FullStory—I am here!

If you’ve been reading along lately, you picked up on the fact that last week was my last at Google.

And this week was my first at FullStory.

What is FullStory? How you answer that really depends on your job and how you use the tool. I’m not trying to be obtuse; it’s just that FullStory is an analytics (SaaS) platform that captures everything your users do on your website. Understood in its most basic form, FullStory allows you to watch (Literally! Like a DVR) how a user engaged with your site down to the mouse movements, clicks, pauses, everything.

You can mine user sessions for all sorts of reasons, whether they’re for product marketing managers, customer support, design, user experience (UX), user interface (UI), development (finding errors, fixing bugs), etc.

It’s pretty rad.

I began paying attention to FullStory way back in 2014. A couple Xooglers from Atlanta I’d kept up with were two of the three founders and I was enthusiastically watching to see what they were cooking up.

Fast forward to late 2015 and I started seriously inquiring about roles at FullStory, had a few conversations, and started imagining the possibilities. The timing wasn’t quite right then but all was kept on the backburner. Things quieted down for a bit though I think it stayed on the backburner until late 2016 when things started getting “serious.”

Now here I am.

I’m going to be handling content marketing. You could say my job title is FullStory-teller. I hope to do for FullStory a lot of what I did for a certain minimalist footwear site. I’m just getting started, but you’ll be able to follow along at blog.fullstory.com; also, if you’re not already there, add me on instagram and twitter (these are my personal accounts).

Very excited about the future here. There is just so much potential, excitement, and opportunities.

And if you have a website and care about making it better for whatever reason or whatever function, yeah, you should totally check out FullStory.

Justin Owings, Googler [Deprecated]

It’s been a shade under seven years working here at Google in Atlanta; the longest I’ve worked anywhere.

Today is my last day.

If you know me, you know I’ve been a Google fanboy for years, pushing Gmail on friends and family; getting on the Nexus (Android) bandwagon back in early 2010; owning Google Glass and embarrassing my wife (but impressing my kids); feeling a goofy kinship with Sergey Brin back when he wore Vibrams; and on and on. I’ve had a tribal pride in working at Google, and I’ll always be a card-carrying Xoogler.

While my work in Google was most commonly behind the scenes in sales, my legacy to Google Atlanta is as visible as it gets — a half-decent logo that adorns walls, t-shirts, and more (e.g. the adapted metal sign above; the image below; some other use-cases).

There’s so much I could share about working at Google: good, bad, and ugly. Perhaps in time I’ll dabble in sharing it all. For now, here’s a bit of good.

  • I felt lucky when Google paid me to spend seven weeks with my second daughter shortly after she was born; and later, again, when I spent thirteen weeks with my youngest son after he was born.
  • I felt lucky when Christmas came and it meant I got some new-fangled gadget, whether a phone, a tablet, or the ill-fated Sony Google TV (still works!).
  • I felt lucky to have worked at a place that values doing good within the world whether or not it helped the bottom line; where “don’t be evil” was a mantra that helped safeguard Google from the temptation to make questionable decisions in the name of “business.”
  • I felt lucky to work among people of the highest-caliber who challenged me to be better and grow.
  • I felt lucky to have had visionaries as leaders who could have just sat back and played it safe; instead, they made audacious bets about self-driving cars, AI, solving aging, VR/AR, delivery, bringing Internet to the remote places of the planet with balloons, and on and on.
  • I felt lucky to be able to say I was a Googler. I got to be a part of one of the most incredible companies in history …

… And I feel lucky even as I say “Goodbye, Google,” and go a new way at a young company that was founded by brilliant, incredible people I only know because I worked at Google.

Thanks, Larry and Sergey! It was a pleasure.

Now, to the future!

The Canary in the Coal Mine and Leaving Dysfunctional Groups

The expression “canary in a coal mine” originates from coal miners using canaries as a kind of early warning system. The miners would take the birds into the mine and periodically check-in on their status. The delicate canaries were more susceptible to gases like carbon monoxide, so if they suddenly stopped moving, miners would be alerted of dangerous air conditions.

Hence, the expression “canary in a coal mine” is an idiomatic way of talking about events that portend negative things to come.

Dysfunctional Families, Groups, and Organizations

A psychiatrist friend observed that with (truly) dysfunctional families, it’s the healthy members who leave.

Here’s the implied theory. If you are a healthy and functioning human being, there’s only so much dysfunction you can tolerate before you have to get out of that relationship.

I think you can take the idea further.

Let’s assume this is you. You’re in a dysfunctional family. Maybe you fight it or try to fix it. Maybe you’re successful. Maybe not. Eventually one of three things is going to happen.

  • You’re going to succumb to the dysfunction and change to conform to the family norm.
  • You’re going to reject it and leave the family.
  • The family is going to reject you.

These dynamics are not limited to families. They extend to just about any group or organization.

But it’s not easy to leave.

Leaving a dysfunctional group means we can’t ignore the ugly bits that have been, to some degree, a part of our identity. After all, we chose to be a part of that group (exception: family). The individuals in that group are, in a way, mirrors of us. If the group is dysfunctional are we similarly broken? While I don’t think that necessarily follows, it’s not fun to ask these questions.

Leaving is hard because it’s a decision riddled with self-doubt. It means making judgments about ourselves and people we care about. It’s made even harder because very often the individuals in these groups are good; perhaps they’re just caught up in the cage. We have real empathy for these friends.

Breaking free of the cage and leaving is hard.

It’s that hardness that makes leaving such a powerful signal that something might not be right.

Perhaps leavers are the canaries in the coal mine.

Casey Neistat and Success by Doing (Plus Stochasticity)

If you aren’t familiar with Casey Neistat, allow me to remedy the situation.

Casey Neistat is likely the most burgeoning YouTube star of 2016. Here’s his channel. I’m approaching a year having subscribed to his daily vlog videos and to my eye what Neistat is doing on YouTube is a testament to the democraticization of video content.

First a little context: Neistat has racked up over a billion video views and is likely to cross the 5 million subscriber mark sometime in the next few days. He’s 35 (a month younger than me), lives in NYC, and has been in film and video production for almost 15 years though he never went to school for it and got his start on an iMac/

You might have come across Casey’s work in the past. See: real-life Alladin/magic carpet in New York (he worked to produce this) or his Jan 2016, mid-NYC-blizzard snowboarding  the streets video set to “New York, New York.” For more background, take a watch on Reddit’s Formative Moment video on Casey Neistat.

For a classic Neistat video, watch this video of him retrieving a drone he lost on top of a building in New York. It showcases his wild use of cameras and general scrappiness with both his videos and his approach to life.

Just think about what he’s doing. Every single day he records a slew of content using a mix of DSLR cameras, handheld point and shoot cameras, drones, smartphones, and god knows what other equipment, bringing to life the adage that the best camera is the one you have with you. He takes all this content at the end of the day and then spends a few hours editing it down into a video that is less than 10 minutes.

In so many ways, Casey’s channel is a one-man reality TV show that is direct to viewer and without all the absurd drama that you’ve come to associate with “reality TV.” Neistat’s body of work is reality TV “IRL,” but unlike real life which is often boring, it’s been supercut into something fun to watch.

(It also helps that Neistat’s life is, actually, pretty fascinating, particularly as he has ascended into celebrity status, gets sent on trips around the world, and is almost a mascot for NYC.)

Bear in mind what’s not seen on camera — all the work and effort Neistat puts into getting the raw content that makes his daily vlogs visual treats. Note that you don’t usually see the cameras. Or think about how when you see a shot of Neistat walking or running “on scene” (a common shot is him entering his production studio, as seen from his desk): Casey had to do that very action at least twice — once to set up the camera and once to record the action. In other words, this “real life” video is manufactured. It’s deliberate. It’s not really “real” in the “your life just sorta unfolds” way and more real from the perspective of telling a story about life. It’s a story. Duh.

That Casey Neistat does all of this every day is a serious feat. Kudos to his dedication; he’s upleveled the conversation on YouTube (in the off chance you’re reading this, thanks!).

So about that stochasticity …

Right, so now that you’re familiar with Neistat and realize that he’s putting out solid work every day (each video is getting a million plus views), let’s talk about his viral successes.

I remember when Casey’s snowboarding video hit. I recall waking up and actually wondering, “I wonder how NYC is doing amidst this blizzard — I bet Neistat will do a video,” and (no joke) about 30 seconds later I saw the notification that he’d uploaded his snowboarding NYC video.

That video has received nearly 15 million views to date and got re-shared all over the web and picked up by all sorts of news stations. It was a big moment for Casey and got him a whole lot of attention and new subscribers.

It also spawned another wave of questions about how Casey creates viral videos. Not surprisingly, he’s vlogged about this subject. And like anyone who has had success, Casey has a few thoughts about how to create viral videos — things like tapping into the zeitgeist, timing, relevance, generality — he even made a diagram in that video:

Note the bottom right …
What’s refreshing about Neistat is his self-awareness about viral success — he wraps that diagram up with a statement:

The truth is I have no idea how or why the video goes viral.

Casey echos this sentiment some 240 videos later after his $21K First Class plane ticket video published about 10 days ago achieved 20 million views in ~7 days, bumping his subscriber base by about 500K subscribers. Mind that any YouTuber would kill for 5K subscribers.

That’s repeat success. So is Neistat a viral video machine or are his viral video hits just dumb luck?

It’s neither, and Neistat outright says as much. Neistat’s viral success is due to lots and lots of attempts, lots of everyday successes (most of his videos still achieved around a million views), and the occasional colossal blow-up.

And to borrow on Nassim Taleb, you can attribute Casey Neistat’s viral success to taking a stochastic approach to content creation. Casey noted in his “viral video secrets” video (the one with the diagram) the following:

I’ve gotten lucky and had a few viral hits beyond just this snowboarding one but I’ve also uploaded 310 movies in the last 305 days so if 2 of them or 1 of them has gone viral that’s less than 1 third of 1 percent of every movie I make so I don’t know what it is.

For most people, this rate of success might be a deterrent to even trying. But to someone like Casey Neistat — a real “doer” — it’s just the way to live life.

And that’s the takeaway. Expose yourself to upside success in life by writing a lot of options or buying a lot of lottery tickets — in the figurative sense — that is, by engaging in activities that you enjoy, that are hard, and that pay off by themselves but also have huge upside potential.

And really, that’s why I blog*.

* Yes, I’m trying to blog again. Been quite a hiatus and it’s not easy to get back but I’m trying!

Questioning daily defaults: what’s the job I need done?

Channeling Clayton Christensen’s Jobs-to-be-done frame, I’ve started thinking about my daily default decisions. What is the job I need done by [fill-in the blank]?

It’s a useful exercise.

  • I drink coffee and other caffeinated beverages: if the job I need done is mental alertness and waking up, what’s the best thing to hire for that job?
  • After getting the kids down for bed at night, I often want to watcha show on some streaming service (we don’t have cable), what’s the job I need done that has me turning to consuming video? Relaxing? Escaping the routine? Something else? How effective is my default st accomplishing that job?

That sort of thing.

It’s making me take an outside perspective on unquestioned decisions. Channeling John Gall’s observation that destiny is unquestioned assumptions (See John Gall and Systemantics):

The decision to become involved with a particular System should be made carefully, on the basis of a balanced judgment of one’s interests. One need not drift (or sail, or barge) into Systems uncritically: CHOOSE YOUR SYSTEMS WITH CARE Remember: DESTINY IS LARGELY A SET OF UNQUESTIONED ASSUMPTIONS

So true, so relevant to our daily routines! Giving me much food for thought and the impetus for changing my defaults. I am where I am because of the decisions I make things I do, every day, and every moment.

So if I want to get a job done, I need to hire the right solutions, and change my destiny by default.

Clayton Christensen’s Jobs-to-be-done Theory

I have written much more about Clayton Christensen’s Jobs-to-be-done framework over at the FullStory blog:

Clayton Christensen (along with a few other co-authors) is soon releasing a book called Competing Against Luck that will go more in-depth on Christensen’s “Jobs-to-be-done theory,” which is a way to reframe product design and product selling away from fallacious, post ergo hoc propter hoc data and towards first principles.

Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) is something Christensen cooked up at least a decade ago and the best way to grok the theory is to listen to Christensen tell the milkshake story. Take a listen below (Look past the the over-styling of the video):

Reflecting on the reasons people do the things they do rather than trying to come up with some complicated, aggregated story about certain demos doing certain things is a much more effective way to understand behavior.

In the world of marketing and advertising, I’m daily confronted with the approach that carving up people into segments is the way to understand customers. It works okay, at best, but necessarily paints with broad strokes, misses nuances left and right, and generally just feels a little half-baked. By comparison, understanding the “why” people do the things they do gets to the heart of the matter.

Even more, it often reveals hidden, underlying truths. That milkshakes make for good driving-to-work breakfast food is a surprising revelation you’d probably not guess.

Another example: we drive a Honda Odyssey as our family car. However, many of our family friends have opted to go the SUV route. Why? Big SUVs are generally inferior as a family vehicle to a mini-van in almost every way possible. The only catch is that mini-vans have large negative connotations to parents. Mini-vans aren’t “cool,” right? Parents, and I think particularly mothers, who drive mini-vans feel old and uncool driving them. They don’t want to identify with their own parents or feel like they’re not fun, anymore. SUVs somehow skirt this psychological problem*. Using JTBD, the SUV decision makes all the more sense: parents need to feel young and vibrant. Who cares if a van is more practical if it makes you feel old or tangibly represents how much your life pivots around your children? Even if it may be irrational, we tie up our identity in our vehicles, and our identity is paramount for our sense of self, and our sustained happiness.

SUVs make sense as a vehicle that satisfies the job parents need to be done — move the family around — but don’t harm my sense of self in the process!

JTBD feels like an extension of economic theories, which themselves are ways to frame and understand human behavior. I find reframing life — things I want, things my kids want, things I need to do for work, and more — using the question, “What is the job I need done here?” Is a useful exercise that can have surprising results and/or make sense of sometimes irrational-looking behaviors. JTBD reframing can be used to drive my own decisions or understand my own behavior. It’s surprising but I find I’m often making decisions for reasons that make sense but aren’t at the top level of my conscious thought.

I’m not unusual. Lots of people are doing the same thing. Human beings are complex!

Have you heard of this theory? I’d be curious if you can think of any examples of how JTBD makes sense of your life or your work. Let me know!

Aside: I don’t know how I made it this long without being aware of Clayton Christensen, Harvard business professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma (A book I’ve heard of but not read). Yet here I am only first hearing him speak a couple weeks ago via this Talk @ Google.

Christensen has a gentle demeanor in the way he speaks that exudes thoughtfulness, and the guy is clearly a thinker, having originated a solid handful of business theories. They are conveniently organized on his website here (That link is to Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation but see the left column at that link for more, including the one I’m fixated on at the moment).

*I often think how absurd it is to pick an obviously inferior vehicle for the job-to-be-done of getting your young family around town like a Suburban over the swiss-army of family vehicles like an Odyssey for the purpose of appearing “cool” — you can’t be cool when your grimy rugrats fall over themselves trying to get in and out of a Suburban. SUVs don’t magically erase the real reason you feel old, which is that you have young kids!

Digitally Isolated.

A poignant depiction of the iPhone as a prison via Felipe Luchi for Go Outside Brazil.

I keep thinking about being digitally isolated.  What is “digital isolation?” In a nutshell: today we are more connected to anyone/everyone than at any point in history yet (paradoxically) we feel ever more alone. Stranger still, it seems we have chosen this as our preferred mode of existence.  There’s even a joke about it: there are nine ways to reach me on my phone without talking to me; pick one of those.


It’s incredible that we can find people like us all over the world with whom we can connect in a meaningful way about a certain idea, topic, or shared interest. The Internet has made that kind of deep, direct communication a reality and it’s helping people find others who are like them.  With such fantastic connectivity, you’d think people would feel less alone.

On any given random, unusual, defining personality trait or unique(-ish) personal interest, this may be true. However, some data indicates that when it comes to topics of great importance (e.g. how we feel about ourselves, about others, about family, about sex, etc. versus what we think about politics, morals, religion, or our favorite TV show/sports team), it seems we’ve got fewer people to talk to than ever.

Take, for instance, a study published by the American Sociological Review that indicates that from 1985 to 2004, 43.6% of the population reports that they only discuss important matters with either no one or with only one other person. From the study, “The Modal number of discussion partners has gone from three to zero.”  And that was as of 2004!

That’s not good. You see, while the Internet functions fantastically at satisfying our highest level needs — think: our convictions about politics, morals, religion, or just our favorite music, sports team, or TV show — it’s not so great when our human needs become more basic (See: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Here I’m talking about our sense of place in a community, our effectiveness at connecting to friends and family, and our more basic sense of satisfaction with day-to-day life.

Where is the breakdown?  From what I can tell, it stems from our ability to be too surgical in our interactions with other human beings.  Imagine needing to tell someone you care about (a friend, a boss, a spouse) something that may upset them.  You can tell them over the phone, in person, or over email.  Which method gives you the most control?  I think for most it’d be the email:  we can be very precise in crafting the message, we can shield our emotions, and we can save ourselves from seeing the reaction (one we anticipate will be negative) of the recipient.

Or think about how we interact on social networks like Facebook.  There, we are able to blast out what we’re doing through text, photos, or even video.  While the common complaint about Facebook posts is that the stuff shared is overly mundane (e.g. photos of what we’re eating), the truth of these communications is that they are all overly filtered.

One of the most popular services on Facebook of recent note is Instagram.  Instagram empowers us to apply filters to our photos to make them look better, which given how most camera phone photos look, is a much needed service.  So Instagram’ed photos are hugely popular–so much so that they are cliche.

Instagram is just a more specific version of what Facebook is generally.  On Facebook (or any digital platform), we get to be the editors of who we are to the world.  The result?  What we share about ourselves amounts to being an “Instagram’ed” version of who we are.  It’s polished.  Selective.  Distilled.  And perhaps a little cliche.

It’s not that we never “dress to impress” or filter ourselves to others in “meat space.”  Clearly we do.  It’s just that doing so is so much harder when we’re sharing physical space with someone else.  When we spend time physically with other people, we don’t even have to say anything at all.  An agenda isn’t required.

Being there.

Today, it’s easy to think of the quiet time spent with another person as time we could be spending reading email, checking favorite websites, playing games on our digital devices, or engaging in some other activity (something to fill the voice).  We do think of these micro-instances this way.  More and more we never need to waste time without engaging something or someone somewhere.

When we trade this (ostensibly unused) time with others for distraction, what do we lose?

Whenever something bad happens to a friend or loved one, I often struggle to find something meaningful to say to express my condolences and concern.  I often just say, “I’m here for you if you need anything.”  I want to “be there” for my friends or family.  But what does “being there” mean?

Rather than being some vacuous statement, I think “being there” for someone else is a hugely important part of having a meaningful relationship.  “Being there” is being available–physically and mentally–to embrace the people I care about but it usually only happens if the other party sees me as being available.

Being there  is giving them my time and attention and letting them waste it in silence if they choose.  It’s being vulnerable to them–the power  to spend my time however they choose (and it goes both ways). If they need to burn some time around me in silence that’s fine.  If they need to get something out then being present to that person gives them the chance to scrounge up the courage to have it out.

To date, I don’t know of any way to “be there” for someone else digitally.  Being reachable by 10 ways via 5 computers/tablets/mobile devices is not the same as being available.

(Come to think of it, the nearest technology that gets at availability may be instant messaging where you appear “available” to chat … but that’s still not the same as physically being available to others.

Being alone.

So there are two things at play.  We increasingly choose filtered communications over unfiltered communications thanks to ever-more ways to digitally relate to other people (or distract ourselves) and there’s less and less time spent being present to those we are physically near.

The result?  We feel more alone.  Our digital world isolates us.

And when the going gets tough, we don’t know where to turn or who to talk to because there’s no status update on Facebook for needing a shoulder to cry on right now nor are we comfortable unloading our personal fears and anxieties or even our simple joys to our digital friends–the ones we’ve never met in person who happen to share a fancy for Medieval cooking or hilarious Internet memes on reddit.

This is how it is today in a world where we are ever-more connected to others, we lack the sort of connection that matters most: simply being present to the relationships that matter, even when those interactions are nothing more than wasted time in another’s presence.

The time spent actually being present to the people we care about is never wasted: it’s the opportunity to be real.  To be there.  How do we get back to that?  That’s the kind of connectivity that lasts.

What’s Lost in Outsourcing your Life?

David D. Friedman had a thought-provoking post over over the weekend — Middlemen, Specialization and Birthday Parties. Therein he talks about how specialization and division of labor have allowed for us to cheaply outsource various aspects of our lives that were formerly almost necessarily DIY. Below is an example I can relate to now that I’m living as a parent in my own era of kid’s birthday parties — and note Friedman’s reaction (second paragraph):

This afternoon I attended my grandson’s birthday party. It was held at a facility obviously designed for holding children’s parties. The entertainment, preceded by a safety video, consisted of playing on and in large inflatable structures—slides, a bouncy room, an obstacle course. That was followed by cake and pizza, after which everyone went home, the birthday boy accompanied by a bag of unopened presents.

Looking at it as an economist, it is clear that the change from then to now represents an increased use of the division of labor, something that, as an economist, it is hard for me to object to. And yet I do, and I do not think the reason is entirely a conservative preference for the way things used to be. For somewhat similar reasons, I find having guests over for dinner a different, and better, practice than taking them out to a restaurant. Homes have an emotional dimension to them. To invite someone into your home, whether an adult colleague or a child’s friend, is to some small degree to treat him as part of your family.

I tend to agree. I also can’t help but think there’s a tie-in here to buying a friend a gift card rather than a gift. Sure, giving a friend cash or a gift card is like saying, “Hey, I know that no one knows what you want better than you do, so you make the choice and get what you want!” The reality, for me anyway, is that gift cards make the gift, on some level anyway, work. Now I have to remember to allocate the cash to buying something. I have to remember I have the gift card. Whereas getting a gift in hand is more of a risk on the gifter, it also is more personal. I learn something about the giver in the process. I also recognize that the giver sacrificed their time to pick the gift out. These little things somehow add a lot of depth to the experience — at least they do for me.

I like Friedman’s mention of having friends over to your house in lieu of going out to eat. While we haven’t intentionally engaged in a preference of eating-in with friends over eating-out with them, we probably do it about 50% of the time. Going to have to try to bump that up, if possible. Recently, we’ve done a lot more takeout for these meals with friends, which helps some with the work, but still keeps the gathering more personal and relaxed. I’d never really thought about how you lose some of the emotional dimension by eating out at restaurants instead of in your house. It’s a great point.

Overall, I feel like friendships and family-friendships are incredibly hard to build these days. Everything seems over-formalized, requiring lots of advance planning to get together with other couples and couples with kids. “Playdates” are a normal thing now, which just strikes me as a little bizarre.

Anyway, I’m digressing from Friedman, so I’ll stop. Anyone else feel like he does? Like I do?

Failure to Move is the State of Paralysis

I keep returning to the idea of action (doing) over inaction (thinking). I also have been likening doing vs. thinking as similar to producing vs. consuming.   The problem with the consumption/production dichotomy is that the lines aren’t always clear as to which is which.  Sometimes you have to consume to produce.

Things I consume:

  • food/energy/time (necessary consumption)
  • blogs/books/tweets/email (some necessary, some unnecessary)
  • television (almost entirely unnecessary)

Things I produce:

  • blog posts/emails/ideas (derivative of consumption)
  • work/research/analysis (requires consumption)
  • art
  • well-being

What I mean by producing “well being” is that I create satisfaction through expending effort.  It seems that production takes effort.  I have to push my body through the mild discomforts of squatting 275 lbs. to have the satisfaction (as strange as it is) of a fatigued body.  I have to work through the mental gymnastics of writing out my thoughts to create a blog post.  I have to gather data and cajole understanding to create analysis.  It takes work.

Production has costs.

But perhaps the greatest cost of production is breaking the inertia of not doing anything at all.  Or worse still, imagining all the things you could (should) be doing but never doing any of them.  Not only does all of this low-grade effort fail to produce anything at all, it also reinforces thinking over doing.  It habitualizes inaction.  It amplifies the inertia.

This is why failure to move is the state of paralysis.  It’s a tautology, but it also boils down inaction to it’s most basic component: not doing.

I’ve  been thinking about this lately because I have so many ideas bubbling around in my head, most of which could be “big.”  And it’s that notion that these ideas have huge potential that makes me fear screwing them up.  Meanwhile, by nature of being “big,” they also have explicit costs.  I can very easily envision how much work they will take to make them succeed.  And wouldn’t you know it?  The more I think about them, the harder it becomes to act on them.

And like all productive efforts, all I have to do to break the state of paralysis is to move.

It is that simple.

How We Get Good at Something

It takes mundane, often boring, always repetitive practice. And often a whole lot of it. We learn by doing and not by thinking.

Watch this short creative take about Ira Glass’s advice on storytelling:

This strikes me as relevant to mastering any skill, and reminds me of George Leonard’s “Mastery” (a bit of a summary of Mastery can be found by Todd Becker, who prompted me to read Mastery in the first place — it’s a quick, inspiring/challenging book).

Watching that video reminds me of how I “became an artist.” I did a lot of art/cartooning as a kid and people would say to me, “You’re talented.” Being an artist was then, and still is today, looked at as some sort of “gift” bestowed from the heavens (and or my genetics). I’ve never believed this personally though.

How I became an artist was much simpler: I kept trying to copy the cartoon image of Super Mario over and over and over again, doing it better and better each time. I remember doing it 20-30 times one night for my classmates in maybe 1st grade. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was inadvertently practicing how to copy something I saw with my eyes and put it down onto paper. Without any prompting or structured learning from parents or teachers, I trained myself as a five or six year old to draw cartoons.

This is the lunchbox that made me an artist:

A vintage plastic Aladdin Super Mario Bros. Lunch box - this is exactly what I used for lunch in early elementary school.
A vintage plastic Aladdin Super Mario Bros. Lunch box - this is exactly what I used for lunch in early elementary school.

This is how we learn: practice, perseverance, stumbling, and trial and error.