Ignore everybody (but don’t ignore this book)

Like Rework (which I reviewed last week), Ignore Everybody is my kind of book. Written by Hugh MacLeod of gapingvoid.com, it is made up of 40 short essays that each dive into a very specific idea or question. And pictures, lots of pictures from the cube-grenade gallery at gapingvoid.com.

Based on many years of experience, the advice that MacLeod dispenses is almost brutal in its description of what aspiring artists (used in the loosest, Seth Godin-esque way) have to look forward to, and what they have to do to get there. Just reading the essay titles gives you an idea of what to expect:

  • Put the hours in
  • If your business plan depends on suddenly being “discovered” by some bit shot, your plan will probably fail
  • Keep your day job
  • Selling out is harder than it looks

If you are looking for an “easy ticket” to success, this isn’t the book that will get you there. (Hint: such a book doesn’t exist.)

None of this is new, of course, to those who are interested in pursuing mastery and are willing to put in the effort it takes to achieve that mastery. Who aren’t focused on a specific outcome but are interested in the journey on which they find themselves. There is plenty in the book to reinforce the importance of that attitude:

  • Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether
  • Sing in your own voice
  • Worrying about “Commercial vs. Artistic” is a complete waste of time
  • Write from the heart
  • The best way to get approval is not to need it

In some ways, this book simply tells us what most of already know. Maybe we know it subconsciously, just under the radar of what we are willing to acknowledge. Maybe we know that it is true but just can’t bring ourselves to do anything about it. But as MacLeod lays out in the opening essay:

GOOD IDEAS ALTER THE POWER BALANCE IN RELATIONSHIPS. THAT IS WHY GOOD IDEAS ARE ALWAYS INITIALLY RESISTED.

Good ideas come with a heavy burden, which why so few people execute them. So few people can handle it.

Ignore Everybody simply lays it out on the table to where you can’t ignore it, where you have to decide for yourself, “Can I handle it?”

One of my favorites...

Autism and “Drive”

Most autism interventions focus on making the child “more normal” or “less autistic”, and this is where many of the problems come in. (I’m sure parents who try to make their “geeky” kids more athletic or their “jocks” more academic run into basically the same problem.)

Earlier this year I read (and reviewed) Dan Pink’s latest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Addressed primarily at the world of work, and geared toward leaders / managers, I also read this from the perspective of a parent. After all, what is a parent if not a leader for their kids.

A key part of Pink’s argument is his defining of the three things that makes for meaningful work: Autonomy, the pursuit of Mastery, and Purpose. I see no reason to think that this is different for those with autism.

And yet….

As our typical kids grow, the level of autonomy we grant – and that they demand – increases. Our autistic children also demand that same autonomy, but we are more reluctant to grant it.

The same is true with the opportunity to pursue mastery. Because our autistic children’s interests and what they wish to pursue is often quite unusual, overly specific, or otherwise outside the realm of what we ourselves are comfortable with, we often try to dampen or redirect.

I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with “purpose” as well.

Much of our own personal success has come from accepting our son’s oddity in interests, giving him the autonomy to pursue those within the bounds that any child must live within, and realizing that even though we have no idea what purpose he has in mind for himself that he does have a purpose in mind.

That, I think, is the power of the message in Drive. Not only for parenting an autistic child, but just parenting in general.

This is a slightly modified version of a comment I originally posted as part of the New Yorker Book Club discussion of drive, specifically an article entitled Reading “Drive” With Autism in Mind.

Kids, sacrifice, and the master’s journey

I don’t remember exactly where I read this, and I’m paraphrasing a bit, but this little anecdote captures the essence of mastery, and the sacrifice that often goes with it:

A world class, and world famous, dancer was approached by an excited fan following a performance.

“You were fantastic!” the fan said. “I’d give half my life to be able to dance like that.”

“That’s exactly what I did,” responded the dancer.

Ian competing on TrampIf you are the parent of a child involved in athletics at the elite level, or an adult who was one of those kids, you know exactly what this dancer is talking about. My own personal experience as a parent is with gymnastics.

My son was (is) very talented on the trampoline (he was a national champion at his age / level), but when it came time to make the move into “elite”, he recognized that he wasn’t willing to make the sacrifice demanded of that level. We know plenty of others who chose to make that sacrifice.

(As an aside, there is quite the business in “online education” for those young athletes who are unable to attend school – middle, high – because of their intense training schedule.)

The hardest part of embarking on the master’s journey is the knowledge of the sacrifices you must make, the things that you must give up or resign yourself to never experience. That is why I think it is so much easier for kids – or younger people – to commit themselves to that journey.

As parents, we have a responsibility to make sure that our kids have a “childhood”. Many times this takes the form of making sure they are “well rounded”, and don’t spend too much time on any one thing. In other words, setting up roadblocks on the master’s path.

How much of this is because we really think this is best for our kids, and how much of it is an expression of our own fear of the tough journey?

There’s always something to learn

On the TV show NCIS the main character, Special Agent Gibbs, has two primary passions: catching bad guys and building boats. Not just any kind of boat, but hand made wooden sailboats. Which he builds in his basement. (A running gag on the show is the question of how he gets the boats out of the basement.)

In one episode, an old friend and mentor visits Gibbs for the first time in several years and sees a boat in progress in the basement:

“What’s this, number 3?”

“Four.”

“I thought you’d have enough practice by now.”

There’s always something to learn.

Truly words to live by, even if they do come from a fictional character.

Live your life, don’t let it pass you by

Of all of the daily meditations in 365 Tao, yesterday’s meditation on Engagement is the one that most deeply resonates for me:

Prey passes the tiger who
Sometimes merely looks,
Sometimes pounces without  hesitation,
But never fails to act.

Don’t just let life pass you by. Engage with it, be aware of all of the opportunities (and traps) that come your way, and actively choose your response.

James Gleick’s “Isaac Newton” a great introduction

After reading Quicksilver, the first book in Neal Stephenson‘s Baroque Cycle, I became very interested to learn more about some the historical figures around whom the story revolved – Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, John Wilkens, Christopher Wren, …, and Isaac Newton, the founders and early members of the Royal Society. Given my interest in physics, optics, and math, especially Isaac Newton.

Fortunately for me, James Gleick‘s biography of Newton, simply titled Isaac Newton, was published earlier that year (2003). Gleick was not new to me – both Chaos: Making a New Science and Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, have a place on my bookshelves – so I had high hopes for his biography of Newton. I was not disappointed.

Chances are you’ve heard of Isaac Newton, if for nothing else than the fact that he came up with the idea of gravity when he saw an apple fall from a tree. (Which, by the way, is a vast oversimplification.) You may have even heard of his 3 laws of motion or that he invented – some might say discovered – the calculus. You may even think that he invented calculus so he could figure out his laws of motion. (As it turns out, he used geometry.)

Newton didn’t actually publish – or care to publish – his work in mathematics, or anything else, until someone else published similar work. Unlike the rest of the fellows of the Royal Society, who were interested in sharing their new found knowledge as much as possible, Newton experimented and discovered and wrote to satisfy his own curiosity, not that of anyone else.  Only in the very recent past have the many documents of Newton come to light, and it is through these many documents that Gleick tells this unique story of arguably the greatest mind ever.

Considering the subject, the book is relatively short with just under 200 pages of main text and about 50 pages of notes. It is a pretty quick read, though I did find that flipping back and forth to the end notes tended to slow me down. And if you are looking for detailed discussion and analysis of the actual content of Newton’s various writings, this is not your book.

If, however, you want to gain an understanding of what drove Newton, of why he wanted to figure things out, and get a glimpse into his incredible mind, this is an excellent book with which to begin.

The blogs of Benjamin Franklin

In the summer of 2007  I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Blaine McCormick, author of Ben Franklin: America’s Original Entrepreneur, what he thought Franklin would make of the internet, social networking software, and blogs. McCormick’s response was along the lines of, “Franklin probably wouldn’t pay much attention to them, blogs are not up to the right standard.”

At the time, I didn’t agree with McCormick’s assessment. Today, I disagree even more and would love the opportunity to ask him the question again. I think Franklin would have embraced blogging – all social media for that matter. I think that McCormick’s response came, at least partially, from an ignorance on his part of what blogs and other social media tools are and what they are capable of. I have the feeling he also confused the sometimes dismal quality of personal blogs, etc and the potential of the tools themselves. (Remember, having good tools do not the master make.)

In the hands of Benjamin Franklin, a master of getting his message out in the media of his day, I can only imagine how the media tools of today could be used.

I was inspired to revisit this conversation by a tweet from John Tropea (aka @johnt) which pointed to Collaboration Throughout the Centuries from last spring on the Sharing at Work blolg.