Creative work doesn't come with a guarantee. But there is a pattern to who succeeds and who doesn't. And engaging in the consistent practice of its pursuit is the best way forward.
Based on the breakthrough Akimbo workshop pioneered by legendary author Seth Godin, The Practice will help you get unstuck and find the courage to make and share creative work. Godin insists that writer's block is a myth, that consistency is far more important than authenticity, and that experiencing the imposter syndrome is a sign that you're a well-adjusted human. Most of all, he shows you what it takes to turn your passion from a private distraction to a productive contribution, the one you've been seeking to share all along.
With this book as your guide, you'll learn to dance with your fear. To take the risks worth taking. And to embrace the empathy required to make work that contributes with authenticity and joy.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.90(w) x 7.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
1. It’s Possible
This is a book for people who want to lead, to write, or to sing.
For people who seek to teach, to innovate, and to solve interesting problems.
For people who want to go on the journey to become a therapist, a painter, or a leader.
For people like us.
It’s possible. The people who came before us have managed to speak up, stand up, and make a difference. While each journey is unique, each follows a pattern—and once you see it, it’s yours.
We simply need to find the courage to be more creative. The forces that are holding us back have long been unseen, but we can see and understand them and begin to do our work.
The practice is there if we’re willing to sign up for it. And the practice will open the door to the change you seek to make.
2. The Pattern and the Practice
Our lives follow a pattern.
For most of us, that pattern was set a long time ago. We chose to embrace a story about compliance and convenience, the search for status in a world constrained by scarcity.
The industrial economy demands it. It prods us to consumption and obedience. We trust the system and the people we work for to give us what we need, as long as we’re willing to continue down the path they’ve set out for us. We were all brainwashed from a very early age to accept this dynamic and to be part of it.
The deal is simple: follow the steps and you’ll get the outcome the system promised you. It might not be easy, but with effort, just about anyone can do it.
So we focus on the outcome, because that’s how we know we followed the steps properly. The industrial system that brainwashed us demands that we focus on outcomes to prove we followed the recipe.
That priority makes sense if the reliable, predictable outcome really matters and the payoff is truly guaranteed. But what happens when your world changes?
Suddenly, you don’t always get what was guaranteed. And the tasks you’re asked to do just aren’t as engaging as you’d like them to be. The emptiness of the bargain is now obvious: you were busy sacrificing your heart and your soul for prizes, but the prizes aren’t coming as regularly as promised.
The important work, the work we really want to do, doesn’t come with a recipe. It follows a different pattern.
This practice is available to us—not as a quick substitute, a recipe that’s guaranteed to return results, but as a practice. It is a persistent, stepwise approach that we pursue for its own sake and not because we want anything guaranteed in return.
The recipe for recipes is straightforward: good ingredients, mise en place, attention to detail, heat, finish. You do them in order. But when we create something for the first time, it’s not as linear, not easily written down.
This new practice takes leadership, a creative contribution—something that not just anyone can produce, something that might not work but that might be worth pursuing. It’s often called “art.”
The industrial system we all live in is outcome-based. It’s about guaranteed productivity in exchange for soul-numbing, predirected labor. But if we choose to look for it, there’s a different journey available to us. This is the path followed by those who seek change, who want to make things better.
It’s a path defined by resilience and generosity. It’s outward focused, but not dependent on reassurance or applause.
Creativity doesn’t repeat itself; it can’t. But the creative journey still follows a pattern. It’s a practice of growth and connection, of service and daring. It’s also a practice of selflessness and ego in an endless dance. The practice exists for writers and leaders, for teachers and painters. It’s grounded in the real world, a process that takes us where we hope to go.
This practice is a journey without an external boss. Because there’s no one in charge, this path requires us to trust ourselves—and more importantly, our selves—instead.
The Bhagavad-Gita says, “It is better to follow your own path, however imperfectly, than to follow someone else’s perfectly.” Consider the people who have found their voice and made a real impact: their paths always differ, but their practices overlap in many ways.
At the heart of the creative’s practice is trust: the difficult journey to trust in your self, the often hidden self, the unique human each of us lives with.
See the pattern, find your practice, and you can begin to live the process of making magic. Your magic. The magic that we need right now.
3. Are You Searching for Something?
Most of us are.
If we care enough, we keep looking for that feeling, that impact, that ability to make a difference. And then we look harder.
Followers aren’t searching. They’re simply following in the footsteps of the people before them. Do well on the test, comply with the instructions, move to the next rung.
Leaders seek to make things better, to contribute and to find firm footing. The chance to make a difference and to be seen and respected, all at once.
That search has created our culture and the world we live in. More and more people, engaging and contributing, weaving together something worth building.
Let’s call it art. The human act of doing something that might not work, something generous, something that will make a difference. The emotional act of doing personal, self-directed work to make a change that we can be proud of.
We each have more leverage than ever before. We have access to tools, a myriad of ways forward, and a real chance to contribute.
Your part matters. Your art matters.
It’s worth reminding yourself that the question isn’t “can I make art,” because you already have.
You have already spoken up at least once, contributed something that mattered. You’ve said something funny to a friend or perhaps even sold out Carnegie Hall.
And now we need you to do it again. But more so.
The real question is: “Do I care enough to do it again?”
As John Gardner wrote, “The renewal of societies and organizations can go forward only if someone cares.”
4. Askıda Ekmek
Askıda ekmek: there is bread on the hook. It’s an ancient tradition in Turkey. When buying a loaf at the local bakery, you can choose to pay for an extra loaf and, after bagging your purchase, the owner will hang the second loaf on a hook on the wall.
If a person in need comes by, he or she can ask if there’s anything on the hook. If so, the bread is shared, and the hunger is relieved. Perhaps as important, community is built.
When you choose to produce creative work, you’re solving a problem. Not just for you, but for those who will encounter what you’ve made.
By putting your self on the hook, you’re performing a generous act. You are sharing insight and love and magic. And the more it spreads, the more it’s worth to all of those who are lucky enough to experience your contribution.
Art is something we get to do for other people.
5. Finding a Practice
Do you have a creative hero? Someone who regularly leads, creates, and connects? Perhaps they’re a dancer, a recording artist, or a civil rights lawyer. In every field of endeavor, some people stand out as the makers of what’s next, as the voices of what’s now.
Here are some to get you started: Patricia Barber, Zaha Hadid, Joel Spolsky, Sarah Jones, Yo-Yo Ma, Tom Peters, Frida Kahlo, Banksy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bryan Stevenson, Nancy Lublin, Simone Giertz, Jonas Salk, Muhammad Yunus, Rosanne Cash, Greta Thunberg, John Wooden, Amanda Coffman—living or dead, famous or not, there are change-makers in every corner of our culture.
With few exceptions, the careers and working processes of every one of these artists are similar.
Their output is different, the circumstances are different, and the timing is different, but the practice remains.
We can adopt a practice as well.
Maybe we don’t need an industrial-strength recipe for what it means to do our jobs. Maybe instead of a series of steps to follow, we’d be better off understanding how the world actually works now.
We can adopt a practice. Here are the surprising truths that have been hidden by our desire for those perfect outcomes, the ones industrial recipes promise but never quite deliver:
· Skill is not the same as talent.
· A good process can lead to good outcomes, but it doesn’t guarantee them.
· Perfectionism has nothing to do with being perfect.
· Reassurance is futile.
· Hubris is the opposite of trust.
· Attitudes are skills.
· There’s no such thing as writer’s block.
· Professionals produce with intent.
· Creativity is an act of leadership.
· Leaders are imposters.
· All criticism is not the same.
· We become creative when we ship the work.
· Good taste is a skill.
· Passion is a choice.
Throughout this book, we’ll keep returning to surprising truths like these that fly in the face of what we’ve been taught about productive work in a system based on compliance and recipes. Artists have been shunned or shamed for embracing them, but that’s because these truths work. They subvert the dominant power structure while at the same time they enable us to make things better for the people we seek to serve.
6. Learning to Juggle
I’ve taught hundreds of people how to juggle. Learning requires a simple insight: catching the ball isn’t the point.
People who fail to learn to juggle always fail because they’re lunging to catch the next ball. But once you lunge for a ball, you’re out of position for the next throw, and then the whole thing falls apart.
Instead, we begin with just one ball. And there’s no catching: throw/drop, throw/drop, throw/drop.
Twenty times we throw the ball from our left hands, watching it land each time.
And then we do it again with our right hands.
Practicing how to throw. Getting good at throwing. If you get good enough at throwing, the catching takes care of itself.
It turns out that all this dropping is the hardest part for someone who is learning to juggle. It makes them really uncomfortable to throw a ball and then stand there as it drops to the ground.
The desire for outcome is deeply ingrained, and for some, this is the moment where they give up.
They simply can’t bear a process that willingly ignores the outcome.
For those who persist, the process quickly gathers momentum.
Perhaps fifteen minutes later, we try throw/throw/drop/drop. Simply two balls and two throws.
And then, without stress, throw/throw/catch/catch. It’s easy. There’s no problem, because the throws are where they should be, rehearsed and consistent.
The process has gotten us this far.
And then the last step is to add a third ball.
It doesn’t always work, but it always works better than any other approach.
Our work is about throwing. The catching can take care of itself.