Thomas Edison is frequently quoted as saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He was referring to his search for the material that would be the filament in his lightbulb. There are many lessons to be learned from that story; perseverance, optimism, ingenuity, creativity, etc… But I think the most important lesson is courage – having the courage to start something, the courage to fail, the courage to try again, and the courage to finally ship.
This process sounds obvious and maybe even simple. But if those are both true, then why do so few of us achieve the level of success we believe ourselves to be capable of attaining? It’s because there are a combination of forces aligned against us; some of them external but most of them insidiously entrenched inside our own lizard brains.
Fortunately for us, Seth Godin and Steven Pressfield have written a quartet of books that provide a blueprint for being successful and making a difference. I’ve coalesced them into what I call the “Godin/Pressfield Algorithm” (What can I say? I’m engineer, which means I love algorithms.).
“What kind of moron doesn’t know that the first step in achieving success is starting?” That’s a fair point, but I’m using the word “start” in a less literal sense. There all kinds of distractions and time-wasting efforts that look like starting, but are really procrastinating. This is where Godin’s “Poke the Box” (affiliate link) comes in handy. It’s a manifesto that clears the fog away from indecision and provides inspiration and advice for overcoming the fear of getting started. But don’t expect a map, because there isn’t one. Godin explains, “Instead of learning to be more compliant, I want to push you to be the one who takes initiative.”
Undertaking any endeavor is scary because you might fail. But even worse, your brain will fight you every step of the way because we’re programmed to pursue immediate, short-term gratification instead of activities aimed at longer term rewards; in other words, “work.” This invisible force that tells us to check our email or Twitter stream instead of authoring a blog post or writing a few more lines of code or making that client phone call is called “The Resistance” in Steven Pressfield’s book, “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.” Pressfield pulls the curtain back from this insidious obstacle and offers sound advice for recognizing and overcoming it.
Failing happens. Failing can even be a good thing. In fact, failure is not an option, it’s a strategy. But the problem is that it can be demoralizing. This is where Pressfield’s newest book, “Do the Work” (affiliate link) comes in very handy. He says, “It’s about getting off your behind and starting something. And Seth Godin writes about this, that once you start, you have to finish; you don’t get off the hook half way through.”
“Real artists ship.” Thus sayeth Steve Jobs, as quoted by Godin in the final book of our quartet, “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?” (affiliate link). This book dares you, actually embarrasses you into making yourself indispensable. It serves as the foundation of the Godin/Pressfield algorithm and stresses the importance of shipping. Otherwise, everything else is boasting, procrastinating, bullshitting. Real artists ship.
And now you have an algorithm for shipping. You’re out of excuses. Grab these books and get started.