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Weekly 3: Upside of opposition

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Summary: Embrace controversy. Fail professionally. Seek competition. (~4 min read)
 

Idea Journal Weekly 3

January 5 · Issue #120 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Embrace controversy. Fail professionally. Seek competition. (~4 min read)

#1. “Either you’re controversial or nothing at all is happening.”
Author Ryan Holiday writes in his book Perennial Seller that one sign of creative work that lasts is its initial polarizing effect – separating the audience into those who don’t like it, and those who really like it
Provoking such a strong reaction is “a sign you’re forging ahead.”
He cites the following examples: 
  • Painter Henri Matisse’s Blue Nude, with its provocative use of ambiguity and color, caused such a stir that it was burned in effigy in 1913. Today, you can buy a print of the painting at Walmart.
  • Author Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood invented a new genre of nonfiction. But when it was first published, many people were confused and incensed: Was it real or not?!
For Holiday, the more exciting and higher standard for every project should force you to ask questions like the following: 
  • What dominant institution am I displacing?
  • Which sacred cows am I slaying?
  • Which groups am I disrupting? 
  • Who am I pissing off?
Holiday tells the story about the controversy his book Trust Me, I’m Lying caused, and how this signaled to him that it would be successful.
After the book was published, he received a picture from Ford’s head of social media: he’d thrown the book in the trash. One reporter physically accosted Holiday after he gave a talk. Someone who Holiday referenced in the book challenged him to a debate, and another person threatened legal action.
As Holiday puts it: “It was scary. But it was also exhilarating – and validating.”
#2. Better to be on the field and losing than in the stands
In his book The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield writes “Nothing is as empowering as real-world validation, even if it’s for failure.”
Pressfield shares the following story about one of his own failures to illustrate this lesson. 
His first professional writing job, after seventeen years of trying, was for a movie called King Kong Lives. Pressfield and his partner on the movie, Ron Shusett, created the screenplay for the acclaimed director Dino DiLaurentiis.
Pressfield and Shusett were certain they had a blockbuster, and invited everyone they knew to the premiere. They even rented out the place next door for the triumphant after-party: “Get there early, we warned our friends, the place’ll be mobbed.“
But nobody came.
Pressfield remembers one guy who was standing in line beside their guests, but he was muttering something about spare change. In the theater, Pressfield and Shusett’s friends endured the movie “in mute stupefaction,” and when it was over, “they fled like cockroaches into the night.”
The next day, a review of the movie in Variety magazine dealt a further blow: “… Ronald Shusett and Steven Pressfield; we hope these are not their real names, for their parents’ sake.”
They were crushed. 
As Pressfield tells it: here he was, forty-two years old, divorced, childless, having given up all normal pursuits to chase the dream of being a writer. He finally had his name attached to a big-time Hollywood production, and he blew it: “I’m a loser, a phony; my life was worthless, and so am I.”
But one of Pressfield’s friends snapped him out of it by asking if he was going to quit. 
Pressfield’s answer was “Hell, no!”
His friend continued: “Then be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.”
That’s when Pressfield realized that he had become a professional. He didn’t yet have a success, but he’d had a real failure.
#3. Competitors can also be allies
Marketing guru Seth Godin writes on his blog that competition can be a useful signal: “It means you’re offering something that’s not crazy.”
As Godin points out, competition gives people reassurance. It makes it easier to get your point across. 
For example, the busiest Indian food restaurants in New York City are all within a block or two of each other. 
And books sell best in bookstores, “surrounded by other books, their ostensible competition.”
If you have no competition, Godin’s recommendation is to go find some.
Quote of the Week
“He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper. This amicable conflict with difficulty obliges us to an intimate acquaintance with our object, and compels us to consider it in all its relations.”
- Philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke in his book Reflections on the Revolution in France
Idea Journal
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