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?

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.

Real Work – Steven Pressfield

Real work and real satisfaction come from the opposite of what the web provides. They come from going deep into something—the book you’re writing, the album, the movie—and staying there for a long, long time.

~Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield is a favorite author of mine. He’s the one who brought us the idea of “the resistance” in his book The War of Art, a book I try and read at least once a year.

This concept of going deep has been on my mind for a few years. I loved Cal Newport’s book Deep Work and highlighted it to death. But highlighting a book and implementing the principles it teaches you are two entirely different things.

(One is a few orders of magnitude harder as well…)

A goal I have for the new year and beyond is to stop spreading myself so thin with as many projects as I can think of, and instead going deep on one (maybe two) things.

I have a book I’m working on, a screenplay, a web series, and a website that I’m trying to get off the ground, and the only ones I’ve been able to make any meaningful progress on are the book and the screenplay, and only when I block out a few hours a day with no distractions – no phone, no internet, nothing – and going deep.

I want to do that more often, but I’m my own worst enemy. So, that in mind, I’m going to do much more creating and much less consuming going forward.

 

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