Why You Should Ask “Who Benefits?”

Cui Bono? is a latin phrase that translates to who stands to gain? or for whose benefit? I’ve heard it tossed around in political conversations lately, as a reminder to think about the motivations of those involved in a given situation.

I think there’s an application for this phrase in our work as creators.

I firmly believe that a creator cannot be truly successful if his or her main goal is to make money or become famous. If the answer to Cui Bono? is “solely the creator”, then the creation will suffer, or fail.

There are many reasons for thinking this – I believe it’s a law of nature; I believe it is a true, eternal principle; I believe it is a prideful and selfish notion and that those desires stem from the darker side of who we can often be tempted to be.

Charles Haanel, who wrote The Master Key System, often touted as the “original” self help book, taught this same principle in a lecture back in the early 1920s:

“Every transaction must benefit every person who is in any way connected with the transaction, and any attempt to profit from the weakness ignorance or necessity of another will inevitably operate to his disadvantage”

When we’re looking to turn our creative output into a money generating business, we must maintain the pure motivations we had when we were creating just for ourselves. The only art that I personally care about is art that was crafted by someone who cared about the creation, not the monetary result of creating it.

Seth Godin, another self-help pioneer, speaks about mass marketing. If you’re creating work for the masses, the only real way to differentiate yourself is by price. The only reason you would ever do that is to compete in the marketplace – for money.

Who wants that life? Who here cares if they get heinz or some other brand of ketchup? It’s a mass market condiment to slather on mass market hot dogs. It doesn’t matter who made them, only that the product does what you want it to do.

What we’re setting out to do is to create work that changes people. You want people to see or read or experience the thing you’ve created and feel something. That takes a ton of effort to not only infuse the creation with a bit of yourself, but also to have that desire to change people and benefit people as part of the process. From the very inception of the idea, you have to think about why you’re making it, and if the reason is “to get more followers on instagram”, I think you should stop right there and find something else to do.

If we truly care about the work we are doing, we’ll also care about how it can potentially benefit others, how it can change people. That, to me, is the definition of work worth doing.

In the comments, let me know what you think of this principle. Do you agree? Does it feel true? What else would you add, or what would you remove from what I’ve argued?

Better Than The Worst

The other day I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, ScriptNotes, where John August, one of the hosts, interviewed indie film producer Keith Calder. While I recommend the enlightening conversation, there was one point in particular that stuck out. Here’s the excerpt:

Keith: …It’s interesting because I think a lot of people, when they’re approaching independent film, are looking at the movies that exist in the marketplace, meaning like things you can just watch on TV or in theaters or on Netflix, and their assumption is, “Well, if I make a movie that’s better than the worst of those then that means I will get to be released in those same ways.”

John: The plus one fallacy.

Keith: Yeah. And it’s the same thing that happens with people writing spec screenplays. They look at the movies onscreen and they say, “Well, if I write a script that’s better than the worst of them then that means that I will be able to succeed.” And it’s just not the way that the world works.

The concept of being “better than the worst of those” made me stop and pull out my writing app and jot down the beginnings of this post. Why? Because I’m guilty of this paradigm, and I’d bet you are too.

This post will dissect what it is, how it hurts us, and what to do about it.

What Creatives Want

To be successful. To be seen. To be appreciated. To be significant. To change the world? I dunno, that last one feels a bit ambitious to me but maybe that’s 100% what you’re about. No judgement here.

We want to do fulfilling work and hopefully get compensated for it, either directly or indirectly. Sure, many of us dream of the huge payday one day, but most if not all of us will be just fine if our bills are paid and we get to do what we love for a living.

Is that too much to ask?

What Creatives Think

That as long as we’re “better than the worst of them” — than the worst that we’ve seen — then we’ll be successful. Except…that’s not reality. Not by a long shot, unfortunately.

Don’t blame the messenger.

What Really Happens

That “what we’ve seen” portion represents about 1% of the total amount of content that exists. That’s right. 1%. Now, because I love math and spreadsheets you’re gonna have to bear with me a sec here.

As an example, in 2016 there were 736 movies released in theaters, comprised of 93 studio films, and 643 indies. However, that’s the tip of the iceberg, and you probably only saw a few dozen of those movies, maybe more if you have a Movie Pass.

4068 films were submitted to Sundance in 2017. (18%) Let’s be generous and say that 1 out of every 10 films made in 2016 submitted to the Sundance film festival. So what we see in theaters represents less than 2% of the total output from filmmakers, and again, you only saw a small percentage of those movies.

In case I managed to make things super confusing, if you see 50 newly-released movies in a year, you’ve only seen about 1% of the movies that were made and submitted to Sundance or put into theaters. So, if your goal is to be “better than the worst of them”, you still have to be better than more than 4,000 other films, at least.

Put another way, even if you’re in the top 2% based on whatever metric you’re measuring this example by, the chances are you’re still not getting into theaters, let alone having a box office hit. That is reserved for the top .01%.

What really happens when you try to be better than the worst? You fail.

Why? Because you didn’t make your best work. You tried to just be a little better than someone else, without even considering what “better” even means. You were trying to score a touchdown on a golf course. Whoops.

What To Do About It

Focus on making the best work you possibly can, on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you”. Don’t hold back. Give it your all.

Find the people that are looking for “it” already, your so-called “tribe”. Learn how to tell people that you made something that they will like based on who they are and what they’ve enjoyed in the past. Keep making more every day and don’t let some arbitrary measurement of success like followers or subscribers or favorites get you down. Beat back the resistance with a massive stick and get to work.

Brian Grazer once said that “good enough equals shitty” . This is a man whose films and TV series have been nominated for 43 Academy Awards and 131 Emmys. He knows a thing or two about what “good” is.

The resolution we must make is to constantly improve. To seek out mentors, examples, and opportunities that will make us better. To do the hard things that lead to progress and growth. To never settle for “good enough” or “better than the worst” examples of what we’ve seen in the world. To strive to be so good that we can’t be ignored.

The Rules Of The Game

Last fall we signed up our middle child, who was 4 and a half at the time, for youth soccer. He’d watched his older brother play for the last two years and wanted badly to play on his own team.

When we got the jersey from the coach he wore it around the house with his hand-me-down soccer cleats for what seemed like a week straight. The smile on his face was as big as the oversized shirt on his tiny frame.

We practiced in the backyard together. I’d pass him the ball and he’d cheer and shout with every goal he scored.

The big day came, a beautiful Saturday morning. All the work – the strutting around the house, the joy and cheering, the countless goals in the backyard – led up to this. He walked onto the field a tad hesitant but still willing. My wife and I and his two other brothers sat on the sidelines with anxious anticipation.

The teams lined up on their youth-sized field, five players per side. The other team waited for the whistle from the referee to start the game.

As soon as the whistle blew, my son stood there as the other team huddled around the ball – as only 4 year olds can do – and dribble-passed it down the field, tripping over each other, to ultimately score the first goal.

I could see the tears well up on my son’s face. He stood still in an attempt at being stoic, but was unable to hold his emotions for long. I saw it coming – as his dad I’d seen it dozens if not hundreds of times before.

He looked at me and I knew it was over. I walked on to the field and picked him up, and he let it all out. Huge cries accompanied huge tears. Soccer broke him, and all it took was about 15 seconds.

So what happened?

After I got him to calm down and regain his composure, I asked him, “what’s the matter?”

His response cut me to the core:

They didn’t give me the ball!

The tears welled up again and he buried his face into my arms.

I realized at that moment that I had failed my son. I forgot to teach him one of the fundamental principles of the game of soccer – that the other team isn’t going to give you the ball.

This story has stuck with me over the last 6 months or so, and has become one of the biggest breakthroughs for me spiritually, financially, and across my whole life.

In order to succeed, you have to know the “rules of the game”.

I have found that there are true principles that govern everything we do.

Yet, so often – like my son – we see someone else having success and we decide to try our hand at it without fully understanding the “rules of the game” or the principles that govern the thing we’re trying to do.

Like seeing a friend with 1 million YouTube subscribers and thinking, “yeah, I should start a YouTube channel”, or a relative with a six-figure-a-year clothing business she started in her basement and thinking, “I could do that!”

I’m not saying you can’t do that, but I AM saying that if you dive head first without any awareness of or respect for the rules of the rules of the game, you’re going to have a hard time finding any success.

Think about it this way: you sit down to a brand new game that you just got on Kickstarter. There are dozens of pieces, hundreds of cards of various types, a timer, six tokens, and a hat for someone to wear, supposedly.

How would you even know where to start if you didn’t read the instructions?

How would you know what to do next?

How would you know how to win?

What’s hard is that we often don’t think of creative pursuits as having rules. This is RIGHT brain territory, where creativity and imagination are allowed to run free! RULES? We don’t need no stinking RULES!

How’s that working out?

For me, it didn’t work out at all. I spent nearly a decade beating my head against a wall trying to figure out how to “hustle” more, or trying to get more followers, or a myriad of other “hacks” and “tactics” to try and brute force my way into a successful career and successful projects. I read all the books, listened to the podcasts, went to the conferences and the meet ups and the networking events. Nothing moved the needle. NOTHING.

It failed every time.

The sad thing is that I’m 34 and I’m just barely learning this lesson. Talk about humbling.

I was going about it all wrong. I had skipped an essential step: learning the rules of the game.

Now, I had an awareness of the rules of the game. I could tell you how to grow your business, or make money off of your art, or get more followers or, or, or, or…

But when it came to my own career, I wasn’t abiding by the principles I was teaching others. I wasn’t playing by the rules.

There’s a difference between having an awareness of the rules, and learning the rules.

Back to our game metaphor. How do you learn the rules? First, you read the manual. Then, you play the game, over and over, until you’ve internalized the rules of the game. Even then, after dozens of rounds of gameplay, you still every now and then have to consult the rule book because you can’t remember. You learn the rules by playing the game.

But what if I lose?

Here’s another takeaway: when you play the game, you’re also – by default – accepting that there will be times where you lose. Someone else will play the game better than you, whether by luck or because they have more experience playing the game, and you will lose.

Does that mean you failed? No, not permanently anyway. It means you haven’t yet learned how to play the game at that level. It means you haven’t internalized the principles. It means you don’t have a strategy that’s been worked out and tested yet.

You can’t get lucky if you don’t try.

But the only way to get those things is to play the game.

Can you succeed without learning the rules of the game? Sure. You could get lucky. It’s possible, certainly, but it’s a terrible long-term strategy. You wouldn’t want to base a career on a lack of understanding of the basic rules of the game. But what about the friend on Instagram who’s getting paid tons of money in sponsorship deals despite paying for the first 10,000 followers?

Just because they’re playing the game differently doesn’t mean they’re right. It doesmean that they did the work to understand the rules enough to know how to shortcut the process, or how to “hack” the game in their favor. It doesn’t mean we want to do the same. The difference between them and you is action. They at least stepped up to play the game.

There’s a process in here that we can pull out and apply to anything in our own lives.

Learn the rules of the game > play the game > gain experience > put together a strategy > know how to win consistently.

The harder the game, the longer it takes to get good at it. Put another way, any time you see an “overnight success”, what you’re actually seeing is the outcome of work, of playing the game, often over hundreds or thousands of nights.

Here’s the best part about all of this though. While the rules may seem restricting, or cumbersome, or arduous, while they may be so overwhelming that it makes you lose any desire to even try to play the game, they also do something else.

Something important.

Something life changing.

The Rules Tell You What To Do Next.

Around the same time as the incident with my son’s soccer game, I realized that I had failed in another aspect of my life as well. I have attended hundreds of meet ups and networking events and conferences in my career, and inevitably at the end of every keynote or panel, when it comes time for the Q&A, I shake my head, fully aware of what’s to come:

“How do I succeed at X?”

“I tried this and it’s already been two weeks and I only gained 10 followers”

“No one is buying my stuff”

Answers that I used to think were stupid and entitled. “Tell me what to do next so I don’t have to figure it out for myself” is how I translated those questions. Oh, and the responses were even worse:

“Hustle”

“24/7/365”

“Hire me as a consultant for $1,000 a month”

Gross.

Here’s where I failed though: I chose to look down on these people who were asking these questions, and I chose to gag at the responses. What I should have done – and what I’ve since chosen to do as much as I can remember to do it – is to see these questions as a cry for help, to translate them into “I don’t know what to do next”.

They just didn’t know the rules of the game. I should be helping them, not criticizing them.

I wanted to be a self-help writer, to put up helpful blog posts, to create courses for creatives, yet I wasn’t playing by the rules of the game. I was hurting more than I was helping, just as I had done inadvertently while teaching my son to play soccer in the backyard. I’d forgotten an essential part of the process.

What About You? What Game Are You Trying To Play?

What is it that you’re trying to do? Start or grow a business? Make some money from your art? Influence more people?

What are the rules of the game? Where can you go to learn them? Who’s successfully played the game before you that you could learn from? How can you start playing the game, getting some experience, figuring out your own winning strategy? What does success look like for you?

What should you do next?


 

I’ve spent the last few months writing down every principle I can think of when it comes to being a creative professional. I’m going to share them here on the blog as well as in some courses that I’m putting together. The first one is encapsulated in this short, 5-email course called Anything You Want, which expands on this principle of learning the rules of the game. If you enjoyed this post, I know you’ll like this course. It’s free, and you can get the first lesson with just putting in your email address below. Thanks for reading!

Fighting “The Resistance” While Traveling

The “resistance” has reared it’s ugly head on this most recent trip to Italy. My wife booked a wedding out here in Rome last year so we’ve been looking forward to it for a while, and decided to extend the trip into a 2 week Italy/Barcelona excursion. So far it’s been cold but hasn’t disappointed in the slightest.

I was mostly excited to have some extra time to write and make progress on some of my goals. Without the commitment to leave at 8am every morning and go to work for 8 hours, I felt a huge opportunity to spend more time being creative.

So, I hopped on the 8 hour flight from Philadelphia to Rome, put my laptop on my tray table, and… slept. The whole time.

I did wake up for numerous bathroom breaks and to eat some cheap airline food, but other than that, I didn’t even crack my laptop once. Pathetic, I thought.

Arriving in Rome, we did some sight seeing and got home early because of the time difference (+8 hours from Utah). We both fell asleep around 6am, which meant I was WIDE awake at 1am, as I normally only get about 6.5 hours of sleep a night. Not recommended, but it’s what I can do at the moment.

I got up to write since I had all of this energy and went out into the living room area. Cracked open the laptop and… wasted about three hours of time. I did manage to write a few emails to get ahead on my Daily Mormon email list, but wrote exactly ZERO words on my book, which is what I had intended to do. Pathetic, yet again.

Yesterday, we took a train to Venice. The total time was 3.75 hours, so clearly I had ample time to write. You’ll never guess what happened…

Normally when I set out to get some deep work done I make a concerted effort to turn off my notifications, close the door, flip on Brain.fm for some extra neuro-awesomeness, and then start a Freedom session to really make sure nothing interrupts me. Sure, it would be easier to just turn off the wifi and go to work, but we all have our process.

Naturally, then it should have been easier to write on a train with wifi that was existent but not functional. Yet, that’s how resistance works. It flips the script on you. What should have been a boon ended up being the death of my writing habit for the day. To be honest, the habit didn’t even put up a fight.

“No WiFi!?! Well, looks like I’M not getting anything done today.”

Pathetic.

It wasn’t until this morning that I actually realized what had happened. The resistance won a battle I didn’t even know I was in. 

The takeaway is that the resistance is always there, always seeking an opportunity to prevent you from doing your work, to stop your art or your writing from being able to affect the world in the way you want to. Each of us has a different, personalized version of it, and we each need to know how to recognize it and fight it.

This morning I got up after a luxurious 8.5 hours of sleep, made sure I did my morning routine, and am sitting here writing. (With working WiFi…)

It’s a never-ending battle with resistance, and there will be days that we lose. The important thing is that we get back up the next day to fight it again, and again, and again.

New Mini Course – Anything You Want

For the last 10 years I’ve read as many books as I could about self improvement, health, finances, business development, and creativity to try and figure out that “piece I’ve been missing”. I looked at my life and felt like there was so much more potential but that there was something I didn’t know I didn’t know, so I was voraciously reading and studying everything I could.

In the last year I just felt overwhelmed by it all. I could recite back to you the things that Tim Ferriss or Seth Godin teach, but I wasn’t seeing any results from all of that knowledge in my own life.

Desperate, I sat down a few months ago and started taking all of my notes, all of my daily journal entries, and tried to figure out what I actually knew. I wanted to get it down on paper so that I could analyze it and make some changes to my life. All I knew going in is that what I was doing wasn’t working.

It took a few months, but just a few weeks ago I started having a breakthrough. I could see a framework starting to come into focus. Afraid that it was going to flutter off like so many other thoughts and “breakthroughs” I’d had in the past, I frantically started writing.

I typed and typed. I didn’t know what I was writing or if it was any good, but I had to keep up with this train of thought that was ploughing through my brain at breakneck speed.

After what felt like hours – I’m not actually sure how long I was in it for – I sat back, took a breath, and hit Command – S to save what I’d written.

What came out of that frenzy was a framework that I could understand. I could use it like a magnifying glass on anything I was trying to accomplish. My finances, my business, my relationships, my health.

I could use it to diagnose what I was doing wrong, what I was doing to much or not enough of, and where I was just a few degrees off course.

Over the last week I’ve taken that framework and turned it into a free email course that anyone can get, starting today. One email a day over five days of what I feel is my biggest breakthrough to date.

Since applying it my life has already seen dramatic changes. The clarity has made me less stressed and less afraid. The excitement gives me energy to try something new and to be willing to fail, because I know that that failure now is part of the process, and is required at times for growth and progress to occur.

My hope in putting this framework into a course is that it will benefit you as well. The more people that can overcome the obstacles in their way that are keeping them from living their best life, becoming their best self, and creating their best work, the better.

I hope you enjoy it. You can sign up for free using the form below or clicking on this link.

The Resistance Is Real

Guys. The resistance. It’s real.
 
Two days ago I parted ways with my business that I’ve been running for about 10 years now. The moments and days that have followed have me realizing that my options are infinite. That feeling is equal parts motivating and crippling. 
 
If you can do anything you want, how do you decide what is and isn’t valuable? How do you define “value” in the first place? Why seek “something of value” at all?
 
After the crippling thoughts came the crippling guilt . “What if the thing I want to do isn’t big enough? Isn’t valuable enough? Doesn’t provide value to the “right” people? Or provides more value to me than it does to others?
 
What if what I’m “supposed” to be doing is much, much bigger than what I’m considering doing?
 
If you’re looking for answers to these questions as well, I’m sorry. This isn’t that kind of a post.
 
The thing I realized today is that all these issues do one thing well: prevent you from creating anything at all. 
 
Questions like these are ones that I’ll never be able to answer. They only serve “the resistance”, as Steven Pressfield calls it.
 
They prevent you from writing, from creating, from putting your art into the world.
 
To divert a little bit, I love Seth Godin’s definition of “art”, that it’s the idea that a human puts out into the world. Whether it’s received or not is irrelevant.
 
So, after two days of crippling questions and expectations and fighting the resistance, I opened wordpress and started typing. This is what came out.
 
There’s no such thing as “writer’s block”. I stand by that. Because I didn’t have anything to write about, that is, until I started writing. That’s what I’m going to try and do when the resistance shows up again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day.
 
When the resistance comes, (figuratively) get out your pen, and write. 

Get It Down

I’m a month in on this 100 day challenge experiment where I’m writing a blog post every day for 100 days. (Repetative much?)

One of the biggest take aways so far is just how important it is to write stuff down. In the last week alone I’ve found myself running for my notebook or reaching for my phone a number of times to get an idea down on paper. Continue reading Get It Down

Can The Axios.com Distribution Model Work For Films?

One of my favorite new discoveries has been the Axios.com daily newsletter. The idea of adding a daily email to my life is huge, as I’m pretty protective of my email, but after just two days of trying it out, I was hooked. Here are a few things I feel could be applied to film distribution: Continue reading Can The Axios.com Distribution Model Work For Films?