blog. Like it not, you’ve just installed a new awareness plan. Because the metacognition of thinking about what you’re going to say, looking for interesting things to blog about, that’s a posture change. That’s a different way of experiencing the world. And it’s amazing how quickly inspiration seeks you out when your blog paints you into that corner of having to post something once or twice or five times a week.

As a daily blogger for more than a decade, blogging taught me to do justice to the things I notice. The day I started blogging, I also started walking around like I was holding puzzle pieces. I became hyper sensitive to the world around me. And I approached every encounter as grist for the mill. This delicate sense, this posture of incurable curiosity, allowed even the tiniest experiences to inspire me. And it’s kept the queue filled with things to blog about every since. One millions words and counting.

Or what about photography?

A camera, after all, is only a tool. What’s important are your eyes and what you see in your head. That’s another awareness plan.

Instagram, for example, is literally and figuratively a filter through which to experience your world. That’s why I find photography so fascinating. The simple fact that I have a camera in my pocket forces me to notice those serendipitous ephemeral moments, sneak up on them from behind without a sound, close my palms around them like lightning bugs, and release those moments back into the world.

Like the scrap of paper I found on the ground that was in the shape of a dog, which turned out to be a receipt from a pet store. Tell me that’s not inspiring.

And so, photography is this beautiful process, this awareness plan, I’ve come to love. Not unlike inhaling sentences to document into my creative inventory, scouring for those moments to capture as images has also become one of my favorite ways to stay engaged and present with the world.

I’m reminded of George Carlin, who was once asked how young writers could stay prolific over the long arc of their careers. His advice was, as long as you have observations to make, as long as you can see things and let them register against your template, and as long as you’re able to take impressions and compare them with the old ones, you will always have material. You can’t run out of ideas as long as you keep getting new information and you can keep processing it.

And so, once you find the awareness plans that work for you, whether they involve technology or just a way of comparing and contrasting your experiences, they become a precursor for prolificacy. They stimulate insight and curiosity, improve cognitive readiness and psychological openness, influencing your feelings and views of the world, freeing you from the bonds of traditional perceptual sets and helping you treat things in life in a constructive and enlightened fashion.

With a strategy like that, writer’s block will become a thing of the past.

I have enough ideas, now what do I do with them?

The creative process commences with input.

You build a framework for inspiration by living your life in
a way that your art gets done over and over. This helps you populate a unique
inspiration pool that nobody can replicate, solidifying the originality of your
work, guaranteeing you’ll never get blocked.

The creative process continues with throughput.

You establish a discipline for getting your ideas to ground
zero, assuring that everything you know is written down somewhere and processed
into the system. This helps you accumulate a creative inventory that becomes
the raw material everything you make.

The creative process completes with output.


You initiate a series of active and passive rituals,
practices, environments and mental subroutines that make creating a natural
extension of your personality. This helps you turn seeds into forests and more
fully flesh out your work.

But once you’ve done all that, once you’ve translated your
brief moment of inspiration into a robust collection of related concepts that
are just begging to become something bigger, it’s time to stop creating and
start judging.

You have to look for
an organizing principle.

I’m reminded of a fascinating interview I heard with Conan
O’Brien about his life as a late night talk show host. He told the interviewer
that his show was the organizing principle of his life. That it was the iron
rod in the center around which everything else gravitated.

Your work is the same way.

Whatever it is that you’re creating or crafting or
communicating, there has to be a core assumption, a central reference point, a
guiding pole, which governs action and allows everything else in its proximity
to derive value.

For two reasons:

First, the organizing principle keeps you on track as the idea creator. It makes it easier to
align, organize, remember and deliver everything you’re trying to communicate.
Otherwise you’re just vomiting.

Second, the organizing principle keeps your audience on
track as the idea consumer. It makes it easier to listen, digest, remember
and apply everything they’re trying to receive. Otherwise they’re just inhaling.

The question is, how do you find it?

When I wrote my first book, I remember hitting a wall. Most
of the writing was done, but when it came to the process of organizing the
material, I was stuck. So my mentor suggested that I buy a box of index cards, write
down one idea per card, scatter them on the floor, stare at them in silence for
a few minutes, and then allow the inherent geometry of the ideas take shape.

It sounded like an interesting experiment, so I gave it a

And I’ll never forget what happened next.

The ideas started to take on a life of their own. They started
to find each other. 

And as I surveyed hundreds of index cards on the carpet, I had
this feeling that they weren’t just speaking to each other, they were speaking
to me, too. Announcing that they had done the work of sorting themselves, and
all they needed was a helping hand to rearrange them into specific piles.

Sure enough, those piles become chapters, which ultimately
became the organizing principle of my book.

Who knew it was that easy?

It’s like Alan Fletcher used to say, he always knew he was
something because instead of him looking at the subject, the
subject began looking at him.

Since that initial experiment, I’ve run that notecard exercise
hundreds of times, both in my own work on books, speeches, training videos and
other creative projects. But I’ve also taught that exercise to my clients and
workshop participants, using a diverse range of topics. And in my experience, it’s
the single most effective method for identifying the organizing principle of a
creative project.

Because it’s not an accident, it’s self-organization.

Neuroscientists purportedly discovered this process in the
forties and fifties, although its conceptual roots most likely date back to the
ancient Greeks. Regardless, the working definition of self-organization is a process where some form of global order or
coordination arises out of the local interactions between the components of an
initially disordered system.

In my case, the “local interactions” were the hundreds of
individual notecards, and the “global order” was the dozen or so piles.

But the most popular examples of self-organizing systems
include the creation of structures by social insects like honeybees and ants, the
flocking behavior of mammals like birds and fish, and of course, the ultimate
self-organizing system, the human brain.

The book Brain Based Therapy with Adults said it best:

“Neuroscientists view the brain as a self-organizing system
that is malleable and plastic. The brain continually pulls itself up by the
bootstraps, becoming more organizing and patterned over time. This habit of
neurons organizing themselves into networks of thousands and even millions of
cells is a psychological phenomenon, and it is impossible to overstate the
significance of this simple idea.”

It’s a beautiful thing. There truly is harmony within

The exciting part is, once you identify the organizing principle,
you immediately start to watch your project or idea or creation start to take shape
and acquire real structure and meaning and weight. 

In his final book before he died, George Carlin explained that initially, ideas
come together the way galaxies do, they just naturally clump, simply because
they’re related, like an extended family of ideas around a general topic. But
over time, they become parts that fit and function together, which you then
gradually form into a whole.

And that’s when the work transitions from idea to execution.

So the next time you find yourself complaining, “I have
enough ideas, but now I need to figure out what to do with them,” consider
running some variation of the index card exercise. Put your brain to work to
find the inherent geometry of your project. Let the ideas talk to themselves,
and then let them talk to you.

Before you know it, the organizing principle will stand up
and reveal itself.

And you’ll be off to the creative races.

Is Everything You Know Written Down Somewhere?

Anyone can be a prolific creator if they have a prodigious

And so the question is, does the ability to remember things
come as part of our genetic package, or is it a muscle we can train?

Yes and yes.

On the hereditary side, certain people are innately wired with superior memories
and they naturally and habitually recall almost everything in their lives, from
images to numbers to dates to human faces to personal experiences.

These people are known as jerks.

On the hard working side, certain people are intentionally working to build superior
memories by understanding how the brain functions, focusing attention, creating
associations and giving those associations meaning.

These people are known as overachievers.

For the rest of the world who doesn’t have the time,
resources or patience to dedicate their lives to boosting their memory power,
there are a few simple concepts worth knowing that might make remembering

For example, you’ve probably heard some variation of the
following sentence:

The number of objects
an average human can hold in working memory is seven.

Miller famously discovered this fact about the brain back in
the fifties in his groundbreaking study on the cognitive significance of the
number seven. Since then, his research on the limits of the human capacity for
processing information has become one of the most highly cited papers in the
history of psychology.

That’s why smart people write things down. To capture their
thinking before it vaporizes. Because when idea lightning strikes, it’s
competing with other brain activities, so the documentation process hooks their
ideas immediately, firmly and enduringly. They know that if they don’t write it
down, it never happened.

And, there’s more.

Boosting memory, often times, is a simple matter of making
room. Prolific people don’t just write things down because they might have a
good idea in this moment, but also because they might have good ideas in future
moments, and their brain needs to be in the best possible position to receive
them. So it’s more than just a security measure, it’s a sovereignty measure. Capturing
your thinking relieves your brain of the necessity of remembering, frees up
your working memory and opens your mind to receive new ideas.

I’m reminded of my mentor, Jeffrey, a prolific creator who runs
a multimillion dollar sales training company. The reason he’s the best in the
world is, everything he knows is written down somewhere. Which means, he knows
his material cold. Which means, he’s a master of his subject. Which means,
during his sales seminars he doesn’t have to think about what he’s going to
say. Which means, his brain is free to think of innovative ideas for his

By writing everything down, he makes room.

This process became first came clear to me when I read The Creativity Book. Eric Maisel
explains that organization can be a real challenge for everyday creative people
who have lots of ideas, dreams, goals, responsibilities, and who are perhaps a
little suspicious of organization. It isn’t of life or death importance that
you remember everybody’s birthday, he says, but it is vital that the chaos of
ideas that start to flood your brain when you open up to your own creativity
have a place to be sorted and stored and saved. If you don’t give them that
chance, then chaos overwhelms you and no work can get accomplish.

Is everything you know
written down somewhere?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how you write ideas down, only that
you write them down.

There’s a fascinating study from the Nueromarketing Science and Business Association, which detailed how
the physical documentation process affects our brains. Turns out, when we
physically write something down, we stimulate a collection of cells in the base
of our brain known as the reticular activating system. This becomes the filter
for all the information our brain needs to process and it gives more attention
to what we are currently focusing on. And as a result, the physical act of
writing things down brings the information to the forefront, triggers our brains
to pay close attention, raises the psychological ante and increases our
commitment as collectors, creators and communicators of ideas.

And so, whether you have a prodigious memory, whether you’re
trying to improve it, and whether your collection tools are paper and pen, electronic
note taking, audio capturing, emailing, voice recognition technology or some
kind of web app, the good new is, you don’t have to invest a lot of time and
money to boost your memory.

You just have to keep asking yourself the same question.

Is everything you know written down somewhere?

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