Scrum: A Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction by Chris Sims

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Scrum is a lightweight framework designed to help small, close-knit teams of people develop complex products.

A scrum team typically consists of around seven people who work together, in short, sustainable bursts of activity called sprints, with plenty of time for review and reflection built in

Scrum recognizes only three distinct roles: product owner, scrum master, and team member

The Five Big Ideas

The product owner is responsible for maximizing the return the business gets on this investment (ROI)

In scrum, no-one but the product owner is authorized to ask the team to do work or to change the order of backlog items

The product owner is responsible for recording the requirements, often in the form of user stories and adding them to the product backlog

The scrum master acts as a coach, guiding the team to ever-higher levels of cohesiveness, self-organization, and performance

The team members doing the work have total authority over how the work gets done

Scrum Summary

An example of a story: “As a <role>, I want <a feature>, so that I can <accomplish something>”.

The product owner role in a nutshell:

Holds the vision for the product represents the interests of the  business

Represents the customers

Owns the product backlog

Orders (prioritizes) the items in the product backlog

Creates acceptance criteria for the backlog items

Is available to answer team members’ questions

The scrum master role in a nutshell:

Scrum expert and advisor coach impediment bulldozer facilitator

People who do the work are the highest authorities on how best to do it.

If the business needs schedule estimates, it is the team members who should create these estimates.

The role of each and every team member is to help the team deliver potentially shippable product in each sprint.

What we are describing with scrum is a mindset change from “doing my job” to “doing the job.”

The team member role in a nutshell:

Responsible for completing user stories to incrementally increase the value of the product

Self-organizes to get all of the necessary work done

Creates and owns the estimates owns the “ how to do the work” decisions

Avoids siloed “not my job” thinking

The common rule of thumb, regarding how many team members should a scrum team have, is seven, plus or minus two. That is, from five to nine. Fewer team members and the team may not have enough variety of skills to do all of the work needed to complete user stories. More team members and the communication overhead starts to get excessive.

Scrum artifacts are the tools we scrum practitioners use to make our process visible.

The product backlog is the cumulative list of desired deliverables for the product.

While backlog item is technically correct, many scrum teams prefer the term “user story,” as it reminds us that we build products to satisfy our users’ needs.

The list of user stories is ordered such that the most important story, the one that the team should do next, is at the top of the list.

Since stories near the top of the product backlog will be worked on soon, they should be small and well understood by the whole team. Stories further down in the list can be larger and less well understood, as it will be some time before the team works on them.

Each item, or story, in the product backlog should include the following information: Which users the story will benefit (who it is for) A brief description of the desired functionality (what needs to be built) The reason that this story is valuable (why we should do it) An estimate as to how much work the story requires to implement Acceptance criteria that will help us know when it has been implemented correctly.

The sprint backlog is the team’s to-do list for the sprint.

Unlike the product backlog, it has a finite lifespan: the length of the current sprint.

A burn chart shows us the relationship between time and scope. Time is on the horizontal X-axis and scope is on the vertical Y-axis. A burn-up chart shows us how much scope the team has got done over a period of time.

The simplest task board consists of three columns: to do, doing and done.

In order to avoid confusion, good scrum teams create their own definition of the word “done” when it is applied to a user story.

The sprint cycle consists of several meetings, often called ceremonies: sprint planning daily scrum story time sprint review retrospective.

Whether you call your development period a sprint, a cycle or an iteration, you are talking about exactly the same thing: a fixed period of time within which you bite off small bits of your project and finish them before returning to bite off a few more.

There are two separate decisions to take:

Is the product potentially shippable? That is to say, is the quality high enough that the business could ship it?

Are all of the current stories done? This is a decision for the team. Does it make business sense to ship what we have at this time? Is there enough incremental value present to take the current product to market? This is a decision for the business.

Sprint planning marks the beginning of the sprint. Commonly, this meeting has two parts. The goal of the first part is for the team to commit to a set of deliverables for the sprint. During the second part of the meeting, the team identifies the tasks that must be completed in order to deliver the agreed upon user stories. We recommend one to two hours of sprint planning per week of development.

The goal of part one of the sprint planning meeting is to emerge with a set of “committed” stories that the whole team believes they can deliver by the end of the sprint.

Note the separation in authority: the product owner decides which stories will be considered, but the team members doing the actual work are the ones who decide how much work they can take on.

In phase two of the sprint planning meeting, the team rolls up its sleeves and begins to decompose the selected stories into tasks.

The output of the sprint planning meeting is the sprint backlog, the list of all the committed stories, with their associated tasks.

The daily scrum should always be held to no more than 15 minutes.

In a daily scrum meeting, each participant answers the following:

What tasks I’ve completed since the last daily scrum?

What tasks do I expect to complete by the next daily scrum?

What obstacles are slowing me down?

Each user story in the product backlog should include a list of acceptance criteria. These are pass/fail testable conditions that help us know when then the story is implemented as intended.

Stories at the top of the product backlog need to be small. Small stories are easier for everyone to understand, and easier for the team to complete in a short period of time. Stories further down in the product backlog can be larger and less well defined. This implies that we need to break the big stories into smaller stories as they make their way up the list.

The retrospective, held at the very end of each and every sprint, is dedicated time for the team to focus on what was learned during the sprint, and how that learning can be applied to make some improvement.

Sims recommends one to two hours of retrospective time for each week of development.

Unlike the traditional “post mortem,” the aim of a retrospective is never to generate a long laundry list of things that went well and things that went wrong but to identify no more than one or two strategic changes to make in the next sprint.

Recommended Reading

If you like Scrum, you may also enjoy the following books:

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World Book by Cal Newport

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

Eat That Frog! Get More of the Important Things Done – Today! by Brian Tracy

Buy The Book: Scrum

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The Creative Habit Summary

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The Creative Habit is a dancer’s blueprint to making creativity a habit, which she’s successfully done for over 50 years in the entertainment industry.

Twyla Tharp is one of the world’s most renowned dancers and dance choreographers. At 75 years old, she’s not only choreographed, danced in and produced an enormous amount of plays and performances – for over 50 years she’s run her own business too!

Needless to say, to stay creative for such a long time takes a lot of discipline and creativity itself, just so you can sustain the habit of coming up with new things.

The Creative Habit is her 2006 book in which she shares how she dealt with this tough challenge throughout her career. Here are my 3 favorite lessons:

  • Design a starting ritual for your creative process.
  • Use a project box to prepare your work and ground yourself.
  • Always end right in the middle of work for an easy entry thenext day.

Want to build a creative habit that’ll last you a lifetime? Let’s get to work!

Lesson 1: Have a daily starting ritual to get your creativeprocess going.

You can’t be creative on command. No one can. Not even the world’s most genius writers, musicians and painters. So how do they keep churning out hit after hit? Simple: they show up to work, every day. And then they accept that creativity itself ebbs and flows.

But whether they work or not is not up for debate. Inspiration or not, they put in time. Motivation or not, they create. Until doing the work has become a habit that feels as natural as breathing.

One thing you can do that’ll tremendously help in building such a habit is to design a starting ritual for yourself. Stravinsky played the same fugue by Bach every morning. I make a cup of coffee before I sit down to start writing. Twyla herself gets up at dawn, grabs a coffee and then hails a cab to the gym.

It doesn’t matter what your starting ritual looks like. As long as it signals you “it’s time to go!” it does the job. Pick something, set it up and start your creative habit today.

Lesson 2: Use a project box to organize, prepare andrecalibrate yourself at work.

Every time you start a new, creative project, you can take a simple cardboard box, write the name of the project on it, and then put all of your resources and materials into the box. Whatever you need to complete the project goes in there.

Why is this helpful? A couple of reasons:

It represents a commitment to the project. As long as the box isn’t empty, you still have work to do.

It shows you how far you’ve come. Even if the project stalls, you can always open the box, look inside and see what you’ve done already.

It keeps everything you need neatly organized in one place.

Of course the box doesn’t do the work for you. It’s just a means of preparation and a token of your creative process. But it’s still helpful.

It doesn’t even have to be a box. You can use drawers, a folder, or even organize your stuff on your computer. As long as it creates order and commitment, it’ll work.

Lesson 3: Make it easy to pick up work again by leavingright in the middle of something.

This trick comes from one of the most famous authors of all time: Ernest Hemingway. Combined with your starting ritual, it’ll really help get your hands, feet, or whatever you use to create your work, moving.

If you leave your work right in the middle of something, where you exactly know what you want to do next, picking up again will be really easy.

For example, Hemingway would always finish his writing sessions in the middle of a sentence. That way, when he returned the next day, he could be sure to know what to start with: wrapping up what he wrote the night before.

This could mean stopping a choreo at step 5 out of 8, leaving the refrain of a new song unfinished, or only mapping out your biking route 75%, before you put the pen down. Of course, you don’t have to risk anything: simply write down the next few steps of the direction you wanted to take the project in on a note and leave it at your workspace.

This way, when you begin again one day later, you’ll remember what you wanted to do and have no problems to restart your creative habit.

My personal take-aways

I’m not a dancer. I don’t know much about ballet. But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from someone who’s spent their entire life doing it. Whatever the occasion may be, if you have a chance to learn from someone who’s been in an industry for over 50 years, you should take it. Doing great work for so long comes with many life lessons that extend way beyond what’s important in any given field. When mentors talk, listen. No matter what you want to be mentored in. Thumbs up for The Creative Habit.

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The Artist’s Way Summary

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The Artist’s Way is an all-time, self-help classic, helping you to reignite your inner artist, recover your creativity and let the divine energy flow through you as you create your art.

This book is a classic example of someone choosing themselves. Long before Amazon was around and self-publishing became standard practice, Julia Cameron self-published this book after it was turned down by a publisher. It picked up steam fast and so in 1992, was published again by what today is called The Penguin Group.

It outlines a 12-week course to help you spark the light of your inner artist again, even if you haven’t created much art since doodling stick figures in second grade.

Here are my 3 favorite lessons to help you find back to the artist’s way:

  • Write Morning Pages to freely let your creativity flow.
  • If you feel stuck, ask other people for prompts.
  • Think of yourself as a gardener, who takes care of ideas.

Ready to sing, dance, doodle, draw, paint, spray or whatever you used to love way back when you were an artist (=kid)? Time to reignite!

Lesson 1: Give your creativity the chance to run freely by writing Morning Pages.

Creativity, much like most other things which are confused for being the result of pure talent, is a skill you can practice like any other. Real artists, real musicians, real writers, they don’t lie around nine months of the year, waiting for inspiration to strike, and once it hits they jump up, write for 90 days straight and then hand in yet another bestseller.

They just show up to practice their creativity. A little bit. Every day. Performance ebbs and flows, as it does in most other aspects of life. But over time, their creative accomplishments compound.

However, if you’re just starting out, you won’t have the fierce determination of a long-term writer, like Steven Pressfield, who soldiers through hours of writing every day.

A good way to start slowly, but steadily is to write what Julia Cameron calls Morning Pages. First thing in the morning, sit down, let your thoughts wander and just write down what comes to mind. Make it a page or two, nothing big, start small.

See this as meditation – a way to just let your creativity flow without building barriers around it. Do this for a week and watch as magical things start to unfold.

Lesson 2: If you have writer’s, singer’s or painter’s block, just let other people give you prompts.

I love coming up with headlines for new articles. The scary part is what comes afterwards: writing the article. Even for someone who’s written half a million (that’s 500,000!) words in 2016, starting with a blank page is still daunting.

And I’m no exception. World-class writers struggle with this. A great tip from Seth Godin is to write like you talk. That helps, because nobody gets talker’s block.

Julia Cameron has another great idea and it works for any kind of block: writer’s block, singer’s block, painter’s block, you name it. It’s as simple as it is efficient: let other people give you prompts.

Go to a friend, family member, or ask your audience: What do you want me to write about? What song should I sing? What motif should I paint?

And then do just that. It can be wonderfully liberating to not have to think about what to create for a while, and once you’re done, you’ll be in an entirely different place, ready to take on what’s next!

Lesson 3: Ideas are already out there – as an artist it’s merely your job to take good care of them and watch them grow.

Michelangelo didn’t create David. He said he found him. Isn’t that humble? One of the world’s greatest artists and he takes zero credit. Just says he found the idea and happened to be the one chiseling away at that block of stone at the right time to make it happen.

But this is more than humility. It’s a tool. The minute you stop thinking of yourself as an idea generator and instead see yourself as a vessel that ideas just happen to flow through as you find them out in the world, you take all the creative pressure off.

A gardener doesn’t create a tree. A gardener plants a seed and then he takes good care of it, hoping it’ll one day bloom and turn into a big, beautiful tree. Being a gardener of ideas is all you have to do as an artist.

Find them, take care of them, help them grow and watch what happens. It’s quite often in these situations, where you give up control, that the universe conspires to present you with great opportunities.

Be a good gardener, okay?

My personal take-aways

This was probably one of the first self-help books for artists. I didn’t know about it until recently, but I instantly saw why it was such a big deal at the time – the ideas are transformative. Julia really takes the pressure off being an artist. Nowadays, we often think we have to make a full-time living in a creative way, just because we can. But often it’s only thanks to the creative freedom we have because we don’t pay the bills with our art that we really make something remarkable. This is a great reminder of that.

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Steal Like An Artist Summary

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Steal Like An Artist gives you permission to copy your heroes’ work and use it as a springboard to find your own, unique style, all while remembering to have fun, creating the right work environment for your art and letting neither criticism nor praise drive you off track.

How many times have you heard this quote?

Good artists copy, great artists steal. ~Pablo Picasso

While it’s a very famous line, I doubt it’s being used in the right context a lot. Picasso didn’t literally steal other painters’ work. He merely imitated his favorite artists a lot. So when your friend tells you this quote the next time you point out she just plain copied someone’s homework, you can tell her that’s not what Picasso meant.

But what did he mean? And why does it make sense for artists to imitate one another? That’s what this book is about. Austin Kleon is a writer who draws. He’s written multiple New York Times bestsellers about the creative process of being an artist.

This one encourages you to not worry about being original and focus on getting started.

Here are my 3 favorite lessons:

Where you fail to imitate your favorite artists is where you’ll find you own style.

If you’re an artist, some procrastination is productive.

Enjoy the anonymity of being a beginner before the fame hits.

Have you been wanting to pursue something creative, but keep putting it off because you don’t know how to start something original? Don’t worry, Austin’s got you covered!

Lesson 1: You’ll find your own style where you fail to imitate your idols.

Back in 2011, there was a huge uproar about our German then-minister of defence, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Someone stumbled across a few un-cited references when reviewing his doctoral thesis and reported those to a newspaper. This launched a full investigation by the university, and led to a crowdsourcing project, where people dissect PhD theses to determine if they’re plagiarized. Ultimately, Guttenberg lost his title and his job as Minister of Defence.

That’s the bad kind of copying. Putting your name on other peoples’ work isn’t cool. Trying to imitate your favorite artists however, is a different story.

Especially when you’re starting out, it’ll be hard to come up with ideas and how to do things. But you can always start with re-building what someone else has done. For example, my very first website was the result of nothing more than me following a 2-hour, step-by-step, Youtube video tutorial on how to make a WordPress site.

The reason this works is that inevitably, at some point you’ll realize you can’t exactly copy any more, because it just won’t work. Where you fail to copy your chosen artist is exactly where it gets interesting. In those gaps lies your own, unique way of doing things, and that’s what you should explore to find the niche that’ll define your career.

Lesson 2: It’s okay to procrastinate as an artist. Actually, you should!

Being an artist is one of few professions where procrastination is actually quite productive. Because sudden insights and flashes of genius occur during down-time, when you let your mind wander, it’s a good idea to make that down-time part of your routine.

First and foremost, this means not giving up all of your hobbies and side projects when you start creating your art. If you play the piano, love to sing karaoke or tend to your garden, keep doing it. It’ll be the source of many new ideas for your paintings, writings or song lyrics.

That’s because like with copying, an artist’s output is always the result of all of the things that influenced her, and the more diverse your inputs, the more creative the outcome.

If you’re not a person with many hobbies to begin with, don’t fret though. Your side projects don’t have to be as creative as your actual art. Even doing the dishes at night, taking care of chores and grocery shopping, as well as downright procrastinating by watching Youtube videos (one of my favorite ways to start the day) can have the same effect.

One caveat: Some procrastination is good. Some. But don’t let the balance tilt entirely to its side.

Lesson 3: Enjoy being anonymous. Fame will come soon enough.

The good thing about copying others and procrastinating as an amateur is: no one gives a shit if you do!

Imagine you’re Brad Pitt announcing a new movie you’ll be working on. Within 3 seconds, the entire world will judge you, throw their insanely high expectations at you and the pressure is on. “This movie better be good man!”

Most artists want to be famous, which is totally fine, but if you get it too early, you won’t be ready for it, let alone be able to deal with the downsides.

When nobody knows your name yet, you’re free to do whatever you want, run all kinds of weird experiments, most of which will fail, and make as many mistakes as you like.

It’s a time you should enjoy while it lasts. Don’t lament obscurity, revel in it and use it as your ultimate source of artistic freedom!

My personal take-aways

Before you think this is a book just for painters, look at Seth Godin’s definition of an artist. If what you’re doing requires even a pinch of creative salt, this book is for you. And if you’ve been an artist for a while already and are facing a slump, this will make you feel better and be a great pick-me-up.

Six Thinking Hats Summary

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Six Thinking Hats shows you how to disentangle your own and your team’s or company’s cumulative thinking process into six distinct areas, tackling a problem from different perspectives as a group, in order to solve it with the power of parallel thinking and thus save time and money.

Working at a company that gives new management practices, like the Six Thinking Hats Method, a try must be cool. What’s even cooler though, is coming up with such a method, I think!

In 1985, Edward de Bono came up with this way of structuring the thinking process of managers and teams, to help them dissect what’s usually a messy pile of thoughts into useful categories.

The six different hats managers and their teams can take turns wearing are:

Blue – Management.

White – Information.

Red – Emotions.

Black – Caution.

Yellow – Optimism.

Green – Creativity.

This helps members of an organization align their mental process so that they can solve problems with parallel thinking. Here’s a more in-depth look at 3 of the hats:

The blue hat is the manager’s hat, which is worn to oversee the situation.

When wearing the red hat, everyone is free to express their emotions without having to worry about being judged.

The yellow hat gets you to pick up your shovel and start digging, because it’s the hat of the optimist.

Are you willing to experiment with your wardrobe? Let’s try on a couple of new hats!

Lesson 1: The blue hat helps you think about thinking and monitor processes at all times.

Whenever you start a brainstorming session, first put on the blue hat. It’s the hat to think about thinking. Think of it as zooming out and getting a 10,000 foot view on the problem you’re tackling first.

When wearing it, your goal is to answer questions like:

Why are we here today?

What’s the scope of the problem we’re trying to tackle?

Which other hats will we need during the session?

What are the rules of this meeting?

Since you’re setting up the perimeter of your team effort here, one group member, usually the leader or facilitator of the meeting, will have to keep wearing the blue hat throughout the session, to make sure everyone sticks to the rules.

If that’s you, then it’s your job to tell everyone else when it’s time to switch hats, ask for a conclusion or summary at the end of the session and wrap it up with the concrete, next steps you’ll all take to move things forward.

Lesson 2: It’s important to let employees express their feelings without judgement while wearing the red hat.

Name a couple of things the color red reminds you of. I’m guessing right now you’re thinking of at least one of the following: blood, roses, hearts, lipstick, apples, fire, strawberries, cherries, chilis, tomatoes or a scarf or sweater.

These are some of the things most people think of first when trying to associate the color. If you examine the words more closely, you’ll realize most of them are also symbols of certain emotions.

Blood = Anger, violence.

Fire = Rage or passion.

Hearts, roses, lipstick, strawberries = Love.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that the red hat is the hat of emotion. Whoever wears it should be allowed to freely express their emotions about a situation or problems – without any judgement or explanation.

If you’re running the meeting, don’t ask anyone to explain or justify why they feel a certain way. Just go around the room and have everyone tell their emotional view on the matter. It’s important to include everyone, so no one feels left out and to not judge, so people are comfortable voicing unpopular opinions.

This makes sure no resentment or grudges are carried over into the solution of the problem.

Lesson 3: Without wearing the yellow hat sometimes, it’ll be hard to stay enthusiastic about work projects and get cracking.

Something many people envy me for is that I’m a natural optimist. I get it. This doesn’t come easy to everyone, yet is a huge beneficial factor in overcoming failure, moving on and tackling things with enthusiasm.

Especially after wearing the black hat, where you’re trying to uncover weak points and flaws in your plan, it can be tough to see the potential upside of a plan. However, that’s what the yellow hat is for.

When you’re wearing it, you’re trying to focus on an idea’s positive impact and how it has the power to potentially transform your organization for the better.

This is called being value sensitive, which is when you’re aware that even the most hairy ideas have value. However, one thing to keep in mind is to ground your enthusiasm in realistic expectations.

For example, if you come up with a clever new marketing strategy, don’t fantasize about how it’ll make you a quadrillionaire, just estimate the potential extra business you can make and then get cracking!

My personal take-aways

I like simple ideas, which you can implement without a ton of training or expensive tools and that lead to a positive effect almost instantly. The Six Thinking Hats Method is one of those ideas. Especially for big businesses with larger teams, I think this can really save a ton of time and money, so if you work at a decently sized company, I highly recommend you take a look at this.

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Real Artists Don’t Starve Summary

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 Real Artists Don’t Starve debunks all myths around the starving artist and shows you you can, will and deserve to make a living from your creative work.

One of the many perks of living in the thriving metropolis that is Munich is a plethora of activities and options when it comes to culture, entertainment and education. The Pinakothek der Moderne remains one of my favorites. I take most of my visiting friends there at some point.

I don’t understand art much, but one of the coolest paintings there I get: The Poor Poet by Carl Spitzweg. It shows a poor, starving poet, lying in his bed, trying to work on his art while in a crappy apartment. There might have been something noble about that in 1839, but in 2017, I don’t want to end up like that.

That’s where Jeff Goins comes in. The prolific blogger and author of The Art of Work makes the case that Real Artists Don’t Starve. He debunks some of the myths surrounding artists’ biggest struggles and delivers a new philosophy for artists who want to thrive not just creatively, but financially too.

Here are my 3 favorite lessons:

  • Practice your art in public to improve and build an audience at the same time.
  • Never work for free or give up ownership of your art.
  • Embrace the modern view of the multi-faceted artist to become your own patron.

Whether you’ve been writing, singing, wake-boarding or making music, it’s time to make your art your living!

Lesson 1: Practice in public.

All artists initially see their art as something sacred. It’s natural to idolize the process and as a consequence, we want it to have nothing to do with money – at first. But the more you practice and enjoy the time you spend creating, the more attractive the thought of making a living from your art becomes.

With that, the problems begin: where money wants to be earned, marketing efforts must be made. What most artists get hung up on is that they treat it like an undesired, necessary activity. Here’s how to to approach marketing your art instead: View it as practice in public.

You don’t have to bombard your audience with ads or half-assed products and services. Just share your work. Put it out there. Benjamin Hardy wrote on Medium to build a fanbase. Russ released a song a week on Soundcloud. Youtubers make videos.

This isn’t just a way to build a platform way before you need it, but it also helps you improve much faster, because you get a crucial component of high performance that’s missing when you’re alone in your room: feedback.

Make yourself comfortable on platform where people can follow you and then continue to do your thing.

Lesson 2: Sell without selling out.

Most art nowadays hands itself to doing freelance work in it. A writer might take a copywriting gig, a musician might play on a birthday party and athletes can work for local sports teams on the side. There are two common pitfalls new artists fall for when taking their first steps in the paid realm:

Not charging at all.

Charging once for giving up lifetime returns.

Whenever someone emails me asking for an article contribution with the promise of “great exposure” and tells me it’s “a good opportunity,” I instantly know it isn’t. Demand hard numbers. How many pairs of eyes are we talking about? Unless it’s an extremely good opportunity, Jeff suggests you never work for free.

A huge part of turning your passion into your paycheck is convincing yourself that your work is worth it. Consistently charging for it is a good first step to accomplish that.

Another spoke the market will try to put in your wheel is to get you to give up the rights to your art. Ghost writing, white label solutions, the rights to a novel or movie script, they all fall into this category. However attractive the lump sum, it’s never enough.

Keep your art in your hand and your money in your pocket. You’ll never regret it from a psychological perspective and rarely from a financial one.

Lesson 3: Revel in the New Renaissance.

All in all, it’s a great time to be an artist. Creators have never had more options to thrive. For example I offer Patreon as an option for fans to contribute however much they want to my work in case they don’t want to buy any of my products, but still show their support. Then, there are affiliate links who generate commissions at no cost to the user, services, one-off products and little side gigs I take up here and there.

The opportunities are endless. We live in an era of huge potential. Jeff even has a name for it: New Renaissance. It’s a modern-day version of the European period from 1300-1400, where art’s status in society was greatly elevated. Patrons funded artists’ work, fans engaged in fruitful dialogue and painters and musicians first made something you could consider a living from their art.

What’s great about  this Renaissance-Renaissance is it doesn’t paint you into a corner (pun intended). Being a jack of all trades isn’t a problem any longer. It’s necessary.

Let your artistic intuition take you wherever it leads – and bring your fans with you. Eventually, you’ll be your own, best patron. And there’ll be plenty of food on the table.

My personal take-aways

This is more of a psychological kick in the pants rather than an actionable how-to book. Deep down many artists still hang on to this notion that art doesn’t warrant payment. Which is nuts. But sometimes, a book like this is a great way to tackle such a limiting belief. If you struggle with impostor syndrome or are just getting started in your creative pursuits, this is a good read.

Out Of Our Minds Summary

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 Out Of Our Minds is about how we can set ourselves and our children up for doing good work in organizations around the globe, thanks to leaving behind the old mass education model and unleashing our individual creativity.

This is my fifth time making an active effort to be creative today. I’ve written four answers on Quora, three of which I made up from scratch and one I adapted from a previous piece of writing. Now I’m writing this summary and in between, I watched a movie, talked to people, read and listened to music. My life is a creativity powerhouse and I love it.

It wasn’t always this way. It used to. Way back when I was little. I’d play and dream and build Legos and make up stories. And then school came around. Then high school. And college. Inch by inch, the creativity was driven out of me. Like it has been out of you. It’s time we take it back.

Not just because we deserve to, but because we have no choice. Creativity is the most valuable skill you could have, given the future of the world is more uncertain than it ever was. In fact, it might be the only valuable skill.

Here are 3 lessons from Sir Ken Robinson’s Out Of Our Minds: The Power of Being Creative about why, what it is and how to avoid being bound by old thinking:

  • Since the world keeps evolving faster, creativity will be our way to stay on top.
  • You can look at creativity as applied imagination.
  • We’re scared of being creative because we think we have to give up our rules and take the blame alone.

In a world where we need to adapt faster than ever to succeed, it would be out of our minds to not get out of our minds. So let’s soar and take a look from up high!

Lesson 1: As evolution changes faster and faster, creativity will become our competitive edge.

One of Google’s scientists concerned primarily with the future coined a phrase: the Law of Accelerating Returns. It describes the habit of evolution to speed up. For example, ships and carriages were the de facto mode of transportation for almost 2,000 years before 150 years ago, we came up with steam engine trains. A mere 30 years later, we had cars. Another 20 and we had commercial airplanes. Little after that, we set foot on the moon.

The gap of modern technology to past accomplishments gets wider and wider with each new pc, each new smartphone, each new piece of tech. For example, while a modern watch has more power and memory than the 1969 Apollo Moonlander, a modern smart watch or iPhone has more computing power than we had on the entire planet in 1940.

What does all this mean? It means we live in a world where the rules change faster than we can keep track of and in such a world, following the rules is dead.

If you’re hoping you can get a nice, cushy job, where you do what you’re told for 40 years and go home with a big, fat pension check, you may kiss that fantasy goodbye right now. It’s very unlikely to happen. From here on out, all good careers will be built on being creative.

Lesson 2: Creativity is applied imagination.

Few of us ever bother to do it, but if we researched what makes humans unique in the animal world, we’d realize biologically, there are very few elements we don’t share with some other species. What no other living being can do like us is psychological: simulate. Our imagination is limitless.

We can mentally travel back to the past, analyze it and learn from it to do better in the future. We can consider our context in the present and imagine our situation from someone else’s perspective. And, our ultimate simulation power, we can consider the events we haven’t yet experienced.

All creativity really is, then, is applying this imagination in the real world. We do this by channeling our creativity into one of three kinds of mediums:

Physical, like forming steel, weaving cloth or cooking food.

Sensory, like singing, giving a speech or performing magic.

Cognitive, like writing or crunching numbers.

Whichever medium we step into, the creative process then always plays out in the same two steps, over and over: we come up with ideas, which we then either improve or eventually reject.

So what’s stopping us?

Lesson 3: A common mistake in creativity is that we think we have to let go of our rules and take the blame.

Besides the old, industrial model of school, which keeps us thinking in boxes, there are two common pitfalls that keep us from using our creativity to its full capacity in our careers:

We think we’re the one to get blamed if ideas don’t work out.

We believe creativity is synonymous with chaos.

In reality, it’s our job as leaders, regardless of how much responsibility we carry, to make it easier for others to be creative, so that the whole business may thrive. People need to feel comfortable and safe to dare and try new things. In the same way, having rules is actually helpful, as it sets up a frame of control, which we can then step out of at certain times.

Only when you learn to get over these old, albeit persistent dogmas, can you develop the flexibility you need to thrive in today’s uncertain world.

My personal take-aways

Sir Ken Robinson provides interesting insights all around. From framing recent human history in minutes to make the speed of evolution graspable, to going from abstract concepts to concrete implementations, to showing ways in which our current business landscape is flawed in fostering creativity, he provides a nice overview of one of the most important topics of our time.

Originals Summary

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Originals re-defines what being creative means by using many specific examples of how persistence, procrastination, transparency, critical thinking and perspective can be brought together to change the world.

I hadn’t heard of Adam Grant before, but this book sounded like it was in the same vein as Linchpin. Lo and behold, Seth himself has praised the book – so I had to check it out.

What you’ll get is a book that feels like sitting down with a really smart friend, who tells you countless stories of how creative people tackled seemingly impossible problems and solved them. From Picasso to Beethoven and from bloggers to movie makers, no industry or field is left aside, further proof that creativity matters everywhere.

Now, without further ado, here are 3 lessons from Originals to help you be more creative:

Producing great ideas is a matter of quantity.

Procrastinate on purpose to trigger the Zeigarnik effect.

Repeat yourself and find common reference points to make your crazy ideas more familiar.

Wanna be original? Let’s look at creativity through a new pair of glasses!

Lesson 1: Quantity leads to quality when it comes to producing great ideas.

When I look back and I see a stack of 17 books and I see 4,800 blog posts and speeches I’ve given – none of which were good enough – but all of which I shipped, it becomes pretty clear to me that I’m better off shipping than I am making it perfect. – Seth Godin

This quote comes straight from a podcast episode by Jeff Goins I listened to this week and perfectly sums up the first lesson. Being an original means fantasizing about a better future, having a vision and changing the status quo. But more importantly, it means taking actual steps towards making it happen.

Most successful creatives don’t have better ideas, they just ship more of them.

How many Picasso paintings can you name? I couldn’t even come up with one (after checking I recognized Blue Nude and The Three Musicians). If you’re good, you can name three or four. In order for you to be able to name that many today, Picasso had to paint 1,800 of them. And that’s just paintings. You can add 2,800 ceramics, 1,200 sculptures and 12,000 (yes, twelve thousand) drawings to that and you’ll finally know why the man is world-famous.

Even the best artists have no clue which of their pieces will be huge successes, and which will be flops. If anything, there’s a high chance that the opposite of what you, the creator, expect happens. Beethoven disagreed with his critics in 33% of all cases. It’s not your job to judge your work. It’s your job to ship it and let the world decide.

The more you ship, the higher your chances of having an impact.

Lesson 2: Use procrastination strategically and it’ll help you fill in the blanks.

Shipping a lot is important. But that doesn’t mean you should publish half-assed creations and almost-done pieces of art before they’re ready. So when you’re stuck and can’t seem to move forward, how about some strategic procrastination?

Get this: Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t even start writing his famous “I have a dream” speech for the March on Washington until the night before he gave it. Even more surprisingly, the line “I have a dream” wasn’t even in it! It was only when someone from the audience told him to “tell them about the dream” that he decided to forget his script and wing it – and that’s when he came up with it.

Waiting until the last minute to finish things and leaving them untouched for a while can be valid strategies because they’ve got something going for them: the Zeigarnik effect.

Once you start a task, your brain will keep it around in your subconscious until it’s finished – even long after you’ve already given up on it. This is what’s responsible for sudden strokes of genius and brilliant shower ideas. It can go on for some time too. Da Vinci started painting the Mona Lisa in 1503, but then abandoned the project, finishing it 16 years later in 1519.

Who’s a master procrastinator now?

Lesson 3: You can make your crazy ideas less threatening with the mere exposure effect and by repeating yourself.

Sometimes though, you have to step off the crazy creative train for a while and convince others that your ideas are solid. Especially when you need funding or someone to give you green light for a project. In those cases, it helps to use two techniques to help others slowly get used to your earthshaking vision:

The mere exposure effect.

Common points of reference.

The mere exposure effect is simple: We get used to the things we’re exposed to again and again. Our reception and perspective on things changes over time. Just like you’ll get used to seeing yourself on video or in photographs after a while, others will get used to you talking about how average is for losers or other novel and unfamiliar topics. So if you want something to stick, repeat yourself.

Common points of reference is a strategy in which you tie your new and unusual idea to a somewhat similar, but well-established concept. For example, when Michael Eisner and Maureen Donley originally presented their idea for The Lion King, producers thought the story was too dark for a Disney movie. In a second attempt they mentioned how its storyline was similar to Shakespeare’s King Lear and Hamlet, thus winning over the team, because it could now see the validity of the script among fans.

The movie went on to become the highest-grossing film of 1994 (and the first movie yours truly saw in the movie theater :)).

My personal take-aways

Love thiiiiiiis. There are so many examples in this book, it’s ridiculous. Those alone are well worth your money, but the way Adam Grant uses them to give practical advice for your own creative pursuits makes them even better. One of the best books of the year for sure! A fun place to start learning more is to take Adam’s quiz about creativity, specifically designed for the launch of Originals.

Make Your Mark Summary

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Make Your Mark is a business book for creatives, telling them how to get started on turning their creative energy into a profitable business with simple, actionable ideas taken from 20 leading entrepreneurs and designers, who lead successful creative businesses.

Jocelyn K. Glei co-founded 99U, a blog venture started by huge design portfolio platform Bēhance to help creatives actually execute their ideas, and not just sit on them.

She writes about creativity and work and co-authored 3 books on those subjects together with 99U, where she draws on the advice of successful creatives and entrepreneurs she’s reached out to.

Make Your Mark is the latest one, published in late 2014, and while it’s once again hard to pick just 3 things from it to share with you, here we are:

Success starts with one product. Just one.

Do things that don’t scale.

Always be fully transparent.

Want to unleash your creative potential? Let’s go!

Lesson 1: Success starts with one product. Just one.

When Steve Jobs started Apple, how many lines of computers did he and Steve Wozniak build? Zero! They built one single unit of their first computer – the Apple I.

Then they released it and started collecting feedback so they could improve it. Once it began to sell well and they were seeing some profits, then, and only then, did they begin working on the Apple II.

Jocelyn says that’s exactly how it works. You don’t need 100 ideas. You need one, and only one (although it might take you 100 ideas to come up with one good one).

Then it’s your turn to execute on that idea like a madman, make it great and develop it as far as you possibly can.

Spreading yourself too thin will only lead you to a ton of “nearly there products”, which consumed a lot of time, attention, energy and potentially even money, but never made it to the finish line.

Take Bonobos, for example. They offer a wide range of clothing for men, including golf pants, swimming shorts, sweat pants, chinos, shirts and suits.

But they started with a single pair of pants, which had a great fit. They only sold those in several colors for the first year, until they reached $2 million in sales.

That’s when they slowly started thinking about other products.

Lesson 2: Do things that don’t scale whenever you can.

The reason you won’t have enough time to work on 10 products at once is because you’ll be so busy going above and beyond for your first customers – if you’re building a great company, that is.

You know what makes a mark? Doing things that don’t scale.

For example, how can you top a personal video message from the company founder to Joe, customer number 23? You can’t.

Because it’s more custom-tailored than even the best pair of pants. When you go all out to make a difference in a single person’s life, and you do that for your first, second, third, and the next 100 customers, people will tell the world about you.

When AirBnB started, people were skeptic about having strangers sleep in their home.

So the founders organized meet ups, answered questions and even stayed with their customers during their trip – now that’s commitment!

And if you want to see another example of someone who does things that don’t scale, just look at what Gary Vaynerchuk’s doing.

He’s living proof that this works.

Lesson 3: Always be fully transparent to everyone.

The way Gary does it is by

a) sending a shit ton of tweets, snaps, waves, and what other possible forms of short messages there are these days, directly to his fans

b) being ultra transparent.

Seriously, I’m talking see-through.

Just like him, Buffer also has a brutally transparent company culture – and it pays off.

You can check out their salaries, revenues, pricing policy and core values at any time. They even have public email, meaning all employee emails are seen by all employees.

Being so transparent is so powerful because it creates massive amounts of trust.

Trust is the deciding factor in how fast you can innovate, how honestly you communicate ideas and feedback, and whether people feel involved or cheated, for example because they didn’t have access to certain information (like how much their co-workers make).

The only way to maximize innovation and collaboration in your company is to maximize them in the people that work for you and that you best achieve by being 100% transparent and building a great level of trust.

My personal take-aways

This book summary on Blinkist was really a surprise hit for me, I just discovered it trough the platform and gave it a go, but it turned out to be really helpful.

Creatives aren’t managers for a reason, but nowadays, we all have to be, to some extent, even if it’s just to manage our own, personal brand. This book will help you close the gap.

Starting with valuable tips around finding a purpose, that reminded me of Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, Jocelyn then shares how to build a company that’s lean (small meetings, fast decisions), focused (start with one product only) and goes the extra mile for its customers.

Lots of examples, lots of great people to learn from, I think I’ll stick with the summary for now, but might get the book for more case studies down the road. I encourage you to do the same.

Ignore Everybody Summary

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Ignore Everybody outlines 40 ways for creative people to let their inner artist bubble to the surface by staying in control of their art, not selling out and refusing to conform to what the world wants you to do.

Hugh MacLeod has one of the oldest blogs on the web. At Gaping Void he still posts almost daily, releasing a new comic with every post, even after over 15 years of blogging. That’s the dedication of a true artist.

Initially, Hugh started drawing these cartoons on the backs of business cards, because he had a hard time seizing inspiration when it struck anywhere but his studio with his paint supplies. The young copywriter realized that in this format, he could create his art anywhere, and it stuck.

By now millions of people love and share his cartoons online, and his company creates custom art for their clients. He also illustrates books, for example Seth Godin’s.

Here are 3 lessons to help you find real artistic freedom:

  • If you’re creating true art, your friends’ feedback will do you no good.
  • Don’t force your art to pay the bills, or it’ll cease to be art.
  • Stop waiting to be discovered. Discover yourself online instead.

Call your inner artist and tell her we’re about to set her free, it’s about to get artsy!

Lesson 1: If what you’re making is true art, you have to ignore everybody, especially your friends.

Here’s the crux of creating art: if people can give you extensive and helpful feedback on it, you’ve failed to do your job. Think about it. What allows you to give good feedback? Understanding the situation really well.

But if you write something and your friends can tell you exactly what’s good and what’s bad about it, then what you’ve written can’t be very original, can it? If your art is perfectly understood it likely just regurgitates other peoples’ art.

The more original your idea is, the less proper feedback and advice people can give you.

That doesn’t mean people have to be confused by your art all the time. But if you start something you think is new and it ends up not upsetting anyone, you know you’ll have to try again. If people had been used to Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings the first time he created them, well then he wouldn’t have been such an original artist.

With art the function of feedback is reversed. The better the feedback, the more work you still have to do. Beware though, ignoring your friends will affect your relationships. Since they won’t understand, some will turn away, but that’s the price a true artist has to pay.

Lesson 2: Don’t try to force your art to pay your bills or you’ll risk killing the part that makes it art in the first place.

You might say: so what if I listen to my friends’ advice? Isn’t it good to implement feedback? You tell me to do that in business all the time! Right, but art isn’t business.

The moment you listen to other people about how you should create your art is the moment you compromise it – it ceases to be art. You’d be creating what the world wants you to create, not what you want to see come to life. Ignoring your friends is one thing, but this becomes a real struggle when it comes to using your art to pay the bills.

First of all, you should never ever start your journey as an artist this way. For example, if you start a blog in your spare time, but launch it with the idea of having every post make money, you’re better off not even starting. What you’ll create will be completely driven by the desire to make money.

Instead, get a job to pay the rent and bills to detach your art from the money. This is the only way to buy yourself the artistic freedom you need to make something original.

If your art becomes part of how you make money down the line that’s fine, but never force it to be this way and never let art be your sole source of income – it’ll put too much pressure on you to perform and drain your creativity.

Lesson 3: Your plan to be discovered is flawed. Stop waiting and discover yourself – online!

The door is flung wide open, a well-dressed agent in a shiny suit with gelled hair and a pair of Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses walks into the burger joint and orders a milkshake. While sipping on his frothy chocolate drink, he peeks around the restaurant, then sits down next to the guy with the long, blond, messy hair.

“You look like the next Avenger to me, would you like to audition?”

Sounds like a scene from a movie, where the struggling actor gets a lucky break? Well, that’s because it’s too good to be true. Stuff like this almost never happens.

Even though the internet is now well over 20 years old, we still have this notion in our heads that as artists, we need someone to discover us. We don’t. You can discover yourself.

In fact, discovering yourself has become very easy, because a plethora of platforms in a variety of mediums gives you access to whatever tools you need to create. You could use Medium for blogging, Youtube for videos, Instagram for sketches, and so on.

Forget the middlemen. Use the internet and start!

My personal take-aways

If you like Hugh’s comics, you’ll love this book. If you like bite-sized, poignant pieces of wisdom, which are easy to consume but take a while to suggest, you’ll love this book. And if you’re an artist, you have to read this book. With all this creative bullshitting going on today, it’s more important than ever to distinguish between real and fake art. Highly recommended!

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