Are you serious about transformation? I’m not talking about polishing yourself, improving yourself, making things a bit better. I’m talking about the reset button—a reinvention that changes the game. That means an overhaul in what you believe and how you do your job. If you’re up for that, then right here, right now, you can start. How?
Do work that matters.
Those four words are available to anyone; they’re available to you if you want them. The economy just gave you leverage—the leverage to make a difference, the leverage to spread your ideas and the leverage to have impact. More people have more leverage (more chances and more power) to change the world than at any other time in history. What are you going to do about it? When?
Here are seven levers available for anyone (like you) in search of reinvention.
Social media is either a time-wasting, woolgathering, yak-shaving waste of effort, or perhaps, just maybe, it’s a crack in the wall between you and the rest of the world. It’s a choice that’s up to you.
If you’re keeping score of how many followers you have, how many comments you get or how big your online footprint is, then you’re measuring the wrong thing, and you’re probably distracting yourself from what matters.
Digital media can offer you a chance to make real connections, earn permission and gain insights from people you’d never have a chance to interact with any other way.
On the other hand, digital media can offer you a chance to make real connections, earn permission and gain insights from people you’d never have a chance to interact with any other way.
If you can reach and (far more important) touch or change people, you gain in influence, authority and power. We were isolated; now we’re connected. The typical individual didn’t have the time or the money or the connections to be heard just a few years ago. Today, the door is wide open but only for people who can touch others.
Shepard Fairey made a poster of Barack Obama. The Internet helped it spread. The poster connected one supporter to another, became an icon, a freely shared ID badge and ultimately a parody. And in the center of the spread was the artist. While Fairey didn’t make a penny selling the image, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that he connected, and that connection gave his art leverage. He’ll never need to look for work or revenue again. It will find him.
We grew up isolated. The future is connected. We grew up unable to have substantial interactions with anyone except a small circle of family and co-workers. Now we can earn the right to interact with just about anyone. I think this changes everything—if we let it.
2. Be generous.
The new economy often involves trading in things that don’t cost money. There’s no incremental cost in writing an essay, composing a song or making an introduction. Since it doesn’t cost money to play, we have the ability to give before we get.
The generosity economy rewards people who create and participate in circles of gifts. Not the direct I-gave-you-this- you-give-me-that, give-and-get of a traditional economy, but instead the tribal economy of individuals supporting one another.
Tribes of talented individuals who are connected, mutually trustful and supported by one another are in a position to create a movement, to deliver items of value, to move ideas forward faster than any individual ever could.
Derek Sivers built CDBaby.com from a bedroom start-up to a multimillion-dollar seller of independent music. Under his watch, he was selling more music from more artists than anyone in history. The secret? He spent virtually all of his time supporting the artists. The software he developed, the posts he wrote, the systems he instituted—they were gifts, generous contributions from Derek to the artists he worked with. In return, the artists built a thriving community, one that couldn’t help but turn a profit.
3. Make art.
Art is an original gift, a connection that changes the recipient, a human ability to make a difference. Art isn’t a painting or even a poem; it’s something that any of us can do. If you interact with others, you have the platform to create something new, something that changes everything. I call that art.
Art is the opposite of trigonometry. Art never follows instructions or a manual or a boss’s orders. Instead, art is the very human act of creating the uncreated, of connecting with another person at a human level. What we’ve seen is that more and more markets will reward art, while putting out compliant work to the lowest bidder.
Art feels risky because it is. The risk the artist takes is that you might not like it, might not be touched, that you might actually laugh at the effort. And it’s these risks that lead to reward.
Kathy Sierra does art when she teaches us about user interfaces, and Mary Anne Davis does art when she pushes the edges of what pottery can become. Art feels risky because it is. The risk the artist takes is that you might not like it, might not be touched, that you might actually laugh at the effort. And it’s these risks that lead to reward.
That cringe you just felt when I wrote “laugh” is the sign of the lizard. The lizard brain, that prehistoric brain stem that all of us must contend with, doesn’t like being laughed at. It’s the part of our brain that worries about safety and dishes out anger. Being laughed at is the lizard brain’s worst nightmare. And so it shuts down our art.
Author Steven Pressfield calls this shutdown “the Resistance.” The Resistance is the little voice in your head that keeps your head down and encourages you to follow instructions. The Resistance lives in fear and doesn’t hesitate to shut us down at the first sign of possible derision or the first hint that we might be ostracized. The Resistance is the voice complicit in brainwashing, because The Resistance is easy to arouse. When your teacher threatens you with (insert social punishment here) if you don’t do your work in school, you do the work. The Resistance wins.
What artists over time have figured out is that the Resistance is the sole barrier between today and their art, that the act of genius required to produce original and important work is crippled by the Resistance. Ignoring the voice of skepticism is critical if you want to create art.
And so, we acknowledge the Resistance. We hear the voice of the lizard brain, and we recognize that it’s there. Then we stand up, walk to the podium and do the work anyway. We acknowledge the lizard, and we ignore it.
Scarcity creates value. People pay extra for things that are hard to get, while things that have a surplus go cheaply. That’s basic economics.
So, what’s scarce?
The ability to ship.
If you can get something out the door while your competitors cringe in fear, you win. If you’re the team member who makes things happen, you become indispensable. If you and your organization are the ones (the only ones) that can get things done, close the sale, ship the product and make a difference, you’re the linchpins, the ones society can’t live without.
Shipping is difficult because of the lizard brain. The Resistance doesn’t want you to ship, because if you ship, you might fail. If you ship, people might laugh at you. If you ship, you might be held accountable for the decisions you made. The key to the reinvention of who you are, then, is to become someone who ships. The goal is to have the rare skill of actually getting things done, making them happen and creating outcomes that people seek out.
Michael Dell ships. So do Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy. Quieting the lizard, acknowledging it and then ignoring it—it’s the only way.
And a key part of shipping is the ability to fail. The reinvention the marketplace is demanding is one that includes the ability to fail, often and with grace.
The old economy was based on factories and institutions, things that took a long time to build. No one at Buick or the Metropolitan Opera was interested in failure. It took too long to create these institutions for them to relish the idea of growth through failure.
Today, though, the only way for organizations to grow is to ship—to ship risky things, to create change, to make art, to change people. And yet, shipping risks failure.
You must be willing to fail. I hope you’re up for that.
For generations, artists tried to feign nonchalance. There’s even a word for it: sprezzatura. It’s an Italian word, defined as “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.”
We need a new word now, one that means the opposite. It’s the obvious and supreme effort that goes into creating art, challenging the lizard and fighting the Resistance—and opening yourself to failure.
And yes, here’s the seventh pillar, the key to the other six.
School used to exist so you could learn a trade. You apprenticed then you worked the rest of your life in the same job, in the same town, in the same factory, doing the same work.
Dream on. Only lighthouse operators have that luxury today, and when was the last time you met a lighthouse operator?
To bring the school-as-event mindset to work today is to court certain failure. School isn’t over; school is now. School consists of blogs and experiments and experiences and the constant failure of shipping and of learning.
You already took a first step. You read something that challenged you to think differently. The path to reinvention, though, is just that—a path. The opportunity of our time is to discard what you think you know and instead learn what you need to learn. Every single day.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.