Notes: Your Blog is a Barometer

Thom Chambers writes about using your publishing platform to detect when your personal growth is stalling:

Your blog is something of a barometer. If you're overflowing with ideas, news, and observations, then the chances are good that you're doing interesting things beyond that blog. You're learning, you're doing exciting work, you're on an adventure.

Whenever you get stuck for a blog post, then, take it as a sign of a bigger malaise.

If you can't find anything interesting to say about what you’re doing, maybe it's because you need to do more interesting stuff.

Another way to get stuck is by fear. You could also think of fear of failure as a barometer for success. Sometimes we just need to get over ourselves and recognize that failure really isn't so bad. Let go of fear and just be.

I think it's also important to note on the flip side that if you can't find anything interesting to say, that's not always a bad thing. Sometimes it's okay to say less.

Notes: "Any given person is dumber as a member of an audience than as a reader."

Paul Graham writes about why writing superior to the spoken word as a source of ideas. He makes several important points about how when we're in a group, we're heavily influenced by those around us. Reading, on the other hand, is a very personal, writer-to-reader experience. The medium of writing gives us both the opportunity to craft both the intended message and the interpreted meaning.

Audiences like to be flattered; they like jokes; they like to be swept off their feet by a vigorous stream of words. As you decrease the intelligence of the audience, being a good speaker is increasingly a matter of being a good bullshitter. That's true in writing too of course, but the descent is steeper with talks. Any given person is dumber as a member of an audience than as a reader. Just as a speaker ad libbing can only spend as long thinking about each sentence as it takes to say it, a person hearing a talk can only spend as long thinking about each sentence as it takes to hear it. Plus people in an audience are always affected by the reactions of those around them, and the reactions that spread from person to person in an audience are disproportionately the more brutish sort, just as low notes travel through walls better than high ones. Every audience is an incipient mob, and a good speaker uses that. Part of the reason I laughed so much at the talk by the good speaker at that conference was that everyone else did.

Travel Notes: Northampton, MA

As I mentioned in my latest journal entry, I'm going to start publishing travel notes here on the places that I visit. These notes will contain anything from short anecdotes to odd experiences to conversations with people that I meet during my travels.


My first stop on the 2012 USA road trip was Northampton, Massachusetts where I met my friend Jasmine Lamb. Northampton is located in the western part of Massachusetts. I had never driven that far out west, but I wasn't surprised to find that it didn't feel much different than the rest of the state.

Northampton itself is a small but noticeably older town that was settled in the early 1600s. I couldn't decide if I should pronounce it 'north-hampton' or 'nor-hampton' but Jasmine told me later that she always pronounced it 'north-hampton'.

In the downtown area, there were lots of cafes that seemed quite busy and I got the sense that the town was popular with the younger crowd. A little research on Wikipedia taught me that Northampton has a large and politically influential LGBT community and that the city is part of something called the Knowledge Corridor.

After meeting Jasmine in a local cafe and talking over a cup of jasmine tea (ironic, huh?), we walked around town a bit, first through the bustling downtown area and then on an old railroad bed that had been converted into a walking trail. 

We talked on a wide array of topics, but one part of our discussion that really stuck with me was a story she told me about her brother: While traveling in a developing country, he learned that amputee children would often outgrow their prosthetic limbs and then need to wait long amounts of time until someone older than them outgrew their prosthetic limb and passed it down to them (that is if they were lucky).

Instead of seeing the problem and just thinking how unfortunate it was, he decided to invent a prosthetic limb that could be adjusted in size to account for the child's inevitable growth. That way, once the child gets a prosthetic limb, it remains the child's limb regardless of their growth.

Such a simple invention and yet he did something that I think few would-be inventors (including myself) actually do: believe in the invention enough to make it a reality and then overcome the discomfort of following through. 

It takes more than belief in the idea to make it a reality. Jasmine told me how her brother also spent many years learning other things related to business -- stuff that he wasn't even remotely interested in -- to make his invention a reality. He was committed to creating a solution to the problem he observed and as a result his adjustable prosthetic limbs are now being used by children in developing countries.

My next stop was Saratoga Springs, NY, where I got to fly a small airplane for the second time in my life. This second experience seems to have given me the 'flight bug' and now I'm itching to become a pilot. I'll write more about the experience in my next travel note.

Notes: Solitude as a catalyst to innovation

A quote from The Rise of the New Groupthink, an article in the New York Times:

Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.

One explanation for these findings is that introverts are comfortable working alone — and solitude is a catalyst to innovation. As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck observed, introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand, and preventing the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work.” In other words, a person sitting quietly under a tree in the backyard, while everyone else is clinking glasses on the patio, is more likely to have an apple land on his head. (Newton was one of the world’s great introverts: William Wordsworth described him as “A mind for ever/ Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.”)

Solitude has long been associated with creativity and transcendence. “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible,” Picasso said. A central narrative of many religions is the seeker — Moses, Jesus, Buddha — who goes off by himself and brings profound insights back to the community.

If we're constantly connecting, relating, communicating, and interacting with others, how can we really tap into the powerhouse of creativity and potential for innovation that exists within each of us? While I believe interaction and sharing is essential, I think we undervalue the necessity of disconnection and self-exploration for real growth.

Notes: Own Your Idea

Julien Smith writes about the importance of figuring out your message, your core idea, the thing that your very existence stands for. I've been thinking about this a lot lately and Julien's question towards the end of this highlight is fantastic; when I think about his question I feel like I can almost put my finger on my core message.

I've spent a lot of time around authors over the past little while and I've started to figure out that almost all of them have one primary thing to say, a single idea that they are really about. Seth Godin could be "be remarkable," applied to multiple different formats. Tim Ferriss: "most effort is wasted– do what matters." Pema Chodron: "Drop the storyline." I could do this all day.

Here's the thing: authors have to write down their ideas and express them differently. It's their job and they have to work at it, so they get many ideas in their head and stick with those that matter to them (or sometimes those that sell– sigh). Point being, even non-authors need to figure this one thing out. But most never think about it. They plod along without much direction or grand goal at all– and if it is, it's often rather selfish.

Again, I include myself in this.

Here is my suggestion: If you had a TED talk, or some other grand idea, how would you present it? Think about it. This is your one chance. How would you use it?

Thom Chambers wrote something along these same lines. I keep this close and re-read every few days:

It’s tempting to want to break new ground each time you publish a piece of writing. To dazzle. Far more valuable in the long run, though, is when you take an idea and run with it. Show us around it. Show us how it works in action, how it affects us. Own your idea and you’ll be remembered for it.

Notes: Running a Lifestyle Business

Thom Chambers' latest magazine, How to Run a Lifestyle Business, is a goldmine of motivational and thought-provoking ideas from many different leaders. I've highlighted my favorite parts below:

As Simon Sinek explains, people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. It's not the new features or the best-in-class that gets us, it's the story we tell ourselves when we buy or use a product or service. Sinek uses the launch of the iPod by way of example; while other mp3 players were there sooner and cheaper, they were focused on 'what' the product was: a 5GB mp3 player. Apple, meanwhile, sold the 'why': 1,000 songs in your pocket.

'What' is all about reason, about rationale. It's the classic nice-guy-finishes-last syndrome: he can display to the girl all the logical reasons that she should date him, from his good job to his nice house, but nobody ever fell in love based on a list of features and benefits. Rather than coming from this place of practicality, 'why' connects to emotion.

Starting with why means saying, "I believe this", then creating products and services that make that belief a reality. Those products and services are the 'what' of your business. They're the physical manifestations of your beliefs, nothing more.

When you start with why, suddenly everything changes. It's no longer about trying to pack more features into your product or to offer your services at a lower price than your competition. It's about stating your beliefs loudly and proudly, then acting on them. Do this well enough for long enough, and people who believe the same things will align themselves with you and your business by becoming customers and fans.

Simon's TED talk, How great leaders inspire action, is a must-watch.

Professionals, as Steven Pressfield notes in The War of Art, are those who turn up every day, no matter what. They do the work, relentlessly, knowing that each day is a battle against the Resistance that tries to get you to procrastinate, avoid the hard work, and settle for less than you desire.

When things gets tough, it's easy to look for excuses not to work. Isn't this meant to be my lifestyle business, my utopia? Surely it should always be fun?

As Pressfield explains, "the more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it". Building a successful lifestyle business is one of the biggest evolutions you can undertake, so you can be damn sure that you'll encounter plenty of Resistance along the way. Fight it. Do the work.

Or as Julien Smith would say, don't flinch.

In the following section, Thom is talking about Seth Godin's concept of finding just ten people to share your idea/message/product with and how those ten people will be enough to determine if what you have will succeed.

Perhaps the best way to look at it is this: you're replacing promotion with creation. Leo Babauta has written about this on Google+, calling for a less in-your-face approach to selling work. Make it, make it available, and let the fans decide if it's worth spreading. Then get on with creating what's next.

The idea of 'first, ten' means that, in Seth's words, "the idea of a 'launch' and press releases and the big unveiling is nuts. Instead, plan on the gradual build that turns into a tidal wave". He also acknowledges that this might mean your growth ends up being "not as fast as you want". But if you're in this for the long run rather than just the big show that tries to make-it-big-quickly, then you'll certainly grow fast enough to succeed.

What I got out of this is the need for focus. I seem to have a hard time focusing on something long enough to turn it "into a tidal wave". But that just tells me I need to decide what's worth focusing on and then make a commitment to seeing it through.

It's about having the attitude of an artisan instead of an amateur, as Thom explains in the next bit.

When it doesn't require a huge financial or time investment to get started, it's easy to be less committed to a project - "this website only cost me a few bucks, so it's not the end of the world if it goes wrong. I'll give it a shot and see how things turn out".

This is where your attitude comes into play. You can have this attitude, the attitude of the amateur - or you can have the attitude of the artisan.

The artisan doesn't have much money, but is still relentless about quality. The artisan sees her small size as a phase, a stepping stone towards success, and acts accordingly. Even when she's starting out, she's conducting herself as she would if this were a fully-grown business.

You're always told to dress for the job you want, not the one you have. In the same way, you need to write and create for the business you want one day, rather than the business you have today.

When you hear about a startup that sold for a hundred million after six months, remember: you're not playing that game. When you have the chance to spam your list to make a few affiliate sales from someone else's new product, remember: you're not playing that game.

Which leads us to a simple question: what game are you playing? The answer is found in one of the great overlooked conflicts in every lifestyle business: the conflict between the artisan and the accountant. The artisan creates work that brings satisfaction and pleasure, with no concern for money. The accountant creates work that brings money, with no concern for satisfaction or pleasure.

In most traditional businesses, to a greater or lesser extent, the accountant is king. Money matters most. When you choose to start a lifestyle business, though, you embrace your inner artisan. You see that money isn't everything, that lifestyle, happiness, and satisfaction are just as important.

For some, starting a lifestyle business is the start and end of their inner artisan. They focus entirely on building their business in a way that best pleases the market, or brings the owner the easiest life. The extreme of this are niche site owners, who find profitable markets and run affiliate or AdSense campaigns. They 'set it and forget it'.

For others, the artisan takes over and they focus on doing work they love without worrying about the market. The extreme of this is the blogger who gives everything away without any business model in place, hoping to make money somehow, someday.

The artisan refuses to compromise; the accountant will do anything for the sale. The artisan wants a headline that reflects the mood of the work; the accountant wants a headline that goes viral.

Both are valid in their own way; it's up to you to choose the point at which you're happiest between the extremes of pure integrity and pure income.

Notes: Take an idea and run with it

Thom Chambers writes about how focusing on a single idea and talking about it over and over is far more valuable in the long-run than always trying to start with a bang (I have trouble remembering the importance of this because I have a strong aversion to being too wordy):

Ideavirus, tribes, permission marketing, purple cow, linchpin; whenever you use these words and phrases, you’re tipping your hat (consciously or not) to Seth Godin, the man who popularised them.

Look elsewhere: Kevin Kelly and “1,000 True Fans”, Hugh MacLeod and the “global microbrand”, Chris Anderson and the “long tail”.

What these writers and thinkers understand is not only the power of a good idea, but the longevity of it.

It’s tempting to want to break new ground each time you publish a piece of writing. To dazzle.

Far more valuable in the long run, though, is when you take an idea and run with it. Show us around it. Show us how it works in action, how it affects us. Own your idea and you’ll be remembered for it.

Sprout Your Ideas by Watering Them With Confidence

Have you ever had an idea that you immediately pushed aside because you felt that you weren't good enough to follow through with it?

Perhaps you thought you didn't have the skills necessary to make the idea a reality or you felt that you'd end up producing something that you thought was crap.


You're better than that. You're ten times more capable than you think.

Ideas are like seeds. Just as a seed needs water to grow, ideas need confidence to sprout. If you stop watering the idea before it has time to grow (or worse, not water it at all), how will you ever know its potential?

Just as a single seed can become an enormous tree, every idea has the potential to change the world and drop seeds of its own. If you don't even give your ideas a chance, you've condemned them all to failure.

Would you rather give hope to your ideas or condemn them all to failure?

Be confident in your ability to make every idea a reality.

It's OK to stop putting effort towards an idea when you've genuinely recognized that it's not working, but don't give up before you've even started watering it.

We need more people who are confident enough to take their ideas forward. The world needs you to give hope to your ideas and believe in yourself long enough to take at least take the first steps.

You have incredible potential. All those things you believe you're not capable of doing are only true because you tell yourself so.

The next time you have an idea, give it a chance. Water it a little and see what happens.