Book report

Seth Godin’s provocative call to just ship it

I recently finished reading The Practice: Shipping Creative Work: the latest book from Seth Godin. In case you haven’t heard of Godin, he’s the marketing guru that famously publishes short thought-provoking blogs daily, and sends those blog posts as emails.

In the book, Godin sets up the idea of creativity as a deliberate practice, one that that takes persistence. Rather than the practice building towards creativity, he asserts that the practice of creativity is the thing, the work, the output.

“Art is the generous act of making things better, by doing something that might not work.”

About the book

This book, like others of Godin’s I’ve read, is constructed of bite-sized modular aphorisms around the topic. He has much to say about creative work, but at the heart of the book is a call to the practitioner to trust themselves to create the conditions they need to be creative.

For example, while creativity happens best in times of flow, flow is not something that merely happens to the creative practitioner. Rather, the practitioner can choose to create the conditions in which flow occurs. At the heart of this creativity, then, is trust in yourself.

Godin sees art-making as habitual:

“We become what we do.”

As aside: This reminds me of the quote often attributed to Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” (Apparently, the quote is actually from Will Durant in the 1926 book: The Story of Philosophy, though it’s in keeping with other things Aristotle said.)

My takeaways

I’ll admit, I don’t have a lot of takeaways from this book. That’s largely because Godin’s writing style is more inspirational, and less actionable, but I’ll get into that below.

1. Embrace imposter syndrome.

It’s a sign that you’re trusting the process, and acting with generosity by sharing your creative work.

2. Inauthenticity > authenticity.

Godin rejects the romanticisation of authenticity in creative work. He asserts that what people want from artists is not authenticity, but consistency. He relates “authenticity” to a toddler’s tantrum, as unadulterated emotion, and that anything more thoughtful than that becomes inauthentic.

Godin defines “authentic” in a very specific way. He says that professionals, champions, leaders, and heroes are proudly inauthentic, because they show up day after day even if they don’t feel like it.

“Inauthentic means effective, reasoned, intentional. it means it’s not personal, it’s generous.”

This is where he loses me.

Can’t creative work be thoughtful, intentional, and authentic? Where does vulnerability come in? I think you can still be authentic even if you’re showing up when you don’t feel like it. For instance, it’s OK to say “I don’t feel like being here today, but I’m doing it anyway.”

In closing

To read a Seth Godin book is to be immensely inspired. But for me, it’s a frustrating kind of inspiration. Godin doesn’t tend towards concrete suggestions of how to funnel that inspiration. And so it becomes fleeting, petering out after the book is closed. While examples are frequently cited, they seem to be pulled in briefly and then let go again, as a convenient allusion rather than a meaningful interrogation.

Since the book was derived from a creative workshop, I hungered for more tactics, practical exercises, and specific calls to action. But the book is a series of provocations that serve as a starting-pistol for a race in which all the runners are in the dark with their own head-lamps. Godin isn’t going to help you choose the path you take, or whether to take it at all.

Maybe this isn’t the kind of book that you read cover to cover. Maybe it is better suited to dipping into when I need inspiration, much as I would do with a book of poetry.

Overall, as a practical guide for creativity, I found it lacking.

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