How the Artist Studies

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s an interview Reshan and I conducted with Austin Kleon. I’m pleased with a lot of the topics we ended up covering and with the fact that it has connected with so many educators so far.

Here’s a current favorite quote:

KLEON: Much of my adult life has been about trying to figure out how I can continue as a student without school. As someone who’s been out of school for so long now, it’s been interesting to think about how the artist studies; it’s the artist’s job to remain a student forever and to think about how you have to sort of de-school yourself for the kind of work that I do.

50 Mile Friendships

The person in my life with the deepest and most lasting friendships has a simple rule.

If she’s on a trip and she’s within 50 miles of one of her good friends, she finds a way to see him or her. She takes a bus or train. She opens her room, throws a sheet over the desk to turn it into a dinner table, and creates a central place for a visit. She rents a car or hops on a bike. In the time that many of us would spend deciding if we were going to be able to squeeze in a visit, texting back and forth with our friends, she finds a way to bridge the distance. You see, she made that decision — once — a long time ago.

Decades of working this simple system have yielded exactly what you would imagine in terms of warmth, joy, and familiarity — friendships of deep and lasting significance.

Another debunking of the “this just happens” myth.

Foreword Momentum

For Make Yourself Clear, I had a very obvious co-author — Reshan Richards — but we both readily acknowledge that the book weaves together the voices of many other thinkers, writers, teachers, and businesspeople. For us, that’s part of the reason to write a book: to shine a light on (the good work of) others.

The first person you meet when you open MYC is Jason Wingard, Dean of, and Professor at, the School of Professional Studies at Columbia University. He wrote our Foreword — lucky for us for reasons that are about to be abundantly obvious. (Other writing from Wingard. And more.)


In his Foreword, Wingard widens our frame by talking about the value of “learning capacity” for companies. Ever the teacher, though, he returns often to the individual, and specifically, the individual’s capacity for growth.

Helping customers learn builds brand loyalty; at the same time, it contributes to their lives, providing them with new insights.

Building a culture of learning at a company drives corporate results, sure, but the process can also expand employees’ skills and prepare them to advance in their careers. Employees contribute to mission; the challenge of meeting mission contributes to employees. Wingard’s virtuous cycle.

You’ll glean all of that and more when you read Wingard’s Foreword. What you won’t glean is the extent to which his Foreword helped us to complete our actual book.

It arrived — pitch perfect — after we had submitted our final draft to our publisher. We thought we were finished and may have even opened some champagne. But then our editor asked us to trim 40 pages from the manuscript. We didn’t even know where to start as the bubbles went flat.

Then my wife turned to me and said: “You know, I read that Foreword. It’s really good. You should use it to focus your revision. Cut anything that doesn’t fit within its frame.” And that’s what we did. An annoyance, properly framed, became a blessing.

So the Foreword is good for you, the reader. But make no mistake — it was also good for us, the writers. It helped us to make Make Yourself Clear as clear as possible.

Ray Dalio x Jim Jarmusch

In a recent Tweet, legendary investor Ray Dalio expanded on one of the principles in his recent book:

Most people seem much more eager to put out (convey their thinking and be productive) than to take in (learn). That’s a mistake even if one’s primary goal is to put out, because what one puts out won’t be good unless one takes in as well.

Source: Dalio Tweet

This reminded me of another quotation I’ve been carrying around with me. It comes from legendary filmmaker Jim Jarmusch.

One of our favorite Joe Strummer quotes was, “No input, no output.” Meaning, we’re going to hear a band, we’re going to go to a museum, or we’re going to go hang out with some writer that we admire. We’re going to get some input, because if we don’t, then we have nothing. It’s a circle. It’s a respiratory thing.

Source: Immortal Beloved – Interview with H/T to Austin Kleon’s blog.

I love (love!) the fact that these two men — or three if you count Strummer — true originals in their fields, put such a premium on learning, on input. It makes me consider again what a work week should look like. What a career should look like.

Where will the input time come from? Where will it live on the calendar? What percentage of the budget should it consume? How should it be protected? How can it be appropriately effortful?

Mastery Requires Boredom

In Make Yourself Clear, Reshan and I devote an entire section (one third of the book) to the practice, and play, of delight. Why?

Because, after studying teaching and learning for close to 20 years each, we concluded that, in situations that require us to understand others and increase their understanding, sparking joy, genuine curiosity, and intrinsically motivated persistence will always be more useful than leveraging fear, lack of relevance, and routine (MYC 129). It’s important to note, and we did, that delight is different from — sometimes antithetical to — novelty. As such, delight often includes stretches of boredom. You have to put in your reps, day after day after day, to transform yourself in ways that, ultimately, prove to be delightful.

I’m always happy — validated — to see other writers and researchers arrive at similar insights to my own from a completely different angle. Here’s an example of that kind of overlap — a quote from James Clear’s Atomic Habits that serves as a nice summation of some key parts of Make Yourself Clear.

He starts by quoting a former coach who told him that “really successful people . . . can handle the boredom of training ever day, doing the same lifts over and over and over.” And then he continues, in his own words:

Mastery requires practice. But the more you practice something, the more boring and routine it becomes. Once the beginner gains have been made and we learn what to expect, our interest starts to fade. Sometimes it happens even faster than that. All you have to do is hit the gym a few days in a row or publish a couple of blog posts on time and letting one day slip doesn’t feel like much. Things are going well. It’s easy to rationalize a day off because you’re in a good place.

The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom. We get bored with habits because they stop delighting us. The outcome becomes expected. And as our habits become ordinary, we start derailing our progress to seek novelty. Perhaps this is why we get caught up in a never-ending cycle, jumping from one workout to the next, one diet to the next. As soon as we experience the slightest dip in motivation, we begin seeking a new strategy — even if the old one was still working.

Source: Page 234 of Atomic Habits by James Clear.