Love Your Work is the intellectual playground of David Kadavy, bestselling author of three books – including Mind Management, Not Time Management – and former design advisor to Timeful – a Google-acquired productivity app.
Love Your Work is where David shows you how to be productive when creativity matters, and make big breakthroughs happen in your career as a creator. Dig into the archives for insightful conversations with Dan Ariely, David Allen, Seth Godin, James Altucher, and many more.
"David is an underrated writer and thinker. In an age of instant publication, he puts time, effort and great thought into the content and work he shares with the world." —Jeff Goins, bestselling author of Real Artists Don’t Starve
Creative Success in Extremistan (Not Mediocristan)
If you want to succeed in anything creative – whether that’s writing, art, or entrepreneurship – you’re navigating unfamiliar territory. Everyone else is living in Mediocristan, but you’re living in Extremistan. You need a different approach for deciding how you define success.
“Extremistan” is a term introduced by Nicholas Nassim Taleb in his book, The Black Swan, which I summarized on episode 244. We tend to think we’re living in the opposite of Extremistan: Mediocristan. When we as creatives measure success and make our decisions as if we are in Mediocristan, we ruin any chance we have of succeeding in the world we’re actually in: Extremistan.
Extremistan is an imaginary place where events are random and unpredictable, and the impact of those events are extreme. It’s a world full of “Black Swans.”
Extremistan vs. Mediocristan
Mediocristan is a place that’s the opposite of Extremistan.
Extremistan is unstable. Mediocristan is stable. Extremistan is the world of the unpredictable and unexpected. Mediocristan is the world of the predictable and expected. Extremistan is full of singular events (“Black Swans”). In Mediocristan, the same things happen over and over. Extremistan is full of variables that scale infinitely. In Mediocristan, all variables fall within a range.
We’re used to Mediocristan
Our modern world is built to be Mediocristan. We think we can predict what will happen. Some of this may be that our mental hard-wiring makes it difficult for us to think in terms of the unpredictable and unstable. Some of it is definitely because we’ve spread, across the collective, risks that face the individual.
An hourly-wage job is in Mediocristan
Imagine you have an hourly-wage job serving coffee at Starbucks. You’re working in Mediocristan.
There are plenty of unpredictable things Starbucks has to deal with serving millions of customers across tens of thousands of locations. Employees will call in sick or stop showing up. There can be a coffee bean shortage, causing prices to suddenly spike. Someone might slip and fall in the bathroom and sue for millions of dollars.
All these things affect Starbucks’ profits. One month, they may make a big profit. The next month, they may lose money and need to take out a loan to stay in business.
But all the while, you know exactly how much you’re getting paid each hour you work.
Starbucks can handle these shocks and pay you a steady wage because they spread risk across the entire organization. You don’t even notice if a water main breaks, flooding another location, or if the Director of Operations gets in a car wreck and ends up in the hospital for seven weeks.
Your hourly-wage job at Starbucks is mind-numbing, it’s boring, you’re living on rice and beans from Aldi. But, it’s impressively predictable. It beats the heck out of foraging in the jungle and hoping you don’t get pounced on by a puma.
Creative work happens in Extremistan
A Mediocristan job is a pretty sweet deal if the wage is livable. Though, stable, well-paying Mediocristan jobs are more and more scarce. That’s not the thing I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is how important it is to understand that when you’re doing creative work, you’re not in Mediocristan, rather you’re in Extremistan.
An author works in Extremistan
Imagine if when you get off your shift at Starbucks, you sit down and write each day. After you build a writing habit and keep it for several years, you finish your first novel.
You upload your novel to Amazon, and: nothing. You get a few sales a month. Then one day, you log into your Amazon dashboard, and see a huge spike. You’ve sold 3,000 books, and it’s not even 10 a.m. Turns out an influencer shared your book on TikTok.
3,000 books is just the begin
NOTE: Join the "True Fan" Patreon level (for a limited time, at patreon.com/kadavy)
Just a quick note here to tell you loyal listeners about a new opportunity over on Patreon.
As I’ve said in my Patreon pleas at the end of the episodes, some money that I make feels better than other money. When I sell a book, that money feels good. When I get a sponsor for the podcast, that money feels...not as good.
Other money I get that feels good is the money I get from Patreon supporters. This is why I don’t take podcast sponsors anymore. Each dollar feels like a little note that says, “Hey, I like what you’re doing. Please keep doing it.”
And practically speaking, the money I get from Patreon supporters helps keep the business running. Books are the biggest part of my income, but it takes a long time to finish a book. Getting a few bucks a month from a reader helps me keep doing my work until I have enough ideas worth putting into a book.
I’ve asked you over the years many times for your support and many of you have joined, and for that I’m grateful.
But now I have a special opportunity: For a limited time I’m offering a special “True Fan” level. The name of this is inspired by Kevin Kelley’s essay, “1,000 true fans.” Basically, if you can find 1,000 people who think your work is worth $100 a year, you have a sustainable business.
This special True Fan level brings you all the benefits you’d normally get at a higher level of support, but at a discounted price. You get early access to episodes – there’s two waiting you could listen to right now – plus audio of my monthly income reports, masterclasses with folks like Noah Kagan, and patron-only Q&As – all delivered to your own personal RSS feed you can easily copy and paste into your favorite podcast app.
Normally, all of this goes to Patreon supporters at the $15 a month level. For a limited time, you get all this for only $9 a month.
If you’re already a supporter, this offer is open to you, too. Whether that’s bumping your support up a bit, or if you’re at a higher level you can get locked in for the same benefits at a lower price.
The offer, as I said, is only available for a limited time, but after it goes away, you’re locked in at this price. Plus, if I add anything to the package in the future, you’ll get that, too. The more members we have, the more cool things I can offer.
Not everyone is in a position to pay for something they could get for free. If you can’t support my work, nothing will change and you can keep enjoying my free work as long as I can afford to do it from here in South America (assuming I can still live in South America). So far we have over 250 episode of Love Your Work from the past five years, and more than 100 Love Mondays email newsletters, all free to enjoy.
Otherwise, if you consider yourself a “True Fan” *and* you have the means, please take advantage of this special Patreon level.
As I said this is a limited-time offer. It’s an experiment, and I will close sign-ups to this level at some random time in the near future, so do act now. Again, that’s patreon.com/kadavy
Amusing Ourselves to Death Book Summary
Can the way we consume information make us unable to tell truth from lies? Neil Postman thought so. In his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman says everything has been turned into entertainment: Our politics, religion, news, athletics, our commerce – even our education – have all been turned into forms of entertainment. This has weakened our ability to reason about society’s important questions. In this Amusing Ourselves to Death book summary, I’ll break down – in my own words – why Postman believes the shift from a society built around reading, to a society built around moving pictures and music, has devolved our discourse into a dangerous level of nonsense.
America was built upon reading
In 1854, in a lecture hall in Peoria, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln was in a debate. His debate opponent, Stephen A. Douglas, had just finished a three-hour speech. Lincoln reminded the audience it was 5 p.m., he himself would be speaking for at least three hours, and Douglas would get a chance to respond. He told the audience, Go home, have dinner, and come back for four more hours of lecture.
Is today’s technology “nothing new?”
Every time a new technology comes along, there are people who think the sky is falling. There are also people who say it’s nothing new. They’ll show you that old picture of men on a commuter train, with their faces buried in newspapers, or they might remind you Socrates worried people would be made forgetful by the breakthrough technology of: writing. If we think back to our own memories from ten or twenty years ago, we have to conclude that not much has changed. It’s different technology, with the same people.
Yes, attention spans are shorter
But this scene from Lincoln’s debate from more than 150 years ago is a stark contrast from today’s world. It’s hard to imagine ordinary citizens gathering in the local lecture hall to sit and listen to seven hours of debate, without so much as a smartphone to stay occupied if things got dull. What’s even more remarkable is neither Lincoln nor Douglas were presidential candidates at the time – they weren’t even candidates for the Senate.
America was the most reading-focused culture ever
Postman uses this lecture scene to paint a picture of what he says was probably the most print-oriented culture ever. Unlike in England, in Colonial America reading wasn’t an elitist activity. Postman estimates that the literacy rate for men in Massachusetts and Connecticut was around 90 or 95%. Farm boys plowed the fields with a book in hand, reading Shakespeare, Emerson, or Thoreau.
Thomas Paine, who wrote the mega-best-selling Common Sense had little formal schooling, and before coming to America, had come from England’s lowest laboring class. Still, Paine wrote political philosophy on par with Voltaire and Rousseau.
When Charles Dickens visited America in 1842, it was as if a movie star had visited. Dickens himself said, “There never was a King or Emperor upon earth so cheered and followed by the crowds.”
Today’s media is built around images
Since Amusing Ourselves to Death was written in the 1980’s, it’s not concerned with Facebook nor TikTok nor Twitter. It’s concerned with television. But as Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message”, and the characteristics of the television medium translate well into the characteristics of today’s media. Today’s media isn’t built around words – it’s built around images.
Television is images
It’s easy to turn the channel on a television, or to turn the television off completely. They sit running in the house while people do other things. Remember from my Understanding Media summary that pieces of content within a medium compete with one another in what I summed up as a “Darwinian battle.” Only the strong survive, and to survive on t
NOTE: Listen to Mind Management, Not Time Management free (at kdv.co/mindaudible)
I just got word that the Mind Management, Not Time Management audiobook is now live on Audible.com. And you can listen to it free.
If you are not already an Audible member, you can listen to the Mind Management, Not Time Management audiobook free, with a free trial. Just go to kdv.co/mindaudible.
If you prefer another platform, check it out, Mind Management, Not Time Management is probably available there. I’ll leave a list in the show notes with links to the audiobook on many retailers, but it’s going live in forty retailers, so I can’t get them all. It may even be available for check-out at your local library.
Here is a partial list of retailers where the audiobook is currently live:
Audible Apple Google Play Kobo/Walmart Scribd Chirp Barnes & Noble NOOK Hibooks Thanks to Findaway Voices’ distribution, the audiobook is slated to go live on forty platforms. Check out your favorite platform, and it may even be available for check-out at your local library. I’ll try to keep the Universal book link updated as it becomes available in more places.
Survivorship Bias's Fatal Flaw
There’s an important bias to avoid: Survivorship bias. Unfortunately, people who might otherwise do something with their lives hide behind survivorship bias. Just as important as knowing when survivorship bias matters is knowing when survivorship bias does not matter. Survivorship bias has a fatal flaw.
Example: Abraham Wald avoided survivorship bias to bring back more survivors
In WWII the US military was trying to improve their planes. Each time a plane came back from a mission, they made a record of the bullet holes. Since most bullet holes were on the wings and tails of the planes, the military concluded they needed to add more armor in the wings and tails.
But statistician Abraham Wald said, No – that’s not where you want to add more armor. You want more armor around the engine.
That seemed weird. Their map of bullet holes showed very little damage to the engine compartment.
What Wald noticed that the military hadn’t noticed is they were only seeing bullet holes on planes that returned from missions. The bullet holes they weren’t seeing were the bullet holes on planes that did not return. And the bullet holes on planes that did not return were the ones bringing the planes down.
Abraham Wald was cleverly taking into account what would become known as survivorship bias.
Example: How survivorship bias can be used by an investing con artist
In his book, Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Taleb tells a story of a con artist. He’d send out 10,000 letters. Half the letters predicted the stock market would go up in the next month. Half the letters, down.
The next month, the con artist would send not 10,000 letters, but only 5,000. The following month, 2,500. Then 1,250, and on and on.
Why did he keep sending fewer and fewer letters? Because he only sent follow-up letters to those who had received correct predictions. After enough letters, he had 150 or so victims hanging on his every word, eager to have this mystery genius invest money for them. Of course once the con artist received their money, they never heard from him again. They had been “fooled by randomness.” They had been fooled by survivorship bias.
Survivorship bias doesn’t account for ergodicity
Both these stories are useful examples of survivorship bias. In the first case, Abraham Wald used an awareness of survivorship bias to avoid getting a false signal from the data. In the second example, the recipients of the letters didn’t realize they could be getting a false signal from the letters.
Survivorship bias is an important phenomenon to understand, but survivorship bias has a fatal flaw: Survivorship bias doesn’t account for ergodicity.
What is ergodicity?
What is ergodicity? Imagine you enter a dimly-lit bar just as it opens. A table of patrons across the room light up cigarettes. You can see the cascading trails of smoke rising. When they’re done with their cigarettes, they don’t smoke anymore the rest of the night.
When you get home, you realize your clothes smell like smoke. How could this be? You were nowhere near the trails of smoke.
Well, after the trails of smoke rose from the cigarettes, they dissipated around the room, until a faint haze of smoke filled the entire room.
Randomness eventually touches everything
That’s ergodicity. The smoke was rising from the cigarettes in a random pattern. But when a random pattern continues for long enough, that random pattern eventually fills the entire space it could have filled. The smoke spread randomly, until it filled the whole room.
Ergodicity is why it’s not only 1% of Americans who are in the top 1% of income. As time passes, people enter and leave the top 1% of income. In a lifetime, 10% of Americans spend a year in the top 1%. More than half will spend a year in the top 10%.
Ergodicity is why – even though life expe
My Zettelkasten: An Author’s Digital Slip-Box Method Example (Using Plain-Text Software)
As a nonfiction author, retaining what I read is my job. Through the process of writing three books, I’ve experimented with different ways of reading, remembering what I read, and using that knowledge to develop my own thoughts. I’ll share today my note-taking system. I hope it serves as a good example of a digital “Zettelkasten” or slip box.
Listen to My Zettelkasten: An Author’s Digital Slip-Box
What is a Zettelkasten?
I talked about Zettelkasten in my How to Take Smart Notes book summary on episode 249, but here’s a quick review. Zettelkasten is German for “slip box.” In the analog form, a Zettelkasten is a box filled with slips of paper. On each slip is an idea, notes about which other slips that idea is related to, and keywords used for organizing the slips.
Wikipedia: Kai Schreiber
The Zettelkasten method originated in analog, but is being adapted to digital
Much of the original Zettelkasten techniques were developed to adapt the limitations of physical paper to non-hierarchical organization, like today’s internet. Now, writers are adapting the Zettelkasten method to digital software.
“Zettelkasten” is a “slip box” and “note-taking system.” A “slip” is a “note”
A note about terminology for this article: I’ll be using the terms Zettelkasten, note-taking system, and slip box interchangeably. They all mean the same thing. The same goes for “slip” and “note.” They’re the same thing.
What do I use a Zettelkasten for?
The Zettelkasten method is most commonly used by academic writers. That use case has its own unique demands. I, however, am a blogger and nonfiction (self-help) author. Here’s what I aim to do with my Zettelkasten:
Retain what I read: I want to be able to put interesting things I read into my own words. Access my knowledge: I want to be able to quickly access quotes, facts, figures, and story details, when I don’t remember them perfectly. Direct my curiosity: I want to have options for things I can read that will drive my knowledge more-or-less toward learning something useful. I call it strategic curiosity, which I talked about on episode 184. Develop my ideas: I want to guide ideas through the four stages of creativity, which I talked about on episode 218. Ship writing: I want to mix my knowledge and ideas into shipped tweets, weekly newsletters, articles, and books.
Four misconceptions about note-taking
Like many things I’ve come to love, I was resistant to the idea of note-taking at first. Some misconceptions I had:
1. Note-taking does not take the pleasure away from reading
Note-taking doesn’t have to take more mental effort than reading. It can be broken into low-effort activities that build into something great.
Additionally, you can still read “for pleasure.” Not all my reading goes through my note-taking process.
2. Note-taking is not mindlessly writing down everything you read
Note-taking connects your consumption of knowledge with your creation of knowledge. If you mindlessly write down everything, there’s no room for creativity. Only take notes on the parts of your reading that interest you, or that you otherwise want to retain.
3. Note-taking is not boring
Some parts of note-taking look boring. For example, looking at a highlight you’ve made, then writing it in your own words, looks boring. But it’s fun. It’s just enough of a challenge to keep you engaged.
4. Google is not a substitute for notes
Your notes are not simple records of facts and figures. You would not get the same results by Googling anything you’d like to reference. Inherent in the system is your own thoughts.
My Zettelkasten notes are plain-text Markdown files
I have a lot of notes in Evernote, but those notes are distinct from notes in my Zettelkasten. Evernote is mostly for project-related or