A cross between a change agent and a psychiatrist, acclaimed marketing Guru and best-selling author Seth Godin’s latest work, “The Practice” is a small book of powerful affirmations. Mr. Godin urges his aspiring readers to abandon the outcome of their passionate calling and instead develop an unrelenting focus on the practice/process. “There’s a practice available to each of us—the practice of embracing the process of creation in service of better. The practice is not the means to the output, the practice is the output, because the practice is all we can control.” Doing so would make the practioner a ‘creative’. The creative, by shipping her work to the wider world has the opportunity to make a difference and thereby effect incremental positive changes. ‘Shipping’ here refers to the dissemination of the work by a painter, writer etc to the general populace.
Mr. Godin exhorts the artist to just trust her process, go about her work with generosity and purpose, and, to accept both positive and negative outcomes with a measure of equanimity. The unmissable elements of Rudyard Kipling’s “If” may be detected in this lofty philosophy. It is not just Kipling whose seems to inspire Mr. Godin and his outlook. “The Practice” resonates with the teachings of the immortal Indian epic, Bhagavadgita, as the wisdom propounded by it permeates the pages of the book. Urging the individual to be agnostic about the outcome of her activities, and instead bestow the highest degree of concentration and respect on and to the process forms the bedrock of the Bhagavad Gita philosophy. Mr. Godin seems to wholeheartedly agree: “That’s because working in anticipation of what we’ll get in return takes us out of the world of self-trust and back into the never-ending search for reassurance and the perfect outcome. We believe that we need a guarantee, and that the only way to get that guarantee is with external feedback and results. It draws our eye to the mirror instead of the work.”
Elsa Freytag-Loringhoven, a Baroness and a formidable Dadaist, was a woman way ahead of her times. Revolutionizing the world of performing arts and lending a new dimension to painting, she was fanatical ‘practioner.’ Her relentless focus was on her art and practice and she cared a jot for ether recognition or reward. When she once procured a ceramic urinal at an industrial supply house, her friend Marcel Duchamp entered it into an art exhibit. This not only upended the domain of art but also signaled the beginning of an insidious trait on the part of Duchamp. As the art world began making progress or a transition from handmade works to the machine produced, Duchamp, exploited a benevolent opportunity magnanimously accorded to him by usurping credit for many a work of Elsa Freytag-Loringhoven. To the extent, that the world now recognises Duchamp as a pioneering figure, whereas Elsa Freytag remains a personality in obscurity. But as Mr. Godin rightly points out, it was a choice made by her. A choice to “live a life in art, to explore the penumbra, the spots just outside of the existing wisdom.”
The practice of an art has to be a perpetual, permanent and a perennial virtuous cycle. This is because the ultimate aim of practice is just that, more practice. An irreverent approach towards the outcome, not in a manner of arrogance or an irascible outlook, fuels an artist’s ability to keep going in the face of adversity. This is simply because she does not treat her results as adverse any more so than she judges her practice as absolutely necessary. As James Carse the author writes in his incredibly complicated but seminal work, “Infinite Games”, the objective of the play is only to remain in the play. The game has no end and there emerge neither winners not losers. “The infinite game is a catch in the backyard with your four-year-old son. You’re not trying to win catch; you’re simply playing catch. The most important parts of our lives are games that we can’t imagine winning. The process is infinite, if we trust it to be. We don’t do this work hoping that we will win, and the game will be over.”
How does one build up such a virtuous and uncompromising habit? How does one vigorously keep up the habit and yet not dilute her efforts? Mr. Godin offers his readers a few “tricks” in this regard: “Build streaks. Do the work every single day. Blog daily. Write daily. Ship daily. Show up daily. Find your streak and maintain it. Talk about your streaks to keep honest. Seek the smallest viable audience. Make it for someone, not everyone. Avoid shortcuts. Seek the most direct path instead. Find and embrace genre. Seek out desirable difficulty. Don’t talk about your dreams with people who want to protect you from heartache.”
For all those who are perturbed by criticism in general and vicious criticism in particular, and because of which shy away from sharing or shipping their work, Mr. Godin offers some invaluable advice and instills hope. Worst of all, criticism reminds us of the outcomes, not the process. He warns us not to reduce or dilute our commitment to the practice on account of an unkind remark or vitriolic comment. In the digital era that we find ourselves in, a proliferation of social media outlets ensures not only accessibility and voice, but also an avenue for venting out trenchant views and unpolished diatribes. However, most of the criticism “shared in the internet age is useless, or worse, harmful. It’s useless because it often personalizes the criticism to be about the creator, not the work. And it’s useless because most critics are unskilled and ungenerous.”
Mr. Godin also emphatically states that received wisdom pertaining to ‘states’ of impediment such as ‘suffering from a writer’s block’; ‘deserted by the muse’; etc are convenient myths and excuses that require busting. The lack of output is a direct effect of a shortage of practice. These are also tried and tested methodologies to hide ourselves from the vehemence of the critics. This is precisely what makes us sacrifice our identity at the altar of stereotype. We choose to discard our own voice and instead opt to make the noise of the herd. “Everyone has a voice in their head, and every one of those voices is different. Our experiences and dreams and fears are unique, and we shape the discourse by allowing those ideas to be shared. It might not work. But only you have your distinct voice, and hoarding it is toxic. Of course, you’re allowed to sound like you. Everyone else is taken.”
Mr. Godin also offers a ready list of role models to emulate if one wishes to keep the flame of practice ever alight within her. This impressive list includes, among others, Patricia Barber, Zaha Hadid, Joel Spolsky, Yo-Yo Ma, Tom Peters, Frida Kahlo, Banksy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bryan Stevenson, Liz Jackson, Simone Giertz, Jonas Salk, Rosanne Cash, John Wooden etc.
Seth Godin is the author of 19 best seller works and the owner of one of the most popular blogs in the world. “The Practice” in more ways than one might be the most unique and impactful of books that he has authored – ‘yet’!