A fan of Seth’s and looking for the skinny before pulling the trigger?
I’ve got you covered in this summary of Seth Godin’s, The Practice: Shipping Creative Work.
This post honours the content with limited commentary and opinion. I do, however, make links to other texts throughout the summary. To help consolidate my understanding, I like to draw sketchnotes that serve as shortcuts to the main ideas. You can find the completed sketchnote at the end of the post.
This book is geared towards creatives who are either starving or selling out. Seth reminds us that a practice is merely doing , then shipping, creative work to bring about a change in someone.
So let’s get to Seth’s first punch: trusting yourself.
What You Can Do To Trust Yourself
How do you trust yourself? According to Godin, you must free yourself of an outcome driven mindset and adopt a practice. Only after a process is there an outcome.
Work follows patterns. Patterns that we can only begin to see and appreciate after the more exposure we have to them. A practice promotes unearthing these patterns.
We often seek outcomes because we want assurance, certainty or confidence. But when we adopt the practice of our work, then we detach ourselves from the reward mindset. We do work for work’s sake. We enjoy the work because it embodies us.
“You are an artist when you choose to be one.”— Seth Godin, The Practice
The best way to gather our confidence, our inspiration and our creativity is attending to the habitual work of our art and shipping it. Why?
Because actions lead to feelings of flow. We can’t wait for flow. We must show up and sink into the work. We attract flow to us when we show that we are committed to the work.
The sentiment of using actions to change feeling states is not new. We buy things to induce a state change. But they are rarely long-lasting. When Tim Ferriss interviewed and asked Derek Sivers what he would put on a billboard, he replied, “it won’t make you happy.” Further, he said that he’d stick it in a high volume place. Heck, maybe even train thousands of parrots to fly around and squawk this out to us as reminders.
But back to the practice.
You are your own worst boss. Imagine if you had a boss who was just like you. Your instinctive reaction would probably be, “sign me up.” But think about the self-talk you unconsciously say to yourself. How many times have you said “I can’t,” “I’m too stupid,” or “I’m not good enough.” Would you want a boss to tell you those things? I’m guessing not.
We can be our own asshole of a boss.
Think of that one person who nurtured you. If you can’t think of that one person, then what would that person look like? What would they be doing? Get out of your own way and be that boss.
Imposter Syndrome is Real
Imposter syndrome is real. That’s when we tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough for what we’re trying to do. Godin pushes us to realise that this feeling is us at the edge of our growth boundary. You are in knowledge discovery mode. You have that choice to press on. Your curiosity the companion who will help guide your way. Celebrate imposter syndrome as it’s positive feedback that you’re on the hook.
The hook is when you’re showing up and shipping your creative work. “Here, I made this.” It can be kind of scary. Heck, publishing these notes and accompanying sketchnotes is kind of scary. Who am I to be doing this? The imposter syndrome is real, but here I am on the hook. Circulating the knowledge of others through me and back out again to build understanding. Hopefully, it becomes a seed of inspiration for others to follow their lines of personal inquiry.
Process saves us from the poverty of our intentions.Elizabeth King, as quoted by Seth Godin — The Practice
In other words, the process of the practice saves us from selling out. We cultivate an identity around skill acquisition. Then, we ship the work to other in order to create the tension that results in change. Remember, only after a process is there an outcome.
In order to trust yourself, adopt a practice. A practice that embodies who you wish to become and the skills you’ll need to become that person. Then go out and show others.
How To Be More Generous
Seth introduces us to the hook (mentioned above) in Generous.
What’s the hook? The hook is when you expose your work for the world to see. The hook is when you do work for specific people so that you cannot hide in the cracks of vague generalities.
The hook delivers intimacy, generosity and creativity.
Godin wants us to get on the hook because he thinks hoarding knowledge is toxic.
Share ideas so they spread. What spreads becomes valuable.— Seth Godin, The Practice
Though, getting on the hook can be uncomfortable. It’s vulnerable there. Exactly!
Discomfort creates change and it’s this tension that drives change in others. Reassurance is futile because that kicks us onto a path of seeking validation and acquiring confidence.
Seth reminds us that if we adopt the practice, then we are free of attachment to the outcome. The resistance to grow loses its power if we trust the practice and not search for confidence.
Actions generate feeling state changes. Not reassurances.
Godin introduces the niching strategy in this section. The message is clear: “change someone, ignore everyone.” Derek Sivers, in his book Your Music and People, echoes this message when he advises us to “proudly exclude” the majority.
Later in the chapter, Godin makes some comments on selling. He reframes sales as a chance to solve somebody’s problem. After all, isn’t that why businesses exist? To sell us a solution to our woes.
He reminds us that selling is turning a no into a yes. It’s about upending the status quo. And if we feel uneasy about selling, then we just haven’t sold it to the most important person yet: ourselves.
Once a person enrols into what you offer, the dialogue shifts from ‘you’ to ‘we’ and ‘us’. We begin our journey together.
Godin writes that it’s courageous to ship your work, and when you do, the work paints a vivid picture of all the ‘why’ questions you asked along the way.
He asks us this question at the end of the chapter:
If you knew you were going to fail, would the journey be worth it?— Seth Godin, The Practice
Adopt the process and the outcome becomes irrelevant. You detach yourself from its clasp.
The single greatest takeaway from this section is this: the source of inspiration isn’t some divine intention. It’s the self. Choice + Skill + Attitude = The Practice.
We’re creative because we ship the work. We don’t ship the work because we’re creative.— Seth Godin, The Practice
Godin’s take on anxiety is that it’s a quest for a guarantee. We are attached to a certain set of circumstances. We worry when our expectation of those circumstances is challenged.
Free yourself from the worry and detach from the circumstances. Do because you just want to do.
He makes a clear distinction between talent and skill. Talent is what we’re born with while skill is acquired over time.
Godin says that it’s offensive to call a professional talented. The term fails to acknowledge the effort and time that has gone into mastery.
In order to obtain mastery, you need only an hour. How do you spend your hour?
You are willing to bathe, to eat, and to scroll social media. Where’s the hour spent that’s on your practice?
Show us the hour spent on your practice and we’ll show you the creative path.— Seth Godin, The Practice
Money permits us to be turn professional. Money signifies enrolment. Generous doesn’t mean free. When you’re offering free content you’re invisible.
Lastly, Godin touches on the necessity of working with quality clients. Many influences, such as Ramit Sethi, Tim Ferriss and Derek Sivers, echo this notion.
Sell at a premium to premium clients. You’ll need fewer clients and fewer sales. These clients demand extraordinary work. That correlates to an extraordinary you.
Intent —What Change Do You Seek To Make?
Seth wants us to get clarity.
He wants us to be intentional about the work we do. How do you become intentional?
You get clear on who the work is for. You be specific and make your work for a specific audience and not the vague generality. You design for a small audience who will become your best promoters as they spread ideas to others. If we are not specific about our audience, then we can use the generality to hide. We’re off the hook because we were tepid about our actions. We didn’t let anyone down. Be specific. Help someone, not everyone.
How do you find who it is for? You experiment. You make it for a friend or you imagine you make it for a friend. Once we know who it is for, we can understand their fears, their pain points and what they want. Then we can seek to offer the change for them.
When it comes to the solution you ask: what it is for? Is the work you’re shipping meeting the need of your audience?
You can’t command people to feel something. You can only seed them with ideas with the work that you ship. It is up to the individual to alter their feeling state.
On intuition, successful people pre-filter the inklings that will advance the progress of the practice and not those inklings that focus on a specific outcome.
Mindfulness means to be doing focussed work. The simplest way to do this is to have purpose and intent.
Authenticity is a trap. People don’t want your authenticity. They want your consistent practice because they know the result you’ll bring about. Being authentic is about being in a volatile feeling state. You want to be authentic, but the audience doesn’t want you do be.
No Such Thing As Writer’s Block
Citing a lack of credentials is a road block according to Seth. It’s the perfect excuse for us to not show up and ship our work.
We tell ourselves this narrative to let ourselves off the hook. It gives you a reason to stall when all you really need to do is merely do the work.
So what stops us from shipping our creative work?
It’s not writer’s block because it doesn’t exist.
Rather, it’s an invented story that we tell ourselves and that story makes it true.
Thankfully, stories can be edited and refined.
If your story isn’t working for you, find a better one to take its place.— Seth Godin, The Practice
At the heart of our ‘block’ is the search for certainty. The search for assurance. The search that we’ll bring about a guarantee of results.
But learning to live and embrace the uncertainty is the point of the practice. We experience this tension because we’re on the frontier of creative invention.
This is desirable difficulty in Seth’s words. Desirable difficulty is necessary for us to upskill and level up. We set ourselves up for the struggle because after the struggle we reach new heights.
This concept is captured beautifully in Ray Dalio’s 5-step process to problem-solving.
Living on this frontier is scary.
We’re scared because it’s scary to fail. It’s painful to fail unless we reframe our failure narrative. How can you fail if you tell yourself that you learnt from the mistake? The hidden benefit in failure is uncovered when we search for it.
Failure is the foundation of our work.— Seth Godin, The Practice
It’s hard to become blocked when you’re in motion. That’s why it’s critical to show up to the practice even when you don’t feel like doing it. We do the work because we believe in the process and not because of the desired outcome that it will bring.
How Playing Catch is a Practice
Seth used the example of playing catch in the backyard. In catch, there is no winner. You just play. Each throw is a refinement on a previous one. The game is to best ourselves and our skill and enjoy the process of doing it. The result is a consequence of this practice but not the motivation.
Once the outcome is shipped as a result of the practice, then we’re open to feedback or critique. Seth distinguishes between the generous critic and the non-generous critic.
The generous critic has taken the time to regard your work. They’ve attempted to understand your intent and speak up about it. They’re ready to be involved on your journey.
This is hard to do as it involves the fan putting themselves on the hook.
It’s much easier to be the non-generous critic. Essentially, they comment on their experience. The non-generous critic tells us that our work is not for them. Nothing more.
But when you have a generous critic they become your fan. Godin makes a reference to Kevin Kelly’s 1000 true fans — the magical number from which you can live if you offer $100 of content for these fans to purchase each year.
But before 1000 comes 10. Aim for 10 fans who are looking for your idiosyncrasies and peculiarities. If fans want generic, they have a multitude of existing options.
During this chapter, Godin makes a bonus reference to 45 ways that you may sacrifice your work. I won’t list them all here, but most refer to the excuses you make for yourself for either not starting or following through with shipping your work.
Chop Wood and Carry Water
Seth likens the practice to this famous quote. The practice is finding contentment in the seemingly mundane on the way to building a deep understanding of the skill or subject matter you’re inquiring into.
He suggests that Nike’s slogan “Just Do It.” is wrong and that we should merely do it. When we merely do it then we bring intent to the craft. Finding your presence is repeatedly showing up to the work and merely doing it.
Determination of the will is precisely what’s needed to create art.— Seth Godin, The Practice
When we merely do the work, the muse or flow shows up as covered in Trust Yourself.
As I read this book, I watched the classic film, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray. Bill’s encounters the same day over and over again until he becomes transformed. The conceited Bill Murray changes into a generous do-gooder as he comes to terms with his destiny of repetition.
At the heart of Bill’s transformation is the acquisition of skills, such as piano playing, and the generous acts of saving people throughout the day. He just accepts the practice instead of obsessing over the outcome, which is winning the heart of Andie Macdowell.
I imagine someone who has adopted the practice feels a sense of Groundhog Day.
Quantity Then Quality
Seth is an advocate of the many bad ideas concept. Build up your reps of bad ideas and you’ll discover the good ones. Then you can build quality. Sadly, there is no metric for a good idea other than shipping your work and your audience letting you know.
So then what is good?
Good is defined before you begin. If your shipped work achieves its mission or matches your audience then it’s good. But there’s still a massive gap between good and as good as it could be.
So how to you get started?
Simple. You pick up the pencil and merely do the work. You’re looking for what Seth calls the “smallest viable breakthrough.” This is the smallest unit of available genius. Can you rewrite a sentence of your favourite writing? How can you make it and be proud of the shipped work?
It doesn’t mean that it’s good at first. Nothing is good at first. Recall that the result isn’t promised. Good is a result of the frontloaded effort that went into the work. The only way to get through the steps is to do the steps.
The difference between your first draft and George Orwell’s is that the latter shipped their work.
The people you bring your work to want to know what is rhymes with.— Seth Godin, The Practice
They want to make a comparison. They want to fit your work into a category that they can relate to. This is called genre. Work within a genre because you first need to work with what exists before you can work with something different.
Lastly, Seth offers some quick tips to aid the development of your practice.
- Build streaks. Maintain streaks.
- Blog, write, ship daily and show up.
- Talk about streaks for accountability.
- Seek the smallest viable audience.
- Seek out desirable difficulty.
- Take the more direct path but avoid shortcuts.
- Avoid talking about your dreams with people who want to protect you from heartache.
I like to think of assertions as guesses much like a person using the scientific method makes a hypothesis. You have a suspicion of bringing about a result, but there’s no guarantee.
This is how Seth wants us to think about assertions: The practice demands assertions when there are no guarantees.
He adds that assertions are generous and are not the final answer. Rather, they seek to make things better through inquiry.
Seth made a curious comment on winning Jeopardy. You need not know the answer. You need only know your process to get the answer. You buzz for the answer once you trust yourself and your process to get to it.
Earn Your Skills
What’s the secret to earning your skills? According to Seth it takes two ingredients.
The first seems obvious and that’s skill acquisition. The practice promotes the acquisition of skills through repeated focus and attention.
The second ingredient is attitude. Seeing light in places where your competitors only see darkness.
Perhaps a bonus ingredient is surrounding yourself within a cohort with similar beliefs. This is the “you become the average of the 5 people you hang around most” argument. But it’s true. You are in control of the input into your mind. If you feed your mind a diet of news, Facebook scrolling and Netflix, then you become what you eat.
Conversely, if you focus your attention on skills and personal growth, then that’s what will become your destiny.
Your mentality becomes your reality is what I say.
So go off and do the reading. The reading refers to the difficult act of staying abreast of your domain knowledge. But this understanding exposes you to the state of the art.
Once you have this understanding of your domain, then you’ll probably have good taste.
What’s good taste accoding to Seth? That’s when you know what your audience wants even before the audience knows themselves. It also takes the guts and perseverance to veer from what’s expected.
Seek Out Constraints
I recently read Derek Sivers’ Your Music and People. I like how Derek and Seth often reference each other’s work. I can hear the respect and appreciation between the two but they don’t always agree.
Anyway, Sivers alluded to the importance of creative constraints. Seth echoes this point when he says that all art is built from constraints. Art solves problems in novel ways.
An artist is a master of constraint.— Seth Godin, The Practice
We often seek wriggle room but the wriggle room relives us of the creative tension that’s required to produce.
Ultimately, the constraints put us in a box. The goal isn’t to think outside the box. The goal is to live on the box’s edge (remember the boundary of growth?).
Seth leaves us with some final points on seeking constraints:
- Hubris is the dream killer.
- Manage your risk.
- Trust the process and develop a unique perspective.
- Creative is a choice.
- Avoid certainty.
- Pick yourself.
- Results are a by-product.
- Postpone gratification.
- Seek joy.
- Understand genre.
- Embrace generosity.
- Ship the work.
- Learn from what you ship.
- Avoid reassurance.
- Dance with fear.
- Be paranoid about mediocrity.
- Learn new skills.
- Create change.
- See the world as it is.
- Get better clients.
- Be the boss of the process.
- Trust yourself.
Life is lived on the wave. The rest is just paddling and waiting. Live on the wave.
Where Do Ideas Come From?
Seth rounds out the book with some commentary on the origin of good ideas. Here’s some of his thoughts:
- Reading or listening to books.
- Good ideas come from (many) bad ideas.
- Striving to meet expectations.
- Ideas fear experts but adore beginner’s mind.
- Spurts until you get frightened.
- From trouble.
- Your ego and are best when generous and helpful.
- Sometimes from fear but often from confidence.
- Being alert and awakened to notice.
The Practice fell into my palms at an ideal time. I’ve stretched myself across multiple creative pursuits. Essentially, throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. The process is intense and you don’t always know what you’re working towards.
But I know at its core is determination to provide value to others.
And while Seth wouldn’t want me to say this as it goes against one of his ideas, The Practice offered some guidance on the creative process.
Reading this book is like being mentored by Seth.
When someone is unsure about who they want to be, then this book is good for them. It won’t tell you who to be, but it will remind you that defining that purpose is a matter of adopting a process and continually showing up authentically in the world with what excites you in service of others.