Here’s my bookshelf, containing the non-programming books I’ve read. Each book links to my notes and an “impact” score, which marks (out of 5) how much each book impacted me personally.
Following instructions is overrated.
We’ve built a world where it’s possible to fly higher than ever, and the tragedy is that we’ve been seduced into believing that we ought to fly ever lower instead.
Speaking up when there’s no obvious right answer, making yourself vulnerable when it’s possible to put up shields, and caring about both the process and the outcome — these are works of art that our society embraces and the economy demands.
Ideas are not enough without commitment. They’re not enough because strategy is empty without change, empty without passion, and empty without people willing to confront the void.
An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it (all of it, the work, the process, the feedback from those we seek to connect with) personally. Art isn’t a result; it’s a journey. The challenge of our time is to find a journey worthy of your heart and your soul.
Scarcity and abundance have been flipped. High-quality work is no longer scarce. Competence is no longer scarce, either. We have too many good choices — there’s an abundance of things to buy and people to hire. What’s scarce is trust, connection, and surprise. These are three elements in the work of a successful artist.
Competent people enjoy being competent. Once you’re good at something, changing what you do or moving to a new way of doing it will be stressful because it will make you (momentarily) incompetent.
All of those people who you say are your artistic heroes – all of those people who have made such a difference in the world – none of those people were ordained. None of those people were preapproved. None of those people were considered all-stars at an early age.
The Internet and the connection economy turn the economics of mass on its head. It’s now cheaper and more efficient to make edgy, amazing products for the weird edge cases (who are listening and talking and who care) than it is to push yet another average product onto the already overloaded average people in the middle of the curve.
Art has no right answer. The best we can hope for is an interesting answer.
The remarkable is almost always new and untested, fresh and risky.
Management is about generating yesterday’s results, but a little faster or a little more cheaply. Leadership, though, is a whole other game. Leadership puts the leader on the line. No manual, no rule book, no überleader to point the finger at when things go wrong.
No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
Just as you can’t have heads without tails, you can’t have the bright light of artistic success without the scary risk of failing to connect.
If I show you a political tract or a blog post or a remarkable new poduct with text that contains a typo, what’s your first reaction? If all you can do is say, “You’re missing an r in the second paragraph,” you’ve abandoned your humanity in favor of becoming a spell checker. Compliance over inspiration.
Correct is fine, but it is better to be interesting.
What’s more difficult is to do the less-congratulated work of getting under someone’s skin, of changing the conversation, and of being missed when you’re gone.
If it’s finished, the applause, the thanks, the gratitude are something else. Something extra and not part of what you created. If you play a beautiful song for two people or a thousand, it’s the same song, and the amount of thanks you receive isn’t part of that song.
Attention by other people is the most irresistible of drugs. To receive it outshines receiving any other kind of income. This is why glory surpasses power and why wealth is overshadowed by prominence.
The opportunity is not in being momentarily popular with the anonymous masses. It’s in being missed when you’re gone, in doing work that matters to the tribe you choose.
The old system made you popular for fitting in. The new one gives you a chance to stand out.
Giving up our attachment to what might happen — maybe the boss won’t like it, maybe the market will reject it, maybe my friends will think it’s stupid — is an essential part of commitment.
Artists can’t afford to be fragile. The work is a series of projects and problems to be solved, not a pristine, predictable environment where refined inputs lead to ever-more-refined outputs.
Grit is the attitude of someone who realizes he has the power to care and is intent on doing something with it.
If the grind is wearing you down, then you may be viewing the grind as the enemy, something apart from the work itself. The person with grit, on the other hand, understands that the grind is part of the work, that the grind is part of what makes the work interesting, a challenge, worth doing. If there were no grind, you’d need no grit.
If you focus your angst and emotion on the people who don’t get it, you’ve destroyed part of your soul and haven’t done a thing to improve your art.
Your goal as an artist is to make art that moves the audience of your choice.
Figure out who your art is for, get better at connecting with that audience, and ignore the rest.
Your effort is rarely correlated with how much the audience cares.
The eye of the needle here is small indeed. Your puzzle is to find an idea or a product or an interaction that touches the right person, in the right way, at precisely the right moment.
The mass marketers and the industrialists need everyone. You don’t. You merely need to matter to a few.
A lifetime spent noticing begins to turn into the ability to see what others can’t.
The problem with labels is that once they’re applied, it’s impossible to see what lies beneath. When the world changes, then, our labels cease to function and we’re blind to the opportunities that are presenting themselves.
To be naive is to abandon your hard-earned worldview. It means seeing the world without prejudice and accepting it as it is, as opposed to the way you’re expecting it to be.
You can risk being wrong or you can be boring.
Complaining is stupid. Either act or forget.
To reverse Descartes: You are. So think.
If you have decided that you can’t do art until you quiet the voice of the resistance, you will never do art. Art is the act of doing work that matters while dancing with the voice in your head that screams for you to stop. We can befriend the lizard, lull it into a stupor, or merely face it down, but it’s there, always.
“The rest of the world” isn’t nearly as important as the few who are here.
If it’s work, the instinct is to do less of it. Why ask for more? If you’re playing a game, on the other hand, then the goal is to keep playing.
Don’t question the commitment to the mission. It’s not helpful to kindly suggest that the artist might want to think about taking a day job to tide things over or giving up or settling down or lowering the bar. The artist thinks about these things every single day, and she doesn’t need you to remind her that it’s possible to trade in her life and her dream for a better job so she can buy more industrialized luxuries and trinkets.
You might not like it, but it’s not fair to universalize and say that no one is going to like it.
But the one thing I wish I had known then was that whatever happens, things are going to be fine in the end, that the pain is part of the journey, and that without the pain there really isn’t a journey worth going on.
The goal is to keep playing, not to win.
The amateur is an egotist. He takes the material of his personal pain and uses it to draw attention to himself. He creates a "life," a "character," a "personality."
Resistance hates two qualities above all others: concentration and depth. Why? Because when we work with focus and we work deep, we succeed.
The amateur competes with others and believes that he cannot rise unless a competitor falls.
The amateur allows his worth and identity to be defined by others.
Paradoxically, the amateur's self-inflation prevents him from acting. He takes himself and the consequences of his actions so seriously that he paralyzes himself.
The amateur is a narcissist. He views the world hierarchically. He continuously rates himself in relation to others, becoming self-inflated if his fortunes rise, and desperately anxious if his star should fall.
We enact the addiction instead of embracing the calling. Why? Because to follow a calling requires work. It's hard. It hurts. It demands entering the pain-zone of effort, risk, and exposure. So we take the amateur route instead. Instead of composing our symphony, we create a "shadow symphony," of which we ourselves are the orchestra, the conductor, the composer, and the audience. Our life becomes a shadow drama, a shadow start-up company, a shadow philanthropic venture.
That gang or posse that we imagine is sustaining us by the bonds we share is in fact a conglomeration of individuals who are just as fucked up as we are and just as terrified. Each individual is so caught up in his own bullshit that he doesn't have two seconds to worry about yours or mine, or to reject or diminish us because of it. When we truly understand that the tribe doesn't give a damn, we're free. There is no tribe, and there never was. Our lives are entirely up to us.
The payoff of living in the past or the future is you never have to do your work in the present.
I applaud your story of how you hit bottom, because at the bottom there's no one there but yourself.
Turning pro is an act of self-abnegation. Not Self with a capital-S, but little-s self. Ego. Distraction. Displacement. Addiction.
In the end, it didn't matter. That year made me a pro. It gave me, for the first time in my life, an uninterrupted stretch of month after month that was mine alone, that nobody knew about but me, when I was truly productive, truly facing my demons, and truly working my shit. That year has stuck with me.
What happens when we turn pro is, we finally listen to that still, small voice inside our heads. At last we find the courage to identify the secret dream or love or bliss that we have known all along was our passion, our calling, our destiny.
In the post-epiphanal moment, we have two things going for us that we didn't have ninety seconds earlier: we have reality and we have humility. These are powerful allies.
The professional does not wait for inspiration; he acts in anticipation of it.
Maybe nobody else liked the stuff I was doing, but I did. I was learning. I was getting better. The work became, in its own demented way, a practice. It sustained me, and it sustains me still.
We may bring intention and intensity to our practice (in fact we must), but not ego. Dedication, even ferocity, yes. But never arrogance.
Athletes play hurt. Warriors fight scared.
Do not call a conlang a fake language. Those who do only make themselves look foolish.
Those who are able to do other accents well or who can make themselves sound like a native when speaking another language are incredible at imitating other vowel sounds.
IPA is used to transcribe the sound of a word, regardless of its spelling. This is important to keep in mind when examining English, whose orthography was devised by a team of misanthropic, megalomaniacal cryptographers who distrusted and despised one another, and so sought to hide the meanings they were tasked with encoding by employing crude, arcane spellings that no one can explain.
There were regular stress rules for English at one point, but with the way the language has evolved, it just threw up its hands and said “whatever.”
Let go of what you think you know, and let go of needing to know or be right. Be in the mystery. Be in awe.
As they say in the East, “To know and not do is to still not know.”
There is something about talking that activates the imagination. Edgar Cayce, the famous medical intuitive and arguably the most renowned psychic in history, claimed that our voice is the highest vibration in the human consciousness. As you talk and start to feel the flow of wisdom come on, you’ll understand why he said that.
In our society we are poisoned against the most beautiful part of ourselves, the diamond of our beings. We see our imaginations as an unreliable vestige of our primordial selves that should have dropped off with our monkey tails.
“People are saying I’m an overnight success, but I was working my butt off for ten years before I made it.”
It is a profound achievement to recognize a possibility in life or within yourself and take ownership of that possibility, to the point that you see it through regardless of any inner or outer resistance that you may encounter.
One way we can learn about ourselves is through the act of creating.
What you resist will always persist as aggressively as you resist it. No matter how much you defy your beliefs, if they are driving what you want to create, your subconscious has to assume they have the power in your consciousness.
But aside from the self-awareness you gain from your creative process, it is also helpful to have a more generalized overview of your own personality and the foibles your personality type is prone to.
While we might all appear to be very diverse individuals, when we boil our personalities down, it is amazing how neatly they fit into one or another of a handful of distinct types. When you begin to understand human nature, you realize that, although there are billions of us on planet earth, our personalities are formed from a very limited set of psychological molds.
The best way of getting in touch with your creative emotions is by building and holding a vision of your true end results.
The predictable strategies you develop to compensate for your particular sense of incompleteness—the way in which you pay attention, the perceptions that arise from that focus, and the behavior you use to deal with your reality—restrict you to a narrow set of traits you share with everyone else holding the same beliefs as you. A broad overview of personality types can help you identify your own low-level creative characteristics—again, those characteristics that dominate and define your personality when you are coming from the perception of your incompleteness—which in turn can help you disassociate from the dysfunctional matrix you inhabit psychologically.
Here’s a tip to you writers out there: if you’re experiencing writer’s block, you’re just separate from the emotion of your offering.
Oscar Wilde once said that all art is useless. What he presumably meant is that art is created purely for its own sake, not because it will lead to something else.
Preparing to live never leads to living—only more preparation.
The only way that you can ever live the life you love and achieve the conditions that satisfy your viability is to start by living the life you love.
A true vision is free of your compensating logic and uninfluenced by what you logically assume to be possible or not. And whether you appreciate it at first or not, because it is formulated by your genius, a true vision can be relied upon to be both possible and a reflection of what you truly care about.
That’s because the biggest determinant of what creates your reality is the message your subconscious gets about where the power is in your consciousness, and making choices is the process by which you formally assign the power.
Having a positive outlook in life is definitely a desirable attitude, but that outlook becomes self-defeating, and even destructive, when it is divorced from reality.
Whenever I give talks on the themes of either natural success or super conscious writing, I always invite members of the audience to raise their hands if they hate conflict and tension, and if they’re interested in learning how to rid themselves of these negative states. A unanimous and enthusiastic show of hands follows. And that’s when I tell my audience that, creatively speaking, they are screwed. Their eager smiles are replaced replaced by perplexed frowns. The fact of the matter is that everything in the universe is created according to the principle of tension seeking resolution.
When you seek to eliminate inner tension, you are also unwittingly neutralizing the very energy that can compel the end results you seek to create. What you have to appreciate is that tension doesn’t only seek resolution; it always finds a resolution, no matter what.
The empowered creator is so because they don’t see current reality as a negative condition that precludes anything from turning out the way they would love it to be.
The real game-changer, though, is the realization that emotional tension can actually be transformed into creative tension. Whenever you make a choice by establishing the vision, acknowledging current reality, and assigning the power by choosing the vision over your circumstances, you are instituting creative tension.
Your ego is always stronger than your self conscious will. Let me explain. The ego is your vehicle of orientation and, as such, when you make a choice to go for something, your ego wants to figure out how to get there. The problem is that the ego doesn’t look at the factors objectively relevant to the situation or the functional steps required. Instead, it refers to your unconscious belief system, determines what it believes is incomplete incomplete about you, and then proposes resolving your sense of incompleteness as the first order of business. Your ego communicates its sense of incompleteness to you through emotional discomfort such as shame, guilt, anger, fear, inadequacy, confusion, doubt, boredom, emptiness, and so on. Resolving that emotional tension becomes the name of the game. Now, suddenly, you have emotional tension competing with creative tension. Trying to force your way through emotional tension is futile. Believe me, the ego is not interested in you getting what you love. Its sole concern is survival, which it assumes depends on you fixing yourself and remedying your inadequacies. So, when you stay focused on your end result in spite of any inner conflict, your ego just ramps up the emotional tension to the level required for you to pay exclusive attention to its priorities. Now you experience your emotional tension as stress, and stress will kill your focus on the end result, and thereby your creative tension, every time. Unless you’re initiated in the dynamics of creating, the only way to mitigate the ego’s response to creative tension—stress—is to cut down on or give up on your vision, or to abandon seeing your current reality, or both. This will inevitably happen. Emotional tension, elevated to the level of stress, will grind down creative tension every time.
A good question to ask yourself before doing anything you think you fear is, “If I do this, am I going to die?” If the answer is no, then your fear is made up, grossly overdramatic, and it should have no power over you.
What makes work fun is doing meaningful work.
Pull, don’t push. Investigate, don’t present. Probe, don’t pitch. Ask, don’t assume. How? Talk less, listen more. Make fewer statements and ask more questions.
The key to success is massive failure. Your goal is to out-fail your competition.
Productivity isn’t magic. It’s discipline.
Look, if you’re going to get better, you have to push yourself. If you push yourself, you’re going to fall. If you’re not falling, you’re not pushing. Falling is part of getting better.
There’s only one certainty in business: You can’t succeed if you quit.
If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away. The more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times, artists have to say, “Bye. I have to go. I’m going crazy and I’m getting out of here.” And they go and hibernate somewhere. Maybe later they re-emerge a little differently.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
The goal was never to beat the competition, or to make a lot of money. It was to do the greatest thing possible, or even a little greater.
It’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy.
Simplicity isn't just a visual style. It's not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep.
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
You should never start a company with the goal of getting rich. Your goal should be making something you believe in and making a company that will last.
As Dylan says, if you're not busy being born, you're busy dying.
Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. That's true for companies, and it's true for products.
I want it to be as beautiful as possible, even if it's inside the box. A great carpenter isn't going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet, even though nobody's going to see it.
He takes contrary positions to create more discussion, because it may lead to a better result. So if you don't feel comfortable disagreeing, then you'll never survive.
Even when he was barely conscious, his strong personality came through. At one point the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was sedated. Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. He ordered them to bring five different options and he would pick the one he liked.
The thing that struck me was his intensity. Whatever he was interested in he would generally carry to an irrational extreme.
In the annals of innovation, new ideas are only part of the equation. Execution is just as important.
Hertzfeld recalled that Gates just sat there coolly, looking at Steve in the eye, before hurling back, in his squeaky voice, what became a classic zinger. "Well, Steve, I think there's more than one way of looking at it, I think it's more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it."
You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.
Quit more by quitting the right things.
If you’re in a cul-de-sac, quit immediately. Keeping on going won’t result in improvement.
The dip is a natural part of the process of becoming the best in the world. Winners find a way through the dip.
Many people quit in the dip when continuing is what they need to do instead.
Muscles don’t grow because we use them. They grow because those who know how to make them grow know that you must pay your dues, push through the dip, and arrive on the other side where those final seconds cause the damage you seek to cause growth. Most people quit in the dip.
Work toward being the best in the world. In today’s world the best is 10x the second best in terms of opportunity. If you don’t have the resources to be the best in the world at X, be the best in the world at a smaller version of X.
The big benefits accrue to those who don’t quit during the dip.
Quitting the things you don’t care about, the things you’re mediocre at, the cul-de-sacs, frees up your resources to tackle the dips for the things you do care about.
If you’re going to quit, quit before you start. Reject the system. Don’t play the game if you realise you can’t be the best in the world.
When faced with the dip, most people try to average their way to success, create mediocre work, which is precisely why so few people end up as the best in the world.
To be a superstar you can’t just survive the dip. You must use the dip to create something so extraordinary that people can’t help but talk about it, recommend it, and yes, choose it.
When you feel yourself realising that you’re being average, realise that you have two choices: quit, or be exceptional.
Isn’t your time too valuable to be squandered on average. Average feels safe but it’s not, it’s invisible. The choice to remain average is just another form of quitting.
While starting is thrilling, it’s not until you get through the dip that your efforts pay off.
If you’re not able to get through the dip, and get through it in an exceptional way, you must quit, now.
The opposite of quitting isn’t waiting around, no the opposite of quitting is rededication. The opposite of quitting is an invigorated new strategy, designed to break the problem apart.
Short term pain has more impact on most people than long term benefits do, which is it’s so important for you to amplify the long term benefits of not quitting.
No one quits the Boston marathon at mile 25.
Quit the tactics that aren’t working. Getting out of a cul-de-sac is not a moral failing, it’s just smart.
Failure happens when you give up. When there are no other options. When you quit so often that you’ve used up all your time and resources. Quitting smart is how you avoid failure.
Never quit something with long term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment.
Realising that quitting is worth your focus and consideration is the first step to becoming the best in the world.
If you enter a market too big or too loud for the kind of resources you have, your message is going to get lost.
If it’s not going to put a dent in the world, quit, right now. Quit and use that void to find the energy to assault the dip that matters.