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This month’s books are about different aspects of creativity. One explores the business of it, one is told from the perspective of a parent of a creative genius, and one is about the benefits of disorder and how messiness can improve how we work.


The Passion Economy by Adam Davidson


I first heard the term “passion economy” a few months ago, and realized I had been participating in it for the past several years. I built my editorial studio Wonder Shuttle according to my own perspective, deliberately against a lot of conventional business advice. This book puts a lot of lessons I’d learned and some I hadn’t, through my own activities and through learning from other business owners, and organizes it into one place. It would have been really nice to have when I was starting out.


On strategy: The word "strategy" can be intimidating (at least it is to me). It connotes a form of knowledge that professors at the best business schools and partners at elite consulting businesses impart to their select underlings. Happily, Scott shows that it can be straightforward and rooted in basic questions: What are you selling? Who most wants it? Why do they want it? How do they pay for it? Strategy is more important now than it was in the widget economy of the twentieth century because the answers to these questions are more complex and change more often.


On framing: He could have chosen a different competitor—for example, the lousiest of discount sneakers. He could then have argued that his product was more durable, more stylish, better performing than the bottom of the barrel. By choosing that competitor and framing his business around capturing its share of the market, he would then have had an easier time seeing his subsequent choices. He would have needed a low-margin, high-volume business strategy.


Scott would argue that there is no single right answer for everybody; the right path is shaped by your product or service as well as your passions and goals. Typically, your business will have a few potential competitive paths. You could focus on stealing market share from massive industry leaders, or you could identify a narrower niche market.


On scale: But you should be careful not to produce value—create a thing that people want—at scale.


On uniqueness: The moment one of your products or services takes off and becomes widely copied, you should begin abandoning it and looking for the next thing.


On pricing: You shouldn't charge market prices. Market prices are based on the idea that whatever it is you are selling is a commodity that is no better and no worse than what everyone else is selling.


On value: Value is a subjective measurement of how some product or service makes a person's life better. It is a story, and like all good stories, it has characters and a plot and a feeling of completion, and maybe a bit of drama.


Raising Kanye by Donda West


I’d always meant to read this book, especially since I edited a book about Kanye West in 2015. The announcement of Donda’s Rules reminded me I hadn’t read Raising Kanye yet. This book shows where Kanye got so much of his intelligence, passion, and creativity. Its greatness is met with sadness, as Donda passed away in 2007, which Kanye has blamed himself for. If his mother were still alive, Kanye would be a very different artist—for better or worse. If you want to get to know one of the artist behind the album of the decade in the 2010s, this book could be a place to start.


On outrageousness: And the media is likely to witness what it calls outrageous outbursts. What is actually outrageous is the situation prompting the "outburst."


On appropriateness: To me, being appropriate does not always mean conforming. Often it means just the opposite. Sometimes, refusing to conform and even confronting is not only appropriate but necessary to change the world for the better.


On parenting: We are the sum total of the lives our families lived and the lessons they instilled in us—both good and bad.


On regret: During a heated discussion he told me that yes, the studio was the most important thing to him. He even confirmed that it came before Kanye and me. What a switch he had made. Long after we'd divorced, though, he told a mutual friend of ours that saying those words and having that attitude were the biggest mistakes he ever made and that he wished he could take those words back. But he couldn't. Those words stung me as much as if he had hauled off and slapped me across face, because when I looked in his eyes at that moment, I was certain he meant it.


On self-love: I believe that unless combated, self-hate is easy to develop and nearly impossible to shed. One of the best ways to teach a child to love himself and others is to love that child with all your might. Perhaps it is the only way.


On school: "Use school, don't let school use you," is one of Kanye's favorite sayings.


A Perfect Mess by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman


The thesis of this book is that organization and neatness isn’t always ideal—in fact, they come with a cost. Every system has an ideal level of mess, and by trying to keep things neat, we are taking away from the possible connections and breakthroughs that might happen otherwise. This book paradoxically takes on the task of organizing and categorizing different types of messes, providing them with structure to make its own case. I found it really interesting, particularly the point about the value of strategic planning goes against The Passion Economy’s point. These two opposite beliefs could reveal something interesting about strategy.


On strategy: The results: companies that did a lot of strategic planning performed, on average, no better than companies that did less strategic planning.


Not only does Starbuck see no surprise in that finding, he argues that it would be a miracle if it were otherwise. The main reason, in a nutshell, is that managers import a raft of poor assumptions into the planning process.


On messiness: Rather, we argue that there is an optimal level of mess for every aspect of every system.


On creation: To capture the building's intended emotional content, Gehry maintains, everyone working on the building should keep creating throughout the construction process. Withholding blueprints is a way of making sure that happens. Forgoing a detailed plan is disruptive — it creates convolution, making a neat and well-defined process messy.


On habits: The reason, says Fletcher, is that people tend to get trapped in what he calls "habit webs." When they try to effect an important, useful change, they find they’re stuck tight. But if they snip away at individual, thin, supporting strands of the web, the web can eventually be loosened enough to permit more important change.


On simplification:  If we were always good at recognizing our powerlessness to control randomness — that is, if we fully accepted how disordered the world is — we might too often become paralyzed by indecision or hopelessness. Being quick to imagine that we can assert order and improve the odds to a greater degree than we actually can is what often inspires us to act boldly.



I hope that some of these passages unlock the hidden doors of your mind. Maybe some will serve as catalysts for change. And remember, they’re signposts. It’s up to you whether you want to apply them or not. Reply to this and let me know which quotes or books resonate with you, what you think of the newsletter, and if there’s anything I can support you with.




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