Saturday, September 5, 2015

September 5 2015. It’s true. Creativity, by itself, isn’t enough. Neither is networking. You also need fortitude—and a sense of humor.




Check him out. Keep reading him. He has the touch!

“Friends are God’s way of apologizing for your family.”

“You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.”

“The more you see yourself as what you’d like to become, and act as if what you want is already there, the more you’ll activate those dormant forces that will collaborate to transform your dream into your reality.”
“You have everything you need for complete peace and total happiness right now.”


INTRODUCTION. Where this blog is concerned, you should really focus on what Jeff Goins has to say. He is articulating a truth many creatives (like me) find it hard to face up to.

Writers, in particular, tend towards the introverted—and networking does not come naturally to us. We also work alone (by and large) and rather like the idea that our writing is all our own work.

Mine! All mine!

Well, it is—in a sense—but really it isn’t. We learn from other writers (if only by reading) are helped in numerous ways by others (I am blessed with exceptional friends), and are supported by our readers (in more ways than I can adequately convey).

Fan e-mail has a tendency to arrive at just the right psychological moment. I have received many thousands of such missives over the years—and never fail to be both thrilled and moved by each one. It is a great thing to reach out and touch another’s life—even if it is only to transport them to another world for a few hours.

A writer—whether aware of it or not—is the privileged spearhead of a considerable collaborative effort.

Here, it is only fair to point out that being at the pointy end of a spear is not always comfortable. One can be perceived as something of a threat. It can be bloody!

Personally, I don’t believe anyone does anything worthwhile entirely alone—and the world is a better place because of it. Achievement stems from cooperation—either direct or indirect—and is both difficult and rewarding for exactly those reasons.

Good grief! Who wants to share the glory?

Well, one learns over the years—and these days I’m more than happy to.

For all that I would be less than honest if I did not admit that writing can feel as if you are alone—and lonely—especially if you are alone. However, the pleasant paradox is that even if you do write entirely alone—day after day, week after week, for years—you will rarely find better company than the characters (and ideas) you are writing about. Ideas are particularly sociable. Accordingly, one of the best antidotes to loneliness, at least as far as I am concerned, is to write (alone).

Damnably confusing!

Fortitude is for when the writing stops—and what people call ‘real life’ intrudes.

I’m decidedly puzzled as to how anyone deals with real life without writing. Whoever came up with that phrase, “The wisdom of crowds,” was cuckoo. Real people are cuckoo. We all escape into stories—reading, watching, singing, acting them—for good reason.

And fortitude is powered by humor—or do I mean wit?

Decisions, decisions, decisions!

Observe, question, think, decide, write. Repeat for decades. Fail—and fail again—because you never write quite as well as you know you could if you really pushed yourself. Display fortitude.

No better life!

Jeff Goins is the author of four books, including the national bestseller The Art of Work. For thoughts on writing and life, you can join his free newsletter

The Unfair Truth About How Creative People Really Succeed On Networks, Connections, and Relationships

The other week, I was invited to a dinner hosted by a friend. Those attending included people I’ve admired for years. Halfway through the dinner, I silently asked myself, “How did I get here?” For years, I heard people talk about their influential friendships and subsequent success and silently seethed with envy. It just seemed unfair. Of course those people were successful. They knew the right people. They were in the right place at the right time. They got lucky.

Years later, I would discover how success is born of luck (I don’t think any honest person disputes that). But luck, in many ways, can be created—or at very least, improved. The truth is life is not fair. For creative work to spread, you need more than talent. You have to get exposure to the right networks. And as unfair as that may seem, it’s the way the world has always worked.

The good news, though, is you have more control over this than you realize.

Creativity: A Systems Approach

What makes a person creative? Of course, as human beings we are all endowed with the ability to create. But what is the difference between that kind of “little c” creativity and the world-changing “big C” creativity that changes industries and leaves a legacy for generations to come?

In his decades-long study of creativity , Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes what he calls a “systems approach.” Since creative work tends to be  subjective, he posits a model that includes three systems. They are:

  • The Domain
  • The Field
  • The Individual

In order for a work to be considered Creative (in the sense that it offers some kind of enduring work the world remembers), it must satisfy all three of these areas. Here’s how it works.

First, an individual must master her craft in a given domain (art, science, mathematics). Then, this person must offer the creative work to a field of influencers in that domain who are trusted experts. Finally, the gatekeepers decide if the work is worth being accepted as authoritative into the domain.

That’s the systems approach to creativity.

And as much as I initially winced at the word “gatekeepers” when considering what makes creative work succeed, once I started reading biographies of famous artists, scientists, and musicians, it made a lot of sense. Talent is only part of the equation. The rest is network.

Hemingway, Paris, and Enduring Work

When he was just a young man in his early twenties, Ernest Hemingway moved from Chicago, Illinois to a poor district in Paris. He had just returned from a short stint of serving with the Red Cross in World War I and wanted to pursue a career in writing. There was just one problem: he didn’t have much exposure to other writers.

Who would teach him?

In Chicago, Hemingway met Sherwood Anderson who encouraged him to move to Paris to meet Gertrude Stein, who led a community of writers, poets, and artists there. Plus, it was cheaper to live in Paris, and Hemingway could live modestly while still having time to travel and write.

In Paris, he met Stein, as well as Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and many others who would shape his work for years to come. This included a connection via F. Scott Fitzgerald to Scribner’s, the publisher that would later publish his novels and change the course of his career forever.

Before that decade in Paris, Hemingway was a writer of some notable talent and a pretty good journalist. But after those years immersed in the creative work of others, he was a household name.

Due to the connections created through that community, Hemingway became one of the most famous writers of the 20th Century. It’s inconceivable such a development could have happened anywhere else. Not because there was something special about the Left Bank at that time, but because without a network, creative work does not endure.

In other words, without Paris, there is no Hemingway. But what does that mean for mere mortals like you and me?

Finding Your Own Paris

Are we doomed to failure if we don’t live in the right place at the right time?

Of course not. But networks matter, maybe more than we care to admit. Vincent van Gogh’s work matured much more quickly once he met the French Impressionists. And why wouldn’t it? He now had a field of gatekeepers who both critiqued and validated his work.

Whether we like it or not, we all need some kind of objective standard against which to measure our work. And although van Gogh did not sell a painting in his lifetime, it was the tenacity of a well-connected sister-in-law who eventually brought his work to market. In fact, most of the great art the world has ever seen came about not through a single stroke of genius but by the continual effort of a community.

Networks. Partnerships. Creative collaborations. This is where enduring work originates, and, incidentally, is how how we most often get an epic creation like The Lord of the Rings or The White Album. Creativity is not a solitary invention but a collaborative creation. And communities create opportunities for creative work to succeed.

Without a network, creative work does not endure. Great art does not come about through a single stroke of genius, but by the continual effort of a community.

But how do you apply this approach if you don’t live some place like Paris, New York, or Rome?

Well, you could, of course, move. According to Csikszentmihalyi, it’s better to move somewhere new than it is to will yourself to be more creative. It’s easier than ever to transplant yourself someplace inspiring, even if only temporarily. I did this eight years ago, relocating from northern Illinois to Nashville and unknowingly implanted myself into what would become a hub of creativity, technology, and entrepreneurship.

You could also let go of your excuses and realize there’s a network available to you right now—wherever you are. This may come in the form of an online mastermind group or a series of events you attend (maybe one you organize yourself). But the truth is there are connections everywhere and always more resources available to those willing to look.

A Seat at the Table

Five years ago, I decided to let go of cynicism and began reaching out to influencers, asking them to meet for coffee. Even though I was a shy person, I met these people and followed up with them, doing everything I could to help them. I tried to be the kind of person they would want to invest in—following every piece of advice they gave, doing everything they told me to do, and not questioning a single word of it.

And at some point, I got lucky.

It’s naive to say success doesn’t involve luck. At the same time, luck can be planned, anticipated. Although I can’t tell when or where luck is going to come from, I do know the more you put myself in the company of great minds, the more likely some of that greatness will rub off on you at some point.

So if you want a seat at the table, the process might look something like this:

  • Find a gatekeeper. For Hemingway, this was Sherwood Anderson and eventually Gertrude Stein. These were the people who held the keys to the kingdom, and every domain has at least one. Find someone who is connected to the people you want to know, and be strategic in reaching out, tenacious in staying in touch, and intentional in demonstrating your competency.
  • Connect with other people in the network. Stein introduced Hemingway to other writers in Paris who could help him, but he was also relentless about meeting with them. He used to spar with Ezra Pound on a regular basis, boxing him and learning how to write terse prose in the process. If you show the gatekeeper you’re willing to learn, he or she will likely introduce you to others and keep investing in you.
  • Help as many people as possible. This is crucial. It’s not just who you know, it’s who you help. People remember what you do for them a lot more than they remember how clever you were. In spite of his reputation as an alpha male, Hemingway did this, too—helping Stein get her work published, encouraging Fitzgerald when he suffered from creative blocks, and bringing attention to the work of the Left Bank.

Of course, every person’s journey is their own. But what I am now more certain of than ever before is that success in any creative field is contingent on the networks you are a part of. The question is, will you embrace the power of networks, or will you keep thinking those people are just lucky?

Luck comes to us all. But those who recognize it are the ones who succeed. Every story of success is really a story of community, and the way you find yours is by reaching out and taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.

Jeff Goins is the author of four books, including the national bestseller The Art of Work. For thoughts on writing and life, you can join his free newsletter

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