Here are SIX things I learned, thought were interesting, or found useful.
The Highest Quality Has The Most Drafts
Shortly after the release of Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon, Malcolm Gladwell talked about the many lessons learned in his deep exploration into Simon’s creative process. Gladwell said he was struck less by Simon’s creativity and more by his craftsmanship. It reminded him—“one of my favorite things I used to do,” he said, “is whenever I read something I really loved, I would ask the person who wrote it, how many drafts did you do? What you would discover is the stuff that you like the most, that you think is of the highest quality, has the most drafts.” (File next to or below: They Started With Shit).
The Great Excuse
Seth Godin wrote a blog post titled “Perfect or we’re not going,” which opened with a question: when does this rule apply? Answer: “It doesn’t apply to anyone we’ve ever hired. It doesn’t apply to anything we’ve ever purchased. It doesn’t apply to any project we’ve sponsored. Or anyone we’ve ever voted for, dated or befriended, either. In fact, it’s a great excuse for the things we’re afraid to do, or where our inclination is to say no anyway. If you’re hoping for inaction, look for perfect.” And if you find perfect, as Gladwell said, it probably went through a lot of drafts.
Beware What Gets The Center of Your Attention
In 1986, Richard Hamming gave a talk at his former employer, Bell Labs, on how to do first-class work. In mathematics and computer science arenas, Hamming is one of the all-time giants. The talk was informed by his observing and collaborating with Nobel Prize winners, interviewing the great scientists of his time, and studying the great scientists of all time. “Most of you in this room,” Hamming said, “probably have more than enough brains to do first class work. But great work is something else than mere brains.” Hamming tells the story of a fellow with mere brains. “He took me into his office and showed me his method of getting letters done and how he took care of his correspondence,” Hamming says. “He was bragging about how marvelous it was and how he could get so much work done without the secretary’s interference.” Don’t be a fool, Hamming told him. If you only work on what only you can work on while the support takes over the rest of the work, you will go much farther. “And, he never went any further,” Hamming writes. “[He] was not willing to recognize that you need the support.” First-class work requires what Hamming calls “deep commitment.” To do first-class work, he says, “you don’t let anything else get the center of your attention.” Not even the marvelous method of getting letters done.
Don’t Care About What You Don’t Care About
Just after Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In The Heights” ran on Broadway and won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Lin-Manuel was at the composer Stephen Sondheim’s house. Sondheim asked Lin-Manuel what he was working on, how he was going to follow up the success of “In The Heights.” Lin-Manuel told him, “I’m working on this hip-hop album, like a ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ concept album about Alexander Hamilton.” Sondheim, Lin-Manuel said, “threw back his head and guffawed, and he said, ‘No one will expect that from you. That’s amazing. Keep writing that.’” Lin-Manuel wasn’t intentionally going in the opposite direction of people’s expectations. As he told the songwriter Ross Golan, he’s always, for better or worse, followed his inclinations. He tells Ross the story of when he was going into his senior year of high school, and his dad tried to make him take AP Statistics. His dad, holding onto hope that Lin-Manuel would one day go to law school, said it wouldn’t hurt to have it on his résumé. “It would hurt, for me,” Lin-Manuel told him, “I cannot care about what I do not care about.” “It will make you look well-rounded,” his dad said. “I’m not well-rounded,” Lin-Manuel replied, “I care about these things.”
Productivity Follows Caring
In the piece that gave us the good-mood hack, the entrepreneur/investor Sam Altman also writes about working on only what he cares about. “I’ve learned,” Altman writes, “that I can’t be very productive working on things I don’t care about or don’t like. So I just try not to put myself in a position where I have to do them (by delegating, avoiding, or something else). Stuff that you don’t like is a painful drag on morale and momentum.” He then adds a by-the-way: “here is an important lesson about delegation: remember that everyone else is also most productive when they’re doing what they like, and do what you’d want other people to do for you—try to figure out who likes (and is good at) doing what, and delegate that way.” (File next to or below The Paleolithic Theory of Procrastination or The Dance Between Ability & Interest).
Here, You Play It!
The jazz musician Gene Quill was heavily influenced by the jazz musician Charlie Parker. At a jazz club in New York, Quill was walking off the stage when when was approached by an audience member, “Hey, all you’re doing is playing just like Charlie Parker.” Quill replied, “What?” “All you’re doing is playing like Charlie Parker.” Quill held out his his instrument and said, “Here. You play just like Charlie Parker!” The writer Haruki Murakami told this story to say, “criticizing someone is easy…If someone is hard on me, I hold out my instrument and say, ‘Here, you play it!’”