Here at Envision, we’re going through a bit of a renaissance, thanks in part to a number of stunningly inspirational books we’ve been reading. The Envision Book Club gets together to share our thoughts on the books and figure out ways of really putting the changes we want to make into practice. Sure, we’re still making great websites for our clients, but the way we do it is completely changing – for the better!
We’re big fans of Seth Godin, and especially of his recent book “The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?”. Using the Icarus myth as a touchstone, the book’s central message is that we’re all so afraid of being burned by the sun that we’re actually flying too low. But here’s the part of the myth that is usually ignored: Icarus’ wise father also warned him against flying so low that he falls into the sea.
You Are Your Own Worst Boss
Godin blames industrial age thinking for our play-it-safe mentality. In the twentieth century, cultural tides gave rise to production-line oriented mass consumer culture that gave us security and material wealth, but not happiness.
“Even if you’re not self-employed, your boss is you. You manage your career, your day, your responses”, says Godin. We learned to go along with it, changing ourselves as needed to fit in with whoever was offering the carrot. As a result, we became so afraid of taking risks and especially of failure, that we’re becoming a society of square pegs trying to jam ourselves into round holes.
Why is this a problem? Because unhappy people will never be as productive or impactful as those who are engaged in a labour of love. Godin shares an Einstein quote to drive his point home: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
“The Economy Isn’t Broken, It’s Just Different”
The new connection economy means that things don’t have to be this way anymore. In fact, Godin explains, “the connection economy works because it focuses on the lonely and the bored. It works because it embraces the individual, not the mob; the weird, not the normal.” The rise of the internet and social media has democratized media. We don’t have to go on American Idol and wait to be picked. We can, Godin says, pick ourselves.
We are all artists when we are doing what we are built to do, what we are passionate about doing. Godin takes us on a journey through the past 50 years of conceptual art that proves that art isn’t just a painting on a wall, or some similar artifact.
“Art it seems, is something that is made by an artist. And an artist is someone who is doing something for the first time, something human, something that touches another.” That means your charity is art. Your business is art. Whatever you actually go ahead and do is art. And it can set you free.
Nothing is ever really free, and living to your true potential has its price like anything else. The price is fear, and a willingness to not only to live with failure, but to put it to work for you. You’re going to need a lot of courage to survive and prosper in the new economy. You’re going to need grit. That’s because you’re not making art unless you are vulnerable, and being vulnerable is frightening. Godin says “…you can’t have the bright light of artistic success without the scary risk of failing to connect.”
We’re going to have to stop playing it safe and doing only what we already know how to do. It’s the only way to get “under someone’s skin, of changing the conversation” that will mean real success, not the quick nod of approval.
The Way Out
“The Icarus Deception” is not one of those books that explains what’s wrong but not how to fix it. First, don’t worry about talent, as talent is just the result of practice. Maybe you don’t make things directly, but you can become an impresario, an artist that brings artists together. Either way, Seth Godin proscribes a short list of simple but highly challenging habits that you need to do every day:
Sit alone, sit quietly.
Learn something new without any apparent practical benefit.
Ask individuals for bold feedback; ignore what you hear from the crowd.
Spend time encouraging other artists.
Teach, with the intent of making change.
Ship something you created.
He shares other insights on critical attitudes and practices, like “make predictions” and my favourite, “write daily.” Best of all: “When your art fails, make better art.” There is so much more in “The Icarus Deception” that I want to add! But let’s face it, really you just need to read the book to get the full power of what Godin is advocating.
Just in case you don’t get the book: never forget that you should feel afraid, and there should be resistance. Overcome it. Start your business, your website, your Kickstarter campaign. Leap into the void, make your magic. Fail over and over again. “It’s entirely possible that there won’t be a standing ovation at the end of your journey”, Godin concedes, then explains, “That’s okay. At least you lived.”
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