Accounting for Unfortunate Events

February 25, 2013 — 16 Comments

Some unexpected expense comes your way. Like you get hit with a fine or have to replace something that breaks.

You can see this as an unmitigated loss. Or you can try a little trick.

What was the last thing you got for free? Someone picked up the tab at dinner? Or that work bonus that was bigger than anticipated?

Ok, don’t think about it like that. Instead, you paid for half the dinner–and then you got half off reduction on that parking ticket. Or just see your bonus as actually having been X% smaller. Whatever ratio you have to jigger to get it to work.

Keep your gains in limbo and then shave a little off when life inevitably swings the other direction. It’s so simple. Yet saves so much anguish.

It’s called framing. Make it work for you.

Stop seeing simply the things that go wrong. Don’t keep an account of misfortune. Run the balance the other way: what were the things that you skated on, that you got away with, that got comped? Now when something goes wrong, count it against that–if you have to count it at all.

Because when you really look at it this way you’ll realize that you’re still ahead of where you started. And you’re prepared to account for the bad shit that will inevitably come your way as well.

Welcome Creative Live

February 22, 2013 — 7 Comments

To all the new people who are just coming to this site from my Creative Live course, welcome. To all my regular readers, go check out the class–it runs for the next two days and it’s free. To both of you: a new post is coming Monday and a reading newsletter as well.

Reading newsletter? Yes, I give book recommendations to more than 5,000 people each and every month. (see my favorites from 2012). You should sign up.

For some of my recent marketing writing at the New York Observer and Fast Company read:
Hail Corporate: The Increasingly Insufferable Fakery of Brands on Reddit (from today)
Why Books Are The Ultimate New Business Card
Out of Reach: If the Media Covers You, You’d Better Bring an Audience
Broken on Purpose: Why Getting It Wrong Pays More Than Getting It Right
Everything Is Marketing: How Growth Hackers Redefine The Game

For some of my bigger posts here read:
Advice to a Young Man Hoping to Go Somewhere (Or Get Something From Someone Succesful)
The Narrative Fallacy (also see The Soundtrack of Your Life Delusion and The Second Act Fallacy)
The Dress Suit Bribe
Contemptuous Expressions
A False Sense
Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs

Anyway, glad to have you. Stick around. Enjoy the class. We’ll be back to regular programming shortly.

Seen vs Unseen

January 24, 2013 — 17 Comments

We are most often held back by obstacles we aren’t even aware of–bad habits, flaws, ego, neuroses, self-destructiveness, aversions and fears we hardly know we have.

The world doesn’t usually take the time to plead, argue and convince us of our errors. Feedback is usually whispered, in the form of small failures, small problems, little trends. But we’re too thickheaded and resistent to hear it. We’re soft bodied but hard headed. We have too much armor to fail well.

So when you bump up against something that is clearly an obstacle and hindering your progress–from an a business deal gone wrong to your car getting stolen–you’d do well to say: “Hey at least I know about this. It’s an exposed issue that either has a solution or it doesn’t. Now I can try to solve it.” Don’t complain. Be thankful. Celebrate the fact that at least you’re not fighting yourself on this one.

And try to do a better job listening in those other types of situations. Because it’s time you understand that the world is telling you something with each and every event. Things about you, things about others, things about life. It’s all feedback–easily translated into precise instructions. It’s trying to wake you up from your cluelessness. It’s trying to teach you something.

Best Book Recommendations of 2012

January 6, 2013 — 22 Comments

I recommended close to 200 books through my Reading List Email this year. I know you’re all very busy people and I imagine only a few of you ended up reading more than a handful of the suggestions. Don’t worry, that’s on me and not on you.

Now, If I could only recommend 3 books from 2012, what would I pick? I couldn’t actually narrow it down to 3 exactly, but I tried my best. Below are the my favorite books for the year and the ones that made the biggest impact on me. There is no question they are worth reading and your time.

The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen
The book sucked me in completely. The subject, Samuel Zemurray, is fascinating and compelling. The writer has a voice that is utterly unique. Since reading this book, I have explored all of this further: I studied Zemurray (whose house was not far from mine in New Orleans and still stands) and am using his story in my next book. I interviewed the author, Rich Cohen. And I read his other books, am particularly found of Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons and Gangster Dreams. The book has all sorts of things going for it: it’s the American Dream, it’s history via microcosm, it’s drama/violence/intrique, and it’s a course in business strategy and leadership. Everyone I have recommended it to was blown away. I won’t say it’s as good as The Tiger, which was my favorite book of 2011, but in terms of an author I’d never heard of taking a subject I don’t care about and making it AWESOME? This book deserves to be talked about in the same breath.

The Civil War
I went so deep into Civil War in 2012 that I lost track of all the books. I started this last year when I read Sherman by B.H Liddell Hart (and recommended as a favorite). I came to admire Sherman so deeply that I read two more books about him: Sherman’s Memoirs and a big old book from 1933 Sherman: Fighting Prophet. From there I went on to Grant’s Memoirs, which are incredibly readable and deeply moving as well as the biography Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865 by Brooks D. Simpson. I loved learning about Lincoln, especially in Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness. I read two important memoirs from slaves as well, and strongly recommend 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup and A Slave in the White House about Paul Jennings. In terms of obscure or unusual books related to the war, I love Incidents and Anecdotes of the Civil War by Admiral David Porter (1885) and Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin (plus his WWII article which is the best essay I’ve ever read). Fiction-wise, I read all of Ambrose Bierce’s Civil War Stories and was blown away–it is dark, beautiful writing. I also read discussions of a bunch of Southern/Civil War writers in Patriotic Gore by Edmund Wilson and The Legacy of the Civil War by Robert Penn Warren, which helped me understand and contextualize what I’d already read from the people listed above. And most of all, I was inspired by following Ta-Nehisi Coates’s provocative journey through the same subject on his blog for The Atlantic. Instead of getting into why I read all these books or why they’re important, I’ll just say that nothing has given me more pleasure or expanded my understanding of history and humanity than reading these books. Try one of them and see what happens.

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr. by Ron Chernow
A biography has to be really good to make read you all 800 pages. To me, this was one of those books. Since reading it earlier this year, I’ve since found out it is the favorite book of a lot of people I respect. I think something about the quality of the writing and the empathic understanding of the writer that the main lessons you would take away from someone like Rockefeller would not be business, but life lessons. In fact, when I went back through and took notes on this book, I filled out more cards for Stoicism than I did for Strategy, Business or Money. I found Rockefeller to be strangely stoic, incredibly resilient and, despite his reputation as a robber baron, humble and compassionate. Most people get WORSE as they get successful, many more get worse as they age. Rockefeller did neither of these things, he grew more open-minded the older he became, more generous, more pious, more dedicated to making a difference. Does that excuse the “awful” things that he did? Well, the things he did really weren’t that awful so yes. (By that I mean I’d certainly choose him over the robber barons of this age like Zuckerberg or Murdoch.) If you do enjoy this biography, I followed it up with a few others I consider to be in the same league: Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel by David Fraser, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, and Mencken: The American Iconoclast.

See my recommendations from 2011 and don’t forget to sign up for the Reading List Newsletter if you haven’t already. 

A Second in the Present

December 16, 2012 — 10 Comments

Go out for a run right now. Even though you don’t want to.

Feel the bite of the cold. Or the drag of the heat.

Stay with the struggle. Stay with it.

Run parallel to the river. Stay steady against the harsh wind of passing cars on the freeway. Or cut through the glass and steel skyscraper canyon. Roll through the hills and their dark, quiet houses.

Turn the music way up. So you can’t hear anything else. Hit the back button a few times in a row on the same song. Don’t let the mind wonder. Don’t let it think or do anything. Just be. For a second, or a minute or as long as you can.

The point is to be reminded of the immensity. Feel unprotected against the elements or forces or surroundings. Remind yourself how pointless it seems to complain about problems. You may have felt out of sync before, but now you’ve experienced flow, you’ve connected by disconnecting.

Let the feeling carry as long as you can. Then go out and do it again.