Breakthrough


A decade or so ago, a young musician couldn’t get anyone to play his music. He had raw talent, and just recorded his first album, but all the gatekeepers thought he sounded too young. Without Disney or Nickelodeon marketing his stuff, he was a dud.

What does he do?


I bet you know the names of a few famous impressionist painters. Monet. Manet. Degas. What makes them famous though? Are they really the best? Do you know a bad impressionist painter?

What about Gustave Caillebotte?

Caillebotte was an interesting impressionist. I don’t think anyone would say he’s bad, but he sure isn’t as popular as Monet.

Caillebotte also has a quirky story. Upon his death he requested his art collection be hung in the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris. His art collection was about 70 paintings he had collected from his friends, also impressionists.

They weren’t popular. They were actually the worst paintings of his friends. “Worst” being the ones his friends couldn’t get anyone else to buy. And at the time, people didn’t even like impressionism. Many hated it.

So Caillebotte’s request in his will for the government to take his friends paintings and hang them in a museum was insane. How can someone force a museum to hang a bunch of paintings that no one liked or is even familiar with just because it’s a dead person’s request? It resulted in fierce criticism from the art world and public scrutiny.

But Renoir finally convinced the museum to hang half of the collection 3 years after Caillebotte’s death. When the collection opened to the public, the museum was packed. Everyone wanted to see these paintings because they had generated so much scandal.

Today, impressionism is mostly known for the work of the 7 greatest impressionist painters: Manet, Monet, Cézanne, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, and Sisley.

The 7 friends in Caillebotte’s collection.

Sure Caillebotte had an eye for talent, and a belief impressionism would be admired at some point in the future.

But what really happened is that the inadvertent exposure that Caillebotte brought to his friends also made people like them more.

At least that’s the argument Derek Thompson makes in his book Hit Makers. Derek mentions James Cutting, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, and Cutting’s work to show how exposure begets likability.

In Cutting’s experiments he had people compare famous paintings to more obscure works. Cutting proved the obvious — people prefered paintings from painters who are famous 6 out of 10 times.

But when Cutting came up with an experiment to expose people to those obscure paintings 4 times more frequently than the famous paintings, people’s preferences switched. Now people preferred the more obscure paintings 8 out of 10 times.

We don’t judge things just based on quality. Exposure changes our mind. The more we see, hear, or read something, the more we like it.


That young musician had promise. But he needed to break through somehow. His manager came up with a plan. They were going to get in a van and travel around the country visiting every radio station he could. The kid is charming and has some talent, so it wasn’t as hard to schedule single visits to play an acoustic track from his record live on air.

And this kid performed that track a lot. Eventually the exposure of playing the same song over and over again propelled “One Time” to the top of the charts and this musician is now a household name. This musician’s manager said:

There’s not a DJ that can say they haven’t met Justin Bieber.


There’s a lot to unpack from Justin’s rise to the sensation he is today. Not the least of which was the grit of a 14 year old kid who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Or the unwavering optimism he had of putting himself out there on YouTube uploading crappy videos of himself performing.

But one of the most interesting aspects of Justin’s story is that to get through his obstacle, he went out and generated exposure to his work even if it wasn’t the exposure that he originally intended. He thought he could cut a record and get a ton of people listening to it. Instead he had to take the little wins and build from there.

Most of us aren’t going to be the next Justin Beiber, but it’s still a lesson for us to go figure out how to get more exposure even if it isn’t the big splash we imagine we’re capable of.

Want to be a headline speaker, go do talks at all the tiny chambers of commerce in front of 8 people for awhile. Want to get a byline in a famous publication, do hundreds of guest blog posts for whoever will pick you up.

It’s a big reason I’ve generated the audience I have. I’m out there doing podcasts, daily vlog episodes, interviews, and writing articles in a ton of different places.

Sometimes the opportunity is small. I’ll be the person’s first interview they’ve ever done. Doesn’t matter. Sometimes the message feels repetitive. I’ll be asked about the same question I’ve answered a million times. Doesn’t matter.

I remind myself how often someone like a Justin Bieber played to just a handful of people at first or played the same single song over and over again without losing faith or enthusiasm. Or how Monet, no matter how talented he was, still needed the exposure, even if accidentally, a friend generated.

Because in this day and age, even people with good products, talented musicians or painters, we all need to be out there generating as much exposure as possible to break through the noise.

P.S. You should follow me on YouTube: youtube.com/nathankontny where I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life.

And if you need a zero-learning-curve system to track leads and manage follow-ups you should try Highrise.


Highrise about town


Recent places Highrise has been spotted in the wild

Photo by Christine Roy on Unsplash

Conference organizing

Congratulations to the Girls to the Moon team for another successful Campference providing a safe space for girls to keep kicking ass! Alison directs operations for the group and we know how tough it is to keep those pieces together. She uses Highrise to help.

https://girlstothemoon.com/sponsors-2017/

Job interviews are ineffective

Since starting the Highrise team from scratch when we spun off from Basecamp in 2014, we’ve learned a thing or two about hiring. A big one being how terrible interviews are for finding successful fits.

What we do is find a few top candidates and we pay them for a one week mini project and see what they come back with. It’s not cheap, but it’s worse to hire someone who doesn’t work out.

https://girlstothemoon.com/sponsors-2017/

Too many marketing options

Overwhelmed by all the options to market yourself? Here’s 8 tips on dealing with it. Number 5? Use Highrise 🙂

Many of my clients swear by HighriseHQ.com to manage their contacts and follow-ups.

https://girlstothemoon.com/sponsors-2017/

Starting your own consulting business

If you want to start your own consulting business, a ton of great advice here including using Highrise to help with the organization:

Highrise adds structure and organization so teams can focus on creating, running, and growing their business rather than trying to understand who said what when and to whom and letting business fall through the cracks.

https://girlstothemoon.com/sponsors-2017/

Being original

A recent vlog episode of mine reminding people how important it is to not get stuck trying “to be original”. You can follow me on YouTube here: youtube.com/nathankontny

Looking for a CRM?

And if you are in the market for a CRM, needing Highrise or something else, here are some things to keep in mind during your search.

https://girlstothemoon.com/sponsors-2017/


I hope you enjoy the things we’ve been sharing. And I’m thrilled Highrise is finding a place in so many lives and business. If there’s anything you’d be interested in us covering, or if you’d like to interview any of us, we’d love to chat. Don’t hesitate to reach out (nate@highrisehq.com).


Bury the lede

How can we keep people interested?


Technology doesn’t always give us the highest quality outcome. Sometimes it just buys us more convenience.

Look at coffee. It used to be a pain to prepare and drink. Then in 1850 Folgers started roasting and grinding it for us. It wasn’t as fresh, but it sure was fast.

Or look at photography. Today, smartphones put everything from supercomputers to cameras into our pocket. But the pictures pale in comparison to what my 5lb DSLR can take.

But we compromise. Sometimes convenience wins. Writing made a similar compromise.

The telegraph was a huge improvement in communication compared to smoke signals. We could now transmit messages over long distances.

But man, were those early messages expensive. A trained operator needed to type each letter by hand. And so compromises were made to shorten and change the message. For example, when the Wright Brothers completed their first flight, they couldn’t gush to their parents. Orville had to send this:

Success four flights thursday morning all against twenty one mile wind started from Level with engine power alone average speed through air thirty one miles longest 57 seconds inform Press home Christmas . Orevelle Wright

(Yes, his name was spelled wrong)

Newspaper articles also had to change. They couldn’t be narrative. They had to get to the point immediately. Just the facts. And the inverted pyramid style of writing was invented.


Get the important stuff out first. Everything else is less and less important.

It’s a style that lives on today. Not because we need help anymore in transmission, but now when newspaper and magazines are laid out, it helps an editor to quickly chop off a writer’s article from 500 words to 400 words, and worry little about changing the quality of the writing. Just cut from the bottom.


And we wonder why people aren’t interested in our writing? Look at the rules we’re following. Most of us learned in high school or college to “write well” with the inverted pyramid. Get the necessary stuff out first. The 5 W’s (Who, what, when, where, and why). Don’t bury the lede.

But we weren’t taught enough how those styles are tools, and even compromises, for specific situations. So, that’s how most of us write everything.

Even an attempt at some form of narrative gives into the idea it still needs a “TL;DR” (Too Long; Didn’t Read).

Yet think about what you read and watch that keeps you interested. How do you think Game of Thrones turns out as an inverted pyramid of a story? You’ll get punched in the eye if you TL;DR that for a fan who’s behind.

But we keep doing it to ourselves. Sometimes even others do it for us:

Very much appreciate the share, but you blew one of the best parts — the surprise.

Skip the TL;DR.

If you have people requesting that from you, let them move on and find more headlines to read. It is your job though to keep them interested throughout your writing. If you still feel like whatever you’re writing would benefit from a TL;DR, consider throwing your post away and just Tweeting something.

If you’re going to write 500+ words, give them the importance they deserve. Keep people interested by flipping the inverted pyramid back, and making your writing more and more interesting as it goes along, not less. Give your readers a journey. Make them something to be inspired about at the end of a piece. A TL;DR rarely moves anyone.

Of course, there are situations that require conciseness. Just the facts. Anticipation that people will just read the headlines. But don’t cargo cult the styles of newspaper and magazine writers for all the writing you do. Better yet, don’t worry about rules from high school and college. Ignore style and grammar. Learn to tell a better story. Surprise people.

I’ve had an above average bit of success as a writer and getting people interested in my work. My secret? I bury the lede.

P.S. You should follow me on YouTube: youtube.com/nathankontny where I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life.

And if you need a zero-learning-curve system to track leads and manage follow-ups you should try Highrise.


Write like you talk

You’re a better writer than you let on


A handful of years ago I was volunteering for an organization here in Chicago where we helped high school kids prepare for their college applications. These kids were the first in their families, often underprivileged, to be applying to college.

One Saturday I met a student who wanted help editing his application essay. We went over to the computer lab and he pulled up a draft he’s been struggling with.

The essay was fine. It read grammatically well.

But it was terrible. It was dry and uninteresting. Artificial intelligence could have probably auto-generated it from a history of other applications.

I doubt any recruiter would remember him. How were we going to fix this?


Most of us trying to write to gain an audience, inspire people, market ourselves, etc. are all doing it wrong.

We stick with the education and rules we learned in high school and college: “Don’t end sentences with prepositions.” “Don’t start sentences with conjugations.” “Sentences have subjects and predicates.” We focus on the perfect paragraph and essay structure.

And if I asked most people to write an essay about their day. It’s likely going to come out a lot like my mentee’s. Stiff, formulaic, unoriginal.

But if we had an intimate conversation over coffee, the story about your day would be remarkably different. You wouldn’t worry about the word you used to start a sentence, or which of your sentences made up paragraphs. Instead, your struggles, achievements, and thoughts would hit my ears before you had a chance to think about: “Can I end a sentence with ‘at’?”

And because you weren’t worried about a hundred rules of grammar while you were talking to me, I’m that much closer to your internal voice.

The voice that makes you unique and interesting.


So my first step with the student above was just to ask who he was, what he does, and what he observes all day. And then I just typed what he said. A lot of it was run on sentences, and sentences without verbs. If he turned this draft into his high school English teacher, he’d have failed an assignment. So we edited it a bit to fit grammatical rules that someone reading a college essay might expect.

But what was on that computer screen was a story in his voice. A story of how just four years ago he came to the United States, poor, with a single parent, and could barely speak English.

Then over his high school career, not only did he become an amazing student, he became a man for others. He was tutoring kids in math and leading programs to help students who were in situations that he was in just a short time ago.

When he was done, I was sitting there, mouth open with goosebumps. Some jerk must have been cutting onions next to us.

His essay was original, dramatically compelling, and told an inspiring hero’s journey.

This kid was awesome. And an essay finally came to him because he stopped worrying about the correct way to write, and just wrote like he talked.


If you find yourself struggling to get who you are onto the page, record yourself talking on your phone and write out the transcript later if you need to. Just get your voice on the page first before you start worrying about a bunch of rules.

When you finally have YOU on the page, now go back and make your bits bend to the style you want them in. But be careful with spending too much time on the grammar and the rules. Go back and make sure it still flows like you’d actually say it. Read it out loud to yourself. You’ll know when you sound fake when you stutter a bit trying to read a sentence back.

Because we aren’t trying to get an A in an English class. Most of us aren’t journalists for the New York Times all trying to write in a similar and strict style.

We’re just trying to contribute to a real conversation. And we want to meet you.

P.S. You should follow me on YouTube: youtube.com/nathankontny where I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life.

And if you need a zero-learning-curve system to track leads and manage follow-ups you should try Highrise.


I failed

It’s wild watching how fast my daughter is growing up. Today at the breakfast table she was already talking about where she wants to go to college. At least for now she told us that she’s decided to stay close to us in Chicago and Northwestern sounds good. She’s three. 🙂


I cherish every minute we get to spend together. One place where we obviously spend that time is our dining room table eating meals. So, I keep trying to invent interesting ways of talking about the day.

The latest thing we’ve picked up was inspired by Sara Blakely the founder of Spanx. Sara’s dad would ask her and her brother “What did you fail at this week?”

For example, one thing I shared last week with my family was that I’d love to get some more unique music for my vlog. I wrote to a company who represents the license agreements for some of my favorite bands, and simply just asked them, “Can I license your music for small vlog channel on YouTube?”

I don’t have a huge compelling case to send them. I can’t blow a lot of money on licenses. It’s a small but growing channel. But I sent the email anyways.

And… what did I hear back? Nothing.

So far, I’ve failed at my attempt to get some new music. But who knows. I’ll try again with another company, or try again with a better pitch, or do enough of these and someone will bite.

Of course my goal is to teach my daughter that it’s awesome, even encouraged, to keep reaching out past your comfort zone and try new things you won’t be successful with yet.

But it’s also changing my perspective. I’m constantly thinking about what risk I’ve tried recently so I have something to report.

Today, I’ll share with them that I failed again at making the running pace I was shooting for this morning.

Which is great! Only recently have I been paying close attention to my running pace. And pushing myself to fail this morning, has gotten me to the point where I’m running faster than I was even a month ago. I realize now from this exercise with my daughter how much I was coasting.

This was just a little something inspired by Sara Blakely. But her whole story, from selling fax machines to becoming a billionaire inventor and her many struggles in between, is incredibly interesting. There’s a lot to learn from her. Not the least of which is:

If you keep succeeding, you aren’t trying hard enough.

P.S. You should follow me on YouTube: youtube.com/nathankontny where I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life.

And if you need a zero-learning-curve system to track leads and manage follow-ups you should try Highrise.


Lazy creative


James Van Der Beek stars in an episode of Room 104 on HBO. The series is in the middle of its first season, but it’s already done so well that HBO’s renewed it for a second season.

It’s a curious show, as it takes place in a single hotel room every episode. The same hotel room over and over and over again. The room itself is also extremely uninteresting. When the design team went to Mark Duplass, the creator of the show, with tons of ideas on what the room should look like, Mark shot them all down.

No, I want the room to be as bland as possible.

So how did Mark Duplass create such an interesting and succesful show with this limited pallette?


Our brains are lazy. Well, that’s not exactly fair. Our brains are great at conserving energy.

They’ve evolved to reserve the juice necessary to deal with things in our environment that are novel and potentially life altering. Hence why we tend to enjoy and remember the details of a new place we visit, but repeat visits become boring. It starts to blend together into a pattern. Unless something upsets that pattern.

It’s how we come up with ideas too. Thomas Ward, a psychology professor at the University of Alabama, gave the model for which we come up with new ideas a name: we follow the path-of-least-resistance. When we generate new ideas, we often start with things, categories, and examples of what we already know because it’s easier.

Page Moreau, Professor of Marketing at the Wisconsin School of Business, however, wanted to know if we could get off that lazy path and become more creative.

In one of her studies, she had participants design a children’s toy given a palette of 20 possible objects. The twist was one group of participants could choose 5 of those objects themselves, and the other group had to use 5 objects picked for them.

The group who had the constraint of objects picked for them, were slightly more creative than the people who got to pick themselves.

The groups were then given yet another constraint. Some of the participants were allowed to use as many of the 5 objects they wanted, but other participants were told they had to use all 5.

Now, here’s where it got interesting. The folks who had their objects picked for them AND had to use all 5 of them, were the most creative of all the participants in the study by a lot.

In other words, the more constraints they were given, the more creative they got. The constraints knocked them off of their lazy path to less creative and familiar solutions.


I’m having a hard time finding a television show that can keep my interest. Too many all just seem the same. A group of friends in their apartments. Superheroes battling another mega boss.

Yesterday I tuned out of a show when the conflict of the scene was the Arbitrary Skepticism trope. “Hero is skeptical of problem and wants to leave. Needs convincing by the other characters.” I was sick of that when Scully from X-files created that conflict dozens and dozens of times during their run.

But Room 104 has captured a lot of attention. Why? It’s constraints. The fact that the whole show is constrained to this one bland room helps get the show’s staff off of their path-of-least-resistance.

And that’s not the only constraint. James Van Der Beek was only in a single episode because in every episode the room stays the same, but everything else changes. New cast. New era. Even a new genre. One episode is horror, another comedy, another heartfelt drama. I can’t even tell you what genre James show was, as it changes wildly during the episode 🙂

Mark Duplass, whether he realized it or not, tapped into what Page Moreau discovered. By adding these extra constraints to his show, he forced everyone to get off their lazy creative paths to finally create something interesting and original.

So, next time you find yourself struggling against your lack of options. Next time you find yourself wanting to utter something like “I’m stuck with these crappy tools”. Just remember that more choice is actually a formula for boring and already done. Embrace your limited choices. Force yourself into more constraints. And you just might knock yourself off your own path of lazy thinking and create something that stands out.

P.S. You should follow me on YouTube: youtube.com/nathankontny where I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life.

And if you need a zero-learning-curve system to track leads and manage follow-ups you should try Highrise.


New in Highrise: Auto CCs, Clear all, and more…


We just celebrated our 3 year anniversary since spinning off from Basecamp! Thanks to all of you for helping us get here. Read more about: how far we’ve come. And today, we have another couple improvements to mention.

Auto CCs

For those of you who use our Gmail or recent Outlook integration to send emails from Highrise, we have an exciting announcement today.

You’ve been able to add a CC (or BCC) to an outgoing message for some time, but now that field has gotten a lot smarter. It will automatically populate from CCs in your previous message, and will automatically fill from your contacts as you type:


Read more about the auto populated and auto complete CC’s: here.

Clear All from Good Morning Group Inboxes

Almost 2 years ago, we launched Good Morning, your Highrise group inbox. It has literally changed the way we work and our support team clears the queue by answering each item every day — in record time I may add! 🙂

But in other group inboxes we manage (like my personal one) items can collect to the point it becomes overwhelming… so today we announce the ability to clear everythying from your Good Morning inbox!:


Read more about Clearing Good Morning inboxes: here.

PieSync launches intelligent syncing

PieSync, one of our integration partners, consolidates contacts located in disparate cloud applications and synchronizes them 2 ways and in real time. Today PieSync releases an all new & improved way of setting up two-way contact syncs with their IF-THIS-THEN-THAT filters:


These filters, on top of the already powerful custom fields feature launched last quarter, allow you to segment and create workflows in one app, to other apps, giving you even more in-depth sync possibilities than before. Register for PieSync’s upcoming Webinar on Wednesday, Sep 27 on using the new IF-THIS-THEN-THAT filters: here.

Highrise About Town

And finally, if you want to hear and read more about how we run Highrise, you can read from a few places we’ve been spotted in the wild recently.

If you’re a Highrise user, I hope you enjoy those. Please let us know if you ever need anything — Highrise related or not. We’d love to help.

And if you aren’t a Highrise user, now’s the time! 🙂 If you need a no-hassle system to track leads and manage follow-ups you should try Highrise.

You should also follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life.


How to be interesting


A couple months ago a video made its viral way around the internet as some videos do. It was a mashup of the Sesame Street movie Follow that Bird and the Beastie Boys’ song Sabotage.

Mashups aren’t uncommon. Afterall, that’s a huge lesson most of us already know about creativity. Great ideas are often the collision of a couple different disciplines, technologies, inventions, etc.

But is that all there is to it? Or is there something a bit deeper about that video and why it became so viral.

Why was it so interesting?


Murray Davis was a professor of sociology at Northern Illinois University. In 1971, he published an interesting paper. Literally. It’s called “That’s Interesting!”

Davis investigated why some researchers and their theories get people’s attention and others don’t. He found that ideas don’t become interesting because they are simply true:

All of the interesting propositions I examined were easily translatable into the form: ‘What seems to be X is in reality non-x’.

For example, what seems to be a mess is really organized. Or what appears to be a bad thing is really a good thing.

An audience finds a proposition ‘interesting’ not because it tells them some truth they thought they already knew, but instead because it tells them some truth they thought they already knew was wrong.

We crave ideas that attack what we had taken for granted.


The creator of that Beastie Boys + Sesame Street video, Adam Schleichkorn, isn’t new to viral videos. His channel is called isthishowyougoviral, and it’s racked up 23 million views. That’s not his only channel. He has another channel called hiddentracktv2 with over 38 million views.

In fact, Adam Schleichkorn might be labeled the first viral YouTube star there ever was when he uploaded a video of his friend plowing into a fence, giving birth to a trend called “Fence Plowing” over 10 years ago.

This wasn’t his first mashup either. He’s been doing them for years. 3 years ago he racked up 1.8 million views on a Beastie Boys + Muppets mashup. 1 year ago it was 4.5 million views with Bone Thugs n Harmony, and 3.5 million views with Warren G — both mashed with Sesame Street.

If you look at Adam’s videos and you analyze it with Davis’ insight into what makes things interesting, I think we can further identify what makes some of Adam’s stuff so popular.

Many of his mashups are of things that you’ve now taken for granted. Pieces you now ignore because they’re for different audiences or different generations.

Sesame Street? It’s for kids. Follow that Bird? It’s from 1985. Beastie Boys? I love them. But I’m 39. Sabotage is from 1994. Crossroads from Bone Thugs N Harmony is from 1995.

He took things we’d long forgotten and assumed were not worth our time and artfully put them together. This is stuff we’re certain wasn’t worth paying much attention to anymore until Adam showed us it was.

Or look at Fence Plowing. You take fences for granted. They keep people out. People don’t just go through them. It’s a counterintuitive idea.

Or another video he posted 6 years ago. How long do you think the average YouTube video is?


You take for granted you need to commit a little time to watching another thing on YouTube. So Adam crafted the Shortest Video on Youtube.

It measures 0 seconds.

Now, this isn’t a blueprint for creating viral videos. And this isn’t all to Adam’s success. Obviously. Just telling you to form your projects with counterintuitive things is like teaching you to draw an owl with a couple circles.


Adam’s been making mashups and editing video for longer than YouTube has even existed. He’s got skills, just like the researchers Davis studied. There’s still an enormous amount of work and skill involved with creating theories and papers that would be labeled interesting.

But this is a lesson for boosting your chances to get people’s attention. As you look at the world and plan your book, video, product, or business, you need to show us how wrong we were to take something for granted.

P.S. You should follow me on YouTube: here

youtube.com/nathankontny

where I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life.

And if you need a zero-learning-curve system to track leads and manage follow-ups you should try Highrise.


About town


A few places Highrise has been spotted in the wild recently 🙂


Amy Schmittauer is killing it with teaching folks how to vlog, and she’s been a huge supporter of Highrise and my own vlog. It was awesome to see her showing the use of Highrise in her routine:

Alison Grove’s been buzzing on the podcast circuit.

and her chat with Support Ops.

Our new iOS app was Xamarin’s App of the Week. People have also really enjoyed hearing how we made a native mobile app that supports both Android and iOS with just 2 people working part time on the project with Microsoft tools:

Our writing has been showing up on guest blog posts like this one from Capterra by Lynette:

The Benefits of CRM Software for 5 Types of Small Businesses

And on Olark where I talk about making Business Human:

The Benefits of CRM Software for 5 Types of Small Businesses

And I’ve been on some podcasts too recently. I just spoke with DULO Wear about my origin story, building businesses, creating audiences, luck and a lot more:


I hope you enjoy the things we’ve been sharing. If there’s anything you’d be interested in us covering, or if you’d like to interview any of us, we’d love to chat. Please don’t hesitate to reach out (nate@highrisehq.com).


Peaked?

A writer had a rough go of getting a book published. Even after he’d written plenty of short stories for magazine publications, he started his hand at writing books. But nothing hit.

His fourth attempt at a novel really gave him some fits. He finally finished a manuscript for it, but he still didn’t like it. The story didn’t move him, he was writing about people he didn’t know very well, and he didn’t like the characters. He threw it away in the trash.


Dean Simonton is a Professor of Psychology at UC-Davis. The guy has studied what makes people creative and smart his whole career with over 300 publications and more than ten books.

In 1977, Dean explored how time affects greatness. By studying composers, do we see if they peak and get worse as they get older?

Afterall, isn’t that what we expect? Don’t we expect to see that graph of a U upside down?


But, that’s not what Dean found. Instead Dean found the percentage of stuff composers did that was “great” compared to their “minor” things was constant over time.


Quality doesn’t change over time. Quantity does. If you see someone peak, it’s because their productivity changed.

In other words, the most creative amongst us have mastered beating the odds. Not because they have drastically better chances. But because they play the game more.

Dean’s conclusion also carries with it the observation: time doesn’t seem to make us much wiser in determining what’s good or bad about our work. If it did, we’d see the percentage of our “major” works improve.

Or as Dean has written: “Beethoven’s own favorites among his symphonies, sonatas, and quartets are not those most frequently performed.”

That lack of wisdom also then causes a lot of things to get thrown out that may have been good. Or as Dean calls it “backtracking”.

Adam Grant, who highlights more of Dean’s work in his book Originals, points out, “In Beethoven’s most celebrated work, the Fifth Symphony, he scrapped the conclusion of the first movement because it felt too short, only to come back to it later. Had Beethoven been able to distinguish an extraordinary from an ordinary work, he would have accepted his composition immediately as a hit.”


When the writer above came home one night from his teaching job, a job that barely paid enough money to keep a roof over his family’s head, he found his wife had dug the book out of the trash.

She wanted him to finish it. She was confident he had a worthwhile story. It took a bit of her help to get the characters figured out. But he polished the story and started sending the manuscript to publishers.

He didn’t hope for much. He moved onto other things. But one thing he definitely didn’t do was give up writing.

“I pretty much forgot about it and moved on with my life, which at that time consisted of teaching school, raising kids, loving my wife, getting drunk on Friday afternoons, and writing stories.”

But soon, he got a call that Doubleday wanted to publish his book in hardcover. It wasn’t for much. A $2500 advance. But soon after that, he also got a paperback deal and a $400,000 advance.

Stephen King’s Carrie sold over a million copies in its first year alone and became a multitude of movies, sequels and even Broadway performances.


That’s why you see me attempting things like a daily vlog or publishing a couple articles a week. I see the evidence that I’m terrible at determining what’s good or bad about my work. The things I think will get a ton of traffic, likes, shares, etc. do just the opposite. And vice versa. So I just keep publishing.

Today Stephen King, needs little introduction. But it might still surprise you that as I write this, he has no fewer than 5 adaptations of his work coming out to TV and film. That’s crazy. John Grisham’s work has turned into a lot of movies. But not 5 new productions simultaneously.

Stephen King is a genius. But if you playback his story, you see exactly why his genius is also so popular today. He’s never stopped writing. He’s written over 90 books, hundreds of short stories. He has 238 IMDB credits.

He’s prolific. He keeps moving on with new ideas. When Carrie was stuck, he’d already moved onto the next thing.

Stephen King has enjoyed a great amount of success since Carrie. It clearly wasn’t a peak. His work is still exploding into new projects now. But Stephen King just played the odds. He’d keep writing until he won.

P.S. You should follow me on YouTube: here

youtube.com/nathankontny

where I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life.

And if you need a zero-learning-curve system to track leads and manage follow-ups you should try Highrise.