BOOK REVIEW: “5 Questions Creatives and Entrepreneurs Should Be Asking Themselves (According to Seth Godin’s New Book, The Practice)” – Ewa Wojciechowska
That phrase lies at the heart of the creative process, says the marketing wizard Seth Godin in his new book, The Practice.
It’s about shipping: not hiding, not stalling, not waiting for a muse or a breakthrough idea, but sharing one’s work with others.
In The Practice Godin deconstructs some misconceptions about the nature of creative endeavour and shows how to make it less emotionally draining and more rewarding. Reading it, you feel as if Seth was asking you some uncomfortable yet essential questions about your process and mindset. Here are five of them.
1. Are you a professional or an amateur?
The former’s work is independent from her feelings and emotions. A professional shows up and does her job regardless of her mood. We tend to believe that creative production includes passively waiting for ideas or inspiration and surrendering to it when it arrives. And whether it comes, it’s out of our control.
But for the sake of intellectual experiment, let’s assume that professional creatives (writers, leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, marketers) are more similar to plumbers than to Arthur Rimbaud.
When someone calls the plumber, she doesn’t require ecstatic, profound work. She just needs her pipes unclogged. And it’s the same with writers: nobody demands you to come up with your best work possible any time you put your fingers on the keyboard. Nobody expects you to write the best blog post ever. The most powerful email copy. The breathtaking poem.
And when a plumber approaches a problem, she doesn’t take it personally. She doesn’t treat an obstinate pipe as a sign of her flaws, but heads for more tools or the repair will take longer than expected. It happens. It’s natural.
Analogously, a professional writer shouldn’t take her work personally. Instead, she shows up and uses all the tools she has to deliver something useful for others. And her mood has nothing to do with it. The outcome might fall short of expectations, but if so, she either fixes the piece or draws lessons for the next time. It happens. It’s natural.
On the contrary, an amateur acts on her feelings, doing what she loves with her own pleasure in mind. Maybe the outcomes of her work will hit some bystanders, but that’s not obligatory. It’s a hobby, a pastime, a luxury. And there’s nothing wrong with being an amateur – as long as you realise that and don’t await to be paid for that.
|“Do what you love”||“Love what you do”|
|Needs mood or inspiration||Shows up regardless of mood|
|Afraid of bad performance||Embraces mistakes|
|Creates for herself||Creates for others|
|Luxury, pastime||Job to be done|
So, how about you? Are you a professional, who treats her work like plumber treats hers, or an amateur who bases her practice on emotions?
2. If you failed, would it still be worth the journey?
In the creative process, there are things you can control and things you can’t.
You can control your own practice: how much time you spend on a given project, what phases you include, how deep you go, what do you research, what is your attitude, how you set your aims, what framework do you choose, when will you ship it.
You can’t control the outcomes: how people will respond to it, whether the audience will love it, whether your bosses or coworkers like it.
And the more important the project, the more people tend to get attached to the outcomes. Yet, as Seth Godin says, “The first step is to separate the process from the outcome.“
To do so, imagine that the project fails. You don’t meet the external targets you expected, the number of people who downloaded your ebook or visited your landing page was below the assumption. If so, would it still be worth the effort? The process itself?
And there is a paradox here: “One one hand, we have to ignore the outcome, the box office numbers, and the famous critics, because if we obsess about them, we will break our process, lose our momentum and eventually be sapped of our will to be creative. On the other hand, there actually is a difference between good work and not-good work. There’s a point to our effort, and the change we seek to make involves empathy for others, not just the solipsism of doing whatever we feel like. The paradox is at the heart of our practice: we must dance with it, not pretend it doesn’t exist.“
Embracing this paradox means willingness to disconnect your efforts from external metrics and enjoy the process itself. In other cases, desire for quick positive feedback will put you in a fragile position, when you crave fast gratification so much you sacrifice your own aims and agenda in search for shortcuts and chase something you can never get – the certainty about the payback.
3. Where is your bad writing?
Every single writer sharing secrets of her craft repeats that good writing can only appear if you write a lot and throw most of it away. Great authors produce lousy short stories and lousy novels before they bloom. They sit down and type, type, type.
To write well, you need to prepare for bad writing. Embrace it. Respect it. Understand it will happen.
No matter how much you produce, failure (an outcome below expectations) is an inevitable part of your practice. So there is nothing to be scared of in it: as long if you don’t take it personally.
And approaching your bad writing like a professional, like a plumber, makes it less dangerous, less painful.
Are you ready to write enough bad things to make sure enough brilliant things can be found in there?
4. Who do you want to help?
It’s easier to create and deliver from the generosity mindset. When your work is not about yourself, but about others you want to help, educate, motivate or entertain, it disarms your inner critic, inner resistance and fear.
Yet it doesn’t mean you’re entitled to anything because you try to be generous. “When we do work for the audience, we open the door to giving up our attachment to how the audience will receive the work. That’s up to them. Our job is to be generous, as generous as we know how to be, with our work“, says Godin. No one owes us anything.
So it’s important to ask yourself, who do you serve? Who do you want to help?
How much do you know about these people? About their beliefs, needs, background?
Be precise. When you determine that you want to reach the head of marketing in company X, you get exposed: it’s evident whether you achieved that. If you address “the general public“, you can easily hide from univocal answer to the question: Do I reach my target audience?
Narrowing down your public forces you to be less generic. To get specific. It turns on your empathy. And although “know your audience“ is the tritest marketing advice ever, repeated over and rarely implemented, Godin puts it in a new light. Defining your audience doesn’t only let you measure the outcomes, but to serve others better and therefore to take off the emotional ego-luggage of the creative process. It relieves you as a creative professional.
5. What are your constraints?
If only I had a bigger budget. More time. More experience. Someone with a given skill in my team. If I worked in a different company. In a different industry. If I had access to some technology. If it hasn’t been for the regulations, status quo, laws of physics.
Constraints can be seen as frustrating blockers and excuses, or as a productive framework you can push against. They set your canvas, your scope. They allow you to play with them.
When you write a book, it could always be deeper, more researched, it could always use some rewriting, editing, footnotes, new chapters, different angles. Yet, if you embrace your deadline, the set volume in words, the audience, the genre, you can actually finish it. It forces you to make choices (e.g. which areas you can’t cover, what language to choose), some of which are painful (because you need to give something up), but it makes your work seem finite. And then – shippable.
|And if you want to buy Godin’s new book, you might want to listen to him talking about it at Tim Ferris or Marie Forleo, where he discusses most of the concepts you’ll find in The Practice.|
To sum up
Today more and more of us work in creative areas, what demands us to operate in uncertainty, with no manual. Often, we find ourselves doing something for the first time, with no reassurance that our efforts will produce results we expect, while we mostly don’t have much control over the outcomes. No matter how deep your market research is and how well the product is crafted, you can’t tell if people will like it.
And this uncertainty leaves us stressed, uneasy and blocked. Anxious about the results, we don’t want to ship our work until it’s perfected, until it’s more researched, more polished, redefined, deepened… Until it’s too late or it’s no longer relevant. Fear of misstep, of negative feedback stops us from doing any relevant work. Instead, we get busy and responsive.
The alternative is, Godin claims, to see creativity as an activity (what you do), not a feeling, and to do your practice from the place of generosity, trusting yourself, letting go of the will to control what we can’t control (and that sounds like what you can find in other books on creative process, such as The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron or Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert).
Here, I made this. You can now take my article, my product, my app. Let it help you, let it entertain you. Or you can ignore it, find it weird.
Do you want to show what you have made?
Ewa Wojciechowska is Head of Research & Content at e-point, Poland-based software house.