Keep You, Get Rid Of Everybody Else

[More thoughts on the IGNORE EVERYBODY book.]


Miles Davis said it best: “Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.”

He was talking about trumpet playing, but he could just have easy been talking to something else- writing, filmmaking, drawing… or any kind of paid, professional work, really.

A Miles Davis record alway sounds like Miles Davis. A Picasso drawing looks like Picasso drew it. And nobody writes like poetry like WB Yeats, with every word an utter joy to read.

But we’re not just talking here about developing your own unique style. It’s more like, only do the work that only you can do.

When I draw cartoons, they’re *mine*. They’re unique. Nobody else can do that, at least, not the way I can.

I also know how to write ads and sales copy for a living, but then so do thousands of other people. So that’s why I focus on cartoons- because that’s where people single me out the most. In advertising, I’m just one more middle aged white dude waiting in line. So I don’t go there.

Eventually you want to get to the stage you’ve carved out you’re own little niche of one. You’re THAT guy. You’re THE guy.

Whether it’s Miami condos, New York cheeses, German enterprise software consulting, Seattle marketing communications, or New York divorces, pick something you can be a dominant force in.

It doesn’t matter so much what the thing in question is, the issue is whether you own the space or not.

And then go for it. Just makes sure it’s uniquely yours, make sure it’s uniquely YOU.

Good luck.


[More thoughts on the IGNORE EVERYBODY book.]


Seriously, if you want to make yourself useful to business right out of leaving college, as opposed to waiting tables until you’re 45, learn how to write well.

No, you don’t have to be a novelist or a journalist or a celebrity blogger to get paid. In fact, those are pretty effective ways to ensure that you don’t ever get paid.

But there is a HUGE need in most businesses for better communication, both internal and external. And that need, though very real, is mostly unmet.

A while ago, my company was looking to hire a writer to help us with our workload. So I emailed an old friend, a famous online publisher in New York with a nine-figure online content company, asking if he could recommend anyone.

“Are you kidding?” he said. “Good writers are rarer than hen’s teeth, even around here.”

Do the math. If a famous publisher finds good writers hard to find, how do you think the average company feels?

The truth is, most of the twenty-somethings in your average office haven’t been taught to write properly (I find this is especially true in the USA, compared to say, when I lived in the UK). But if you’re the one twenty-something in the office who has, you will soon find yourself regarded by management as irreplaceable. And they’ll fight tooth and nail to hang on to you.

So if you’re a college senior or recent graduate who’s all depressed because you decided to study the arts, English, or the humanities instead of accounting, business, tech, engineering, pre-Med etc, don’t be. I’ve just given you a clear path forward. Go for it.

Attain Mastery


[More thoughts on the IGNORE EVERYBODY book.]

[This is the talk I gave at the first ever Ignite Miami, back in 2012:]

1. Like everybody else here tonight, I give a lot of thought to “Success”. What does it take to be successful, prosprous, happy, have a sense of purpose etc? What does THAT actually look like?

2. And by successful, I don’t mean “lucky”. I don’t mean people born rich or lottery winners. That kind of success never comes from within, that kind of success is too external and random to bother worrying about.

3. Of course, the media LOVE success models of the outrageously fortunate- celebrity artists, celebrity businessmen, celebrity spiritual leaders, not to mention the Reality TV, famous-for-being-famous crowd.

4. The thing is, I know TONS of super successful people, but none of them fit this extreme, celeb-lottery-winner TV model. Some of them are actually pretty boring, to be honest. But they lead happy lives and do VERY well careerwise. THAT is what most success looks like, if you think about it. The stuff on TV or in the movies just isn’t REAL enough to be that useful for us to emulate.

5. So I was thinking about this again, recently, HARD. What model would work for these people, these folk like you and me? A model that didn’t mean you had to sell your soul to Wall Street, Hollywood or Washington? A success model that doesn’t rely solely on the unlikelihood of outrageously good fortune or plain, dumb luck?

6. Then quite by chance, I saw a great documentary the other week: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, a film about the world’s greatest sushi master, and a lightbulb EXPLODED in my head.

7. Our man, Jiro is eighty five years old (EIGHTY FIVE!), doesn’t have a lot of money or own a fleet of trendy restaurants in all the world’s capitals, a-la Wolfgang Puck. He’s just being doing it for 60 years; he just has just a small, plain, dingy, ordinary, low-key sushi bar with ten seats in a Tokyo subway, the kind you’d probably just walk by without stopping if you saw it. Ten seats!  Yet he’s the best in the world at what he does.

8. Jiro works over 350 days a year, serves sushi and sashimi to people in very small numbers, and THAT’S IT. Just sushi. No salad, no appetizers, no deserts. Like I said, JUST SUSHI. And by sticking to this bare-bones formula, he’s become the first sushi chef in the world to win three Michelin stars.

9. A tiny little sushi bar in some random subway station. Yet people wait in line, people book a stool at his sushi bar as much as a year in advance, a prices starting around $600 a head. People have been known to fly all the way from America or Europe, just to experience a 30-minute meal. In a subway station!

10. I was lucky enough to have a similar experience first-hand when about eight years ago, I started working with the English Savile Row tailors. They make the best suits in the world; all hand-made, they go for about $5000 a pop.

11. The tailors have a similar shtick as Jiro. They’re generally not that rich, their businesses are tiny, yet the great and the good worship at their feet. Celebrities, captains of industry, people who are also world-class at what they do, like Jiro’s customers, waiting as long as a year in advance to get their next suit.

12. Like Jiro, the tailors just get up every morning and do their thing, day-in-day-out, humbly, quietly, without a lot of fanfare, totally dedicated to their jobs. I’ve seen it. On the surface, it’s quiet, calm and kinda dull.

13. And like Jiro, from my observations they seem to have this sense of inner satisfaction my Wall Street trader friends (who easily make ten times as much, even on a bad day) can only dream of.

14. As a result, Jiro and the Savile Row tailors are the people I really try to emulate. Because it’s doable. I can do that. I may never be as rich as Steve Jobs or Warren Buffet, I may never be literally a rock star like Bono or Jagger, but I can be like Jiro and the tailors… or at least, more like them.

15. And like them, I live very low-key; I get up every morning and quietly get on with the business cranking out my product, my cartoons. Like I said, quiet, calm and kinda dull.

16. So what’s their secret? THE secret? What is the secret sauce that lets these otherwise quite ordinary people like Jiro and the tailors, lead such extraordinary lives?

17. In a word: MASTERY. They’ve MASTERED something. Something interesting and valuable. They are MASTERS of their craft. It may be an old-fashioned word that makes people uncomfortable, but that’s only because it’s something that eludes most people.

18. Though, having watched these masters carefully first-hand, I can honestly say MASTERY is more satisfying than money (and I’ve seen both, trust me). If you’re up for it, yes, MASTERY MATTERS MORE THAN MONEY, MASTERY MATTERS MORE THAN SUCCESS.

19. And it’s portable. It travels with you, wherever you go. No landlord, no boss, no recession, no Wall Street analyst, no newspaper critic can take it away. It’s something that truly belongs to you, for always.

20. So when a young person asks me for career advice these days, I tell her, “Don’t worry about so much about money, fame, success, whatever. Worry about Mastery- that is something precious you can actually control. And yes, if you’ve achieved mastery, you’re more likely to be successful and prosperous, anyway.” Again, MASTERY MATTERS MORE THAN SUCCESS. So go for it. Thank you.

[P.S.: Thanks to Alex and Ana for making this happen for me. I had a great evening!]



[More thoughts on “Ignore Everybody”.]

Old timers in the creative game get asked a lot of questions from the young folk just starting out.

“How did you land your first job interview?”
“How did you find your agent?”
“How did you find your publisher?”
“How did you know when to end the book?”
“How do you know where your market lived?”
“How did you convince Ewan McGregor to accept the role?”
“How do you get the New York Times to cover your story?”
“How did you persuade your investors to back your company?”

As if there’s some sort of secret master blueprint all the big shots are using, and if only we mere mortals could get our hands on it…

Eventually the old timer, having given all the answers he can, will tell the young person, “I’m sorry, I really don’t know any more than that. I just figured it out. You figure it out.”

The fact is, the old timers made it the same way we all do. They just stumbled along, trying different things, until he found something that worked. Some of it was luck, some of it was skill, all of it was tenacity.

There is no secret blueprint. There is no secret recipe. There is no A-List tooth fairy. We’re all here for a very short time in the end, so time to get busy.

Others figured it out. You figure it out.