Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

This is a fantastic small read and it really helped solidify some of the floating ideas I had in my head that never really connected.  I originally had added Show Your Work to my reading list but then also came across this one that seemed really interesting, and was also a NYT best seller.

Austin Kleon is a writer and artist living in Austin, Texas.  He writes an excellent blog.  All around seems like a really cool dude.

This book encourages me to invite influences into my life.  What inspires me and makes me come alive, the heroes that I read about, learn from them, imitate them, and copy them.  Thus when I copy them, I make it my own, and have spun it as a new version.  I suffered from great imposter syndrome before, not believing that any of my ideas were mine, just ones that I’ve stolen from others.  Before I felt guilty, now I wear it proud.  I steal material, and share it as my own.

Stealing …

All artists start off from stealing.  Who do you know who’s done something significant that did not draw inspiration from someone else?  When I started playing guitar, did I start by writing my own music?  Of course not.  You start by practicing and playing your favourite musicians.  All artists have a muse, inspiration, are a part of a community, study the greats in their field.  I’m so encouraged by this cause now I can shamelessly say who my heroes are and take what they’ve laid before me and make it mine.

On the Myth of “Finding Yourself”

You don’t need to start after you “find your voice”.  What a myth!  Why do we feel like we need to make it on our own.  There is no such thing as “original”, all art is a riff off of another art, any worthy art anyways. It is in the process of your artistry, that you begin to find yourself.  So riff, steal, transform, and as you follow the path, you inevitably find yourself, your sweet spot, and can honour those who went before you by pointing towards them for your source of inspiration.

Mentors and Influences

Much has been said about having mentors in your life. I’ve had very few of these relationships, feeling like I’m left behind and that I was doomed for failure because I had no one showing me the way.  However, mentors are freely available.  They leave their words to you in their books, in their music, in their art. I’ve realized, I don’t not have mentors, I’m being mentored by a team of world class people, that I got to draft on my team.  There’s no salary cap for this sport!

Hobbies

It also affirmed that hobbies and side projects are not just for fun, but generate real value.  Hobbies is what you give time to, but nourishes your soul, and in the process you are creating, practicing, working your craft.  It’s the work that you wished you could do all day everyday, but don’t get to because of responsibilities, regular job, etc.  But that is perfectly OK.  When you do things for money, joy is stolen, motivation gets fuzzy, deadlines begin to loom and put pressure.  Not so with hobbies, you aren’t doing it for the financial gain of others, you do it for the pure satisfaction of yourself, and your audience.  You don’t want the pressure of “if I screw this up, I won’t be able to pay the bills.”  You want to do what you enjoy, free of external motivations, just an expression of what’s inside.

“If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, but if you copy from many, it’s research. — Wilson Mizner

  • What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere.  All creative work builds on what came before.  Nothing is completely original.
  • “Everything that needs to be said has already been said.  But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” – Andre Gide
  • You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see.  You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.  You are the sum of your influences
  • The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t refuse you as an apprentice.  You can learn whatever you want from them.  They left their lesson plans in their work.
  • It’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are.  You’re ready.  Start making stuff.
  • In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes.
  • “The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.” — Jessica Hische
  • “Avoiding work is the best way to focus my mind.” — Maira Kalman
  • A hobby is something creative that’s just for you. You don’t try to make money or famous off it, you just do it because it makes you happy.  A hobby is something that gives but doesn’t take.  No pressure, no plans.  It’s regenerative.  It’s like church.
  • Do good work and share it with people.
  • People love it when you give your secrets away

8 Methods For Burning Through Your Infinite Reading List

This is part 2 on reading lists.  Check here for part 1.

Ever since I’ve grown an appreciation and love for non-fiction books, I always found myself telling people “Oh man my reading list is so long, I keep adding books faster than I can read them.”.  It’s a real problem people!  #thestruggleisreal.

I’ve searched far and wide for reading strategies in order to consume the input quicker and more, and I’ve come up with some strategies that I’d like to share.  Note that most of the books I consume revolve around the topics of personal development, business, and psychology, so they relate best to this style of book, rather than say Fiction or History.

  1. Watch the TED Talk — many times the author has done a TED talk, or some sort of Keynote and covers the basic concepts of the book.
  2. Read their blog posts — I have found that in recent years, it’s becoming very popular for almost all authors, as part of their promotions, to write blog posts or articles on popular outlets or to guest post on popular blogs.  Because it’s promotional, it usually covers a few points, if not all the main points of the book
  3. Search for a Podcast the author is a guest on  – same as reading their articles/blogs, this has been a popular recent method of promoting their book and they normally cover it
  4. Google the summary – there are plenty of people like me, who like to write book reviews of what we’re reading.  They normally give good feedback, practical ways they’ve benefited, and favourite quotes.
  5. Blinkist –  In my quest to conquer more books, I figured if I was able to just get even some small ideas from a book summary, it would be better than never knowing those small ideas ever (or simply studying them at a later point).  I opted for the Premium version so that I could capture my highlights straight into Evernote, which is where I keep all my book notes anyways. ~$49-$79 annual subscription
  6. Speed read – this technique I used particularly in school going through dry textbooks.  I used the methods from 10 Days to Reading Faster as well as quick speed reading hacks from Tim Ferriss.  I value learning this skill early on as I’ve been able to implement some of the principles into my everyday life and is now second nature.  One skill from the book that I use to this day is to preview the book before starting and getting a feel of where the important bits are and non-important.  Then as I read through, I am able to quickly scan/skip the parts that don’t add value, and read in detail the parts that do.
  7. Audiobook – These are great for when you are commuting, particularly driving.  Driving is a pretty subconscious activity for most of the commute, so you are able to engage in the book quite well.  This is how I read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh and I listened to part of Good to Great by Jim Collins as well.
  8. Audio-Hardcopy Hybrid – I haven’t tried this yet but I think I am going to give it a shot soon, I came across the method here.  Basically, listen to the audiobook at 2x speed (the basic app has this function already), and read along at the same time.  Comprehension and engagement increases as you are reading and listening at the same time, as well as it forces you to stay on pace.  2x seems a little fast for me so I may try 1.5x or some variant like that.

The first 5 methods I’ve listed are all ways of previewing the book.  They will either help you decide whether the full book is even worth reading, or help you understand the main points without having to read them.  This is how I have learned concepts from Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain after reading a blog post and a 10 point summary that was inside her book.  Lewis Howes – The School of Greatness is also another one, where I listened to a number of his podcasts and interviews and it seems he goes through a number of the same themes once consuming his other material.  The great thing about this was that I could essential receive his material without having to actually read, by lets say, listening to podcasts or reading the blog posts in places where I wouldn’t normally be reading, during a break at work, waiting for my wife in the change room, waiting at the dentist office, etc.

Hopefully through solving my own pain point, you can benefit.  Happy reading, listening, and/or tossing the book off your reading list!

Got anything you want to share or add?  Anything you want to talk about?  Would love if you reached out to me!  marcusscwong@gmail.com.  I won’t use your e-mail for any purposes, promise!

Mindset by Carol Dweck Reading Notes

I’m very excited to share these reading notes.  This may be one of the most important books I’ve ever read.  It has completely impacted the way I view the world and how I approach many aspects of my life.  If I had to share one book with the world to recommend to read, I have to say this would affect the most amount of people, as there isn’t an area of your life that this would not affect.  Happy reading!  If you like it, make sure to grab yourself a copy!

Chapter 2 – The Mindsets

  • Children with the fixed mindset want to make sure they succeed.  Smart people should always succeed.  But for children with the growth mindset, success is about stretching themselves.  It’s about becoming smarter.

“I think intelligence is something you have to work for … it isn’t just given to you … Most kids, if they’re not sure of an answer, will not raise their hand to answer the question.  But what I usually do is raise my hand, because if I’m wrong, them my mistake will be corrected.  Or I will raise my hand and say, ‘How would this be solved?’ or ‘I don’t get this. Can you help me?’ Just by doing that I’m increasing my intelligence.” — Child

  • For those with growth mindset, for them it’s not about immediate perfection.  It’s about learning something over time: confronting a challenge and making a progress.
  • “Becoming is better than being.”  The fixed mindset does not allow people the luxury of becoming.  They have to already be.
  • People with the growth mindset know that it takes time for potential to flower.
  • This is part of the fixed mindset: effort is for those who don’t have the ability. People with the fixed mindset tells us, “if you have to work at something, you must not be good at it.”
  • People with the growth mindset, believe something very different: even geniuses have to work hard for their achievements.
  • “what’s so heroic, they would say, about having a gift?”
  • The idea of trying and still failing — of leaving yourself without excuses — is the worst fear within the fixed mindset
  • In the growth mindset, it’s almost inconceivable to want something badly, to think you have a chance to achieve it, and then do nothing about it.
  • You can look back and say, “I could have been …,” polishing your unused endowments like trophies.  Or you can look back and say, “I gave my all for the things I valued.” Think about what you want to look back and say.  Then choose your mindset.

Chapter 2 Action Steps: 

  • Ppl are all born with a love of learning, but the fixed mindset can undo it.  Think of a time when you were doing something and you hit a bump, how did you feel?  Next time this happens, don’t fold yourself.  It’s the fixed mindset.  Put yourself in a growth mindset.  Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn.
  • When you are challenged, how do you feel?  Do you fold and give up, or try harder?  Next time you are challenged, don’t give up, try and imagine all the new connections from learning that you will get effort.  Learn to love the process.

Chapter 3 – The Truth about Ability and Accomplishments

  • In a high school in LA, a teacher went into one of the lowest performing math classes, and taught them university level calculus.  He didn’t ask, “Are these students able to do it?”, he asked, “How can I teach these students to be able to do it?”.  The class ended up ranking amongst the top in the country, falling behind two other classes that were from Math and Science schools.  Only a hundred Mexican Americans got college credits for the work they did in High School, most of that class of Mexican Americans were able to attain that.
  • Many people with the fixed mindset believe that someone’s early performance tells you all you need to know about their talent and their future.
  • Parents often (80% actually) feel as though praising children for their abilities is very important for building confidence and self esteem.  However in a study, they found that praising for student’s abilities on an IQ test found that they were more likely to reject taking another more challenging test.  When they praised the students for their effort, 90% of them chose to accept the more challenging test afterwards.  For the ability kids, they were given more challenging questions and showed that they had less enjoyment in them, since their abilities were now being challenged.  The effort kids however enjoyed the challenging questions the most.  After the difficult questions, easier questions were given again, however even though the questions were easy, the ability children performed lower than they did in the first place.  Their morale was shot so hard by the challenging questions they were thrown off.  Whereas the effort children performed even better afterwards.
    • A very interesting part of the study was afterwards, the students were given a chance to write to other random kids (strangers) and tell them about the test they had taken, and they were given a spot to write their score down.  40% of the ability kids lied on their score.
      • Simply by telling these ordinary children that they were smart, they made them into liars

Chapter 3 – Action Steps

  • Think about your hero.   Do you think of this person as someone with extraordinary abilities who achieved with little effort?  Now go find out the truth. Find out the tremendous effort that went into their accomplishment – and admire them more
  • Think of times other people outdid you and you just assumed they were smarter or more talented.  Now consider the idea that they just used better strategies, taught themselves more, practiced harder, and worked their way through obstacles.  You can do that, too, if you want.
  • Are there situations where you get stpuid- where you disengage your intelligence?  Next time you’re in one of those situations, get yourself into a growth mindset — think about learning and improvement, not judgment — and hook it back up

Chapter 4 – Mindset of a Champion

  • Michael Jordan — the coach (UNC) was taken aback by his willingness to work harder than anyone else.  Once, after the team lost the last game of the season, Jordan went and practiced his shot for hours.  Former Bulls assistant coach John Bach called him “a genius who constantly wants to upgrade his genius.”
  • Bruce Jenner, 1976 Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon, says, “If I wasn’t dyslexic, I probably wouldn’t have won the Games.  If I had been a better reader, then that would have come easily, sports would have come easily … and I never would have realized that the way you get ahead in life is hard work.”
  • In a study … those with fixed mindset were the people who believed that:
    “You have a certain level of ability in sports and you cannot really do much to change that level.”
    “To be good at sports you need to be naturally gifted.”

    • In Contrast, the people with the growth mindset agreed that:
      • How good you are at sports will always improve if you work harder at it.
      • To be successful in sports, you need to learn techniques and skills and practice them regularly

“After every game or practice, if you walk off the field knowing that you gave everything you had, you will always be a winner” – Mia Hamm

  • Those with the growth mindset found setbacks motivating.  They’re informative.  They’re a wake-up call.
    • Only once did MJ try to coast, it was the year after he returned to the bulls after baseball.  The bulls were eliminated in the play-offs.  “You can’t leave and think you can come back and dominate this game.  I will be physically and mentally prepared from now on.”  The Bulls won the NBA title the next three years.
  • People with the growth mindset in sports took charge of the processes that bring success — and than maintain it.
    • How come Jordan’s skill didn’t seem to decline with age?  He did lose some stamina and agility with age, but to compensate, he worked even harder on conditioning and on his moves, like the turn around jump shot and his celebrated fallaway jumper.  He came into the league as a slam-dunker and he left as the most complete player ever to grace the game
  • Somebodies are not determined by whether they won or lost.  Somebodies are people who go for it with all they have.

Chapter 4 – Action Steps

  • Sometimes being exceptionally endowed is a curse.  These athletes may stay in a fixed mindset and not cope well with adversity.  Is there a sport that came easily to you until you hit a wall?  Try on the growth mindset and go for it again.
  • “Character” is an important concept in sports world, and it comes out of a growth mindset.  Think about times you’ve needed to reach deep down inside in difficult sports matches.  Think about the growth-mindset champions from this chapter and how they do it.  What could you do next time to make sure you’re in a growth mindset in the pinch?
  • Athletes with a growth mindset find success in learning and improving, not just winning.  The more you can do this, the more rewarding sports will be for you — and for those who play them with you!

Chapter 5 – Business – Mindset and Leadership

  • They’re not constantly trying to prove they’re better than others.  For example, they don’t highlight the pecking order with themselves at the top, they don’t claim credit for other people’s contributions, and they don’t undermine others to feel powerful.
    • Instead they are constantly trying to improve.  They surround themselves with the most able people they can find, they look squarely at their own mistakes and deficiencies, and they ask frankly what skills they and the company will need in the future.  And because of this, they can move forward with confidence that’s grounded in the facts, not build on fantasies about their talent.
  • Abusive actions represent the bosses’ desire to enhance their own feelings of power, competence, and value at the subordinate’s expense.
  • If the wrong kinds of praise lead kids down the path of entitlement, dependence, and fragility, maybe the right kinds of praise can lead them down the path of hard work and greater hardiness.
    • Instead of just giving employees an award for the smartest idea or praise for a brilliant performance, they would get praise for taking initiative, for seeing a difficult task through, for struggling and learning something new, for being undaunted by a setback or for being open to and acting on criticism.
  • Fixed mindset managers simply look for existing talent – they judge employees as competent or incompetent at the start and that’s that.  They do little development coaching and employees
    • Managers with a growth mindset think it’s nice to have talent, but that’s just the starting point.  These managers are more committed to their employees’ development and to their own.  They give a great deal more developmental coaching, they notice improvement in employees’ performance, and they welcome critique from their employees.
  • The growth mindset can be taught to managers
    • The workshop takes managers and teaches about the possibilities that open up once you have a growth mindset, and how success and mindset can change and are not static abilities of a few.
      • The workshop then takes managers and ask a) they consider why it’s important to understand that people can develop their abilities, b) they think of areas in which they once had low ability but now perform well, c) they write to a struggling protege about how his or her abilities can be developed, and d) they recall times they have seen people learn to do things they never though these people could do.

Chapter 6: Relationships

  • When we see great marriage relationship, we don’t say these people are brilliant relationship makers.  We say they’re fine people.  Or they have chemistry.  However as a society, this shows that we don’t understand relationship skills
  • So far, having a fixed mindset has meant believing your personal traits are fixed, but in a relationship two more variables are added, the partner, and the relationship itself.  You can believe that your qualities are fixed, your partners qualities are fixed, and/or the relationship’s qualities are fixed.
    • The growth mindset says all these things can be developed.  All are capable of growth and change.
  • In the fixed mindset, the ideal is instant, perfect, and perpetual compatibility.  Like it was meant to be.  This is similar to those with a fixed mindset that believe abilities and talent should just come naturally.
    • Fixed mindset believe “We are like one.  My partner should know what I think, feel, and need and I should know what my partner thinks feels and needs.”   This is obviously impossible  without communication and working on communicating.
    • Those with fixed mindsets feel threatened and hostile after even a minor discrepancy, since their insecurities about themselves are amplified
  • A no-effort relationship is a doomed relationship, not a great one. It takes work to communicate accurately and it takes work to expose and resolve conflicting hopes and beliefs.  It doesn’t mean there is no “they lived happily ever after,” but it’s more like “they worked happily ever after”.
  • The situation doesn’t get better in a fixed mindset relationship because when someone screws up, it is about who they are, not about their actions, and they believe that their partner is not capable of change.
  • Helping partners, within the relationship, to reach their own goals and fulfill their own potential.  This is the growth mindset in action.
  • The idea of “the lower you are, the better I feel” is the mentality that intrudes friendships
    • These friendships can sneak in.  They can be wonderful people, charming, fun, brilliant, but after being with them you often feel diminished.  It is often these people that try to build themselves up by establishing superiority and your inferiority.  You could be a vehicle, or a casualty of confirming their worth
  • The often touted “you know who your friends are in the bad times” may be a bit misleading, as that in itself is a self fulfilling prophecy of the possibility of those people feeling better about themselves when around you.  No, what may actually be a much better question is, “who can you turn to when good things happen?  When you find a wonderful partner, a great job offer, when your child does well, who is truly happy to hear it and celebrate YOU for it?”

Chapter 7 – Parents Teachers Coaches

  • Every word and action can be communication — to a child, student, or athlete, about how to think about themselves.  A fixed mindset message says “you have permanent traits and I’m judging them”, while growth mindset messages say “you are a developing person and I’m interesting in your development”
  • Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance
  • parents often think that they can give the gift of confidence to their children by praising their brains and abilities.  This is ever clear when watching the modern western style of parenting.  When in fact, when you praise their brains, you harm them as they hit challenges and snags in development, because when they find it difficult, judgment is brought on themselves that they are not in fact that smart.
    • The best thing a parent can do is teach a child to love challenges, to learn, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort.  Children will therefore not require man’s praise to love themselves, but they can build and repair their own confidence at any time
  • The type of praise we should stay away from is the one’s that praise intelligence or talent, rather than the work that they put in
  • an example of good praise after a failed test would be “it must be terrible feeling to feel everyone is evaluating you and you can’t show what you know.  We want you to know we are interested just in your learning and know that you were learning new things and we’re proud that you kept learning”
    • “Elizabet, I know how you feel.  It’s disappointing to have your hopes up and perform your best but not win. But you know you haven’t really earned it yet.  There are many other girls who have been practicing for a lot longer and have worked a lot harder.  If this is something you really want, you have to work for it.  If you want to just do gymnastics for fun, that is completely fine too!  But if you want to excel in it, you will have to put in the work.”
    • Here you can see he taught her how to learn from failure, how to succeed going forward, and did not give her a phoney boost of confidence.  He empathized with her, which is extremely important as well
  • Parents often think that discipline (punishment) is a form of teaching.  However what it teaches children is that when they disobey, they’ll be judged.  They need to be taught how to think through issues and come to ethical, mature decisions on their own.  Discipline and punishment is the lazy way of parenting.  Talking and discussing through issues is the work you have to put in to be a good teacher
  • Great teachers believe in the growth and development of intellect and talent and are fascinated with the process

“If you don’t give anything, don’t expect anything.  Success is not coming to you, you must come to it.”

  • When teachers are judging students, students rebel by sabotaging the teacher by not trying.  When students understand that school is for them, and for their learning and growing, they won’t want to sabotage school because they know it’s for themselves

“You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better.  By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better” — John Wooden

  • He didn’t ask for mistake free games, or demand only wins.   He asked for full preparation and full effort.  Winning and losing is the wrong focus and wrong questions of the outcome.  The correct question is “did I put in my best effort?”.  If so, “You may be outscored but you will never lose”.

Action Steps:

  • Listen to what you say to your kids, and what messages they are sending.  Are they growth mindset messages? or fixed?  Are you judging them as permanent traits, or as developing and learning?
  • Do you praise them for their abilities, or for the effort and practice?
  • When you set goals for your child, they should not be fixed goals, but “expanding and learning and working” type goals

Chapter 8 – Changing Mindsets

  • People with growth mindsets are constantly monitoring what’s happening and have an internal dialogue of “how can I learn from this?  How can I improve?  How can I help someone with this?”, rather than a internal dialogue of judgement of yourself or others
  • in Growth Mindset workshops, students are taught that:
    • Most people don’t really know much about intelligence.  Most people think of intelligence as a fixed trait, either you’re dumb, average, or smart.  However new research shows that your brain is actually a muscle, and the more you work it, the more strong it becomes.  So when you learn and practice, you are making your brain stronger and making it grow.
    • When you learn new things, tiny connections begin to multiply and grow.  Things you found very hard before seem to become easy, because your brain is stronger and smarter.
  • Having a growth mindset plan will help tremendously.  Is there something you want to learn?  How will you do it, where, when?  Growth mindset people, when feeling frustrated or hit a snag in learning, even if depressed, will double down on their efforts to get past it.  This is where a growth mindset plan is useful.
  • There’s an important section that was too difficult to record in notes on how to change your child’s mindsets.  Basically it’s a set of examples on how to emphasize learning, learning from mistakes, in every area whether in activities, school, or even soft skills.

Notes on my reading notes: These notes are a selection of quotes or personal notes that I take on the book/article.  They are not meant to give a comprehensive overview of everything covered in the book.  Only what I find interesting and pertains to be helpful for my own benefit is recorded.