Here are SIX things I learned, thought were interesting, or found useful.
It’s A Game of Tonnage
Tim Ferriss asked Jerry Seinfeld: what would be some of the components if you were to teach a class on how to become a great writer or comedian or actor or [insert anything]? “I would teach them to learn to accept your mediocrity. You know, no one’s really that great. You know who’s great? The people that just put a tremendous amount of hours into it. It’s a game of tonnage, you know? How any hours are your going to work? Per week, per month, per year—you might even want to chart that.”
When You Work, Work Hard. When You’re Done, Be Done.
A young go-getter once said to John Wooden—presumably thinking Wooden would find it impressive—that he was plugged into his job 24/7/365. Wooden asked, “How much coffee does it take to do that?” Wooden was interested in how you sustainably perform at a high level. His approach was different from our young go-getter. “During practices, two hours each day,” he wrote, “I expected total and absolute concentration and participation…However, once practice was over, basketball was over.” He told his players—outside those two hours—to not think about basketball, to stay away from the weight room, to concentrate on things unrelated to basketball. “I felt it important to refresh and recharge oneself, not to be so consumed with basketball that it becomes a chore.” Wooden’s wife Nellie said that because he left basketball on the basketball court, she could never “tell if [John] had a good day or a bad day at practice. [He] left it behind at the office.” I’m reminded of my favorite line in Cal Newport’s Deep Work: “When you work, work hard. When you’re done, be done.”
Lay Yourself Out There
It took Peter Farrelly nine years to get “Dumb and Dumber” made. He wrote the script. He needed a star and a director. 150 actors passed. Then he’d get an actor interested but by the time he got a director interested, the actor was busy with some other project. This happened again and again. Finally in 1994, Jim Carrey read the script and wanted to do it. He had just finished filming “Ace Ventura,” a smash hit. So if Jim Carrey was in, the studio was too. But they needed to know, who’s directing. “I am,” Farrelly said. He had never directed anything, never went to film school, never shot home videos—nothing. He waited for someone to ask about what he’d done in the past or for a sample reel or something. “No one ever asked!” he said. And he soon realized that it didn’t matter that he had no idea what he was doing. “You have a crew,” he explained about showing up on set the first day. “And if you’re honest with the crew—we told them right up front, we said, ‘listen, all of you know more about movie-making than us. But I know this script. I lived this script. And I know what I want out of this script. But I don’t know angles, the camera, lenses, lighting…If I’m not getting enough angles or coverage, please tell me.’ We were honest with everybody, so everybody wanted to help. We didn’t act like we knew everything. Because we didn’t. And we just kind of laid ourselves out there: need your help. Anything you can do to help us. When it released, “Dumb and Dumber” was a No. 1 box office hit. It remains on the list of top grossing comedies of all time.
Look At The Trash
Early Six at 6 readers will recall my fascination with the revealing powers of seeming irrelevant details. (See, for instance, What Butter Indicates or Look at the Toenails). Well, when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel in 1973, Israel psychologists Amos Tversky and Danny Kahneman left their jobs, families, and homes in the U.S. and headed to Sinai. When they got there, the Israeli military psychology unit was working on a questionnaire to get some idea of how to boost the morale of the troops. Tversky and Kahneman took off for the frontlines, figuring that’s where and how they’d get a better sense of how to boost the morale of the troops. “We just got a jeep and went bouncing around in the Sinai looking for something useful to do,” Kahneman said. The other field psychologists thought they were nuts. “It was crazy for them to go to the Sinai,” Yaffa Singer said. “It was so dangerous.” As soon as Tversky and Kahneman got to Sinai, Michael Lewis writes in The Undoing Project, they realized the psychologists were wasting their time on those questionnaires. Shell-shocked, the soldiers were in no state to answer questions. Good thing that Kahneman, Lewis writes, “has a gift for finding solutions to problems where others failed to notice that there was a problem to solve.” Bouncing around in the jeep through the Sinai, Kahneman stopped beside a pile of trash on the roadside. It was the soldier’s leftovers. Kahneman drove from pile of trash to pile of trash, taking notes on what the soldiers were eating and what they were throwing away. “His subsequent recommendation,” Lewis continues, “that the Israeli army analyze the garbage and supply the soldiers with what they actually wanted made newspaper headlines.”
The Idea-Generating Magic of Doing Nothing
Where does an insight or an idea or good writing come from? The solar plexus, Raymond Chandler said. Somewhere deep down. A place, he said, that requires work to get to, of course. But also, it requires time and space. “The important thing,” he wrote, “is that there should be a space of time time, say four hours a day at least, when a writer doesn’t do anything else but write. He doesn’t have to write, and if doesn’t feel like it, he shouldn’t try. He can look out the window or stand on his head or writhe on the floor. But he is not to do any other positive thinking, not read, write letters, glance at magazines, or write checks. Either write or nothing.” When those are your only options, you will think or write “just to keep from being bored. I find it works. Two very simple rules: a. You don’t have to write. b. You can’t do anything else. The rest comes of itself.” (File next to or under Robert Greene’s advice to Be Interested In Boredom).
Don’t Try To Succeed. Work Really Hard To Deserve To Succeed
Most people haven’t heard of Randall Stutman, but he’s a coach/advisor to a lot of people most people have heard of. He talked about how studying and working with the most successful people in the world has taught him not to be outcome oriented. To not think so much about trying to succeed. “I’ve learned to aspire to it myself,” he said. “Though the best in the world—I didn’t conceive of this—I’ve learned: instead of trying to succeed, work really hard to deserve to succeed. Because when you deserve to succeed, trust me it will happen—the score takes care of itself, the victories will come, all that…It’s all about your character, it’s about your behaviors, it’s about the choices you make—do you deserve to succeed? In terms of a large epitaph of life, that’s wholly what I believe. What’s life about? I think it’s about trying to deserve success, not necessarily attaining it.”