"Sources of Personal Competitive Advantage"

Shane Parrish is collecting a list on Twitter of sources of personal competitive advantage. Readers soon joined in and now it’s a long thread that received the following response from business author Kevin Kruse:

“If he doesn’t turn this into a book, I will.”

Here’s what the list started with (I bolded my favorite — I could probably write an entire book just on this one point):

  • Delayed gratification

  • Capital

  • Network (who you know)

  • Unique skills or combinations

  • Platform

  • Ability to suffer

  • Family/home life

  • Speed

  • Ability to change your mind

  • Ability to learn/adapt

  • Ability to persuade others

  • Ability to look stupid

  • Advanced Pattern recognition

  • Focus

  • Ability to say no

This Quote Scares the Hell Out of Me

"Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” — Carl Jung

This quote freaks parents out. Google it and read about heads exploding. Parents love to beat themselves up about their choices. Couple this with the book everyone is talking about right now Lost Connections, and it's renewing the entrepreneurial longing in me.

I first got this advice from Patrick Rhone in person years ago (in his own words) and I didn't follow it. I'm doing something about it this year, and I'm doing it on deadline (with real accountability), so I have no choice.

The Value of Attention

I see it all the time. A big-name author or rock star enjoys the adulation of millions of fans, but takes home a fraction of the income of a C-level executive or investor.

Both envy each other, but I don't know anyone who would honestly take fame over money. In fact, the truly wealthy pay more to keep their lives as private as possible.

We're told every day as creators online that attention = prosperity. But no one's attention online lasts long enough for that to be true anymore (if it ever was).

I recently saw two posts on different social networks, one from a writer and one from a photographer, pleading with their tens of thousands of followers to help them pay their bills because one lost a gig and the other dropped his camera.

This can't be where we're going.

At 16, I was into two things: guitar playing and starting a small business. They were my two passions, and I quit all sports and extra curricular activities to practice and plot. If I were giving advice to myself from the future it would be: go all in on the business, then use the freedom that affords to pursue any kind of art you want.

That sounds like old man advice, and being a teenager I would have probably ignored it. Now, it's the advice I'd give any young artist who had even the slightest interest in business.

"Attention is the ultimate form of currency." - Sally Hogshead, advertising guru

At one time I would have agreed with this quote. Now, I think currency is the ultimate form of currency. Attention is one path of many to get where you want to be, and increasingly, it's a less desirable path.

Self Awareness is Underrated

Of all the "Letters of Note" I've read, none of have come closer to my world view of than this one from H.L. Menken in 1931:

"I go on working for the same reason that a hen goes on laying eggs.
The precise form of an individual’s activity is determined, of course, by the equipment with which he came into the world. In other words, it is determined by his heredity. I do not lay eggs, as a hen does, because I was born without any equipment for it. For the same reason I do not get myself elected to Congress, or play the violoncello, or teach metaphysics in a college, or work in a steel mill. What I do is simply what lies easiest to my hand. It happens that I was born with an intense and insatiable interest in ideas, and thus like to play with them. It happens also that I was born with rather more than the average facility for putting them into words. In consequence, I am a writer and editor, which is to say, a dealer in them and concoctor of them.
...like any other realtively poor man, I have longed to make a lot of money by some easy swindle. But I became a writer all the same, and shall remain one until the end of the chapter, just as a cow goes on giving milk all her life, even though what appears to be her self-interest urges her to give gin.
What the meaning of human life may be I don’t know: I incline to suspect that it has none. All I know about it is that, to me at least, it is very amusing while it lasts."

The whole letter is worth a read. Self awareness is an underrated trait. Without having the proper foundation of realizing who you are, making changes in your life is like (paraphrasing David Allen) putting the ladder you're climbing on the wrong wall.

Independence Day

The bank I write for, and have worked at for 16 years, is finally calling it quits. My last day is May 31st.

I'm lucky to have options as a writer. Not many in finance do. Automation has killed a lot of their jobs. We've heard it for years; if your job doesn't involve a lot of creativity, expect software to take over that job soon.

That day came a lot quicker than many expected. Not me, though. I read Seth Godin (so should you).

My immediate plans are to write and photograph like a madman, sharing everything I possibly can with you right here. I'm also helping to start a consulting business for someone else, so I hope this allows me to post as much as I'd like.

Daily posting is the ultimate goal and I'd like to do a lot more books now that I have some time on my side. I'm not expecting this approach to provide my primary source of income, though. Maybe it will in 5-10 years. But for now, I just want to show up more.


The Biggest Regret of My Career

Last week, I attempted to explain why it’s not always a great idea to put your work out there in any old form towards the goal of “being noticed.” Of course, this was written from my usual pro-hobbyist bias, as the great majority of my readers are hobbyist photographers or writers.

This week, I’ll explain why this advice breaks down a bit (but not entirely) for professionals.

The greatest regret I have in my career is that what has appeared in my blog or in my books is the tip of an enormous iceberg of professional writing the public will never see. I write, edit and/or publish the equivalent of a small book every week to an intranet only visible to the employees of a large corporation.

I take no less pride in the work. It has my name on it and reputation matters. But, since it never sees the public, it does not add to my “body of work” and that’s what really hurts. It’s like it never happened.

If you let your audience in on how you create what you create, you will build a bigger, better audience. Audience matters more than anything to your career. With a large enough audience, you can dictate the terms of your career entirely. With no audience, you hold no leverage. Most of us fall somewhere in the vast middle. Where you fall usually depends on your body of work and how much you've shown.

I still believe a portfolio or gallery link is an awful way, even for a professional, to build that audience. But, putting your work out there is essential to building an audience. Putting your work out there in new creative ways, using narratives, is a better way to go about doing it.


Surprise us. 

The Economy that Never Dies

Hugh MacLeod:

"Business Insider projected in 2015 that over the next twenty years, we’ll lose 47% of our jobs to robots. So what’s protecting the other 53%?
Creativity. The fundamentals of humanity.
We will always need music, photography, books, stories -- the things that open our minds and stop our breath."

If you think making a living in these areas is easy, you're crazy. But, if you're creative enough to figure out how to do it well (like Hugh did), you'll never need to work a "job" again. 4 of the 10 richest people in the world are in the publishing business, and the other 6 rely on publishing to conduct their business. Stories run the global economy.

Why a Nuclear Physicist Waits Tables at Olive Garden

I went to Olive Garden last night with the family, because we had a gift card. I'll admit, I wasn't expecting much. It had been years since I set foot in an Olive Garden.

Our server was an unusual dude. He was middle aged with disheveled hair. He was also having a great time. I was intrigued. As we talked to him a bit more, he explained he was a retired physics professor with a Masters degree from MIT and 39 patents for nuclear reactor design.

I quizzed him a bit, since one of my favorite pet side-subjects is thorium nuclear reactors. He knew about the designs and the politics of thorium reactors, so I'm assuming the rest of his story is true.

We didn't ask him why he was a server now, but, lucky for us, he volunteered it.

He said after a year of retirement, he was bored with himself. He wanted a job where he could get out of the house, meet people and still think about physics problems all day. This was the perfect solution.

I knew immediately what he meant.

The best job I ever had was working in the records department of a bank. I mindlessly fetched files all day and thought about topics like...nuclear reactors...or my next book. Having the freedom to think and still earn a paycheck was something I had not experienced before or since. I miss it sometimes (but not the size of the paycheck).

Einstein worked as a patent clerk. Isaac Newton worked at a mint. T.S. Eliot was a banker. Bram Stoker was a bureaucrat. Lots of artists and great thinkers had boring day jobs (see Jack Lynch's book Don't Quit Your Day Job).

I think about this whenever someone insists artists must follow their passions and make careers out of them.

Maybe you just need a paycheck and the freedom to enjoy what obsesses you.