Derek Sivers posts from sivers.org
Derek Sivers posts from sivers.org
Time is personal. Your year changes when your life changes.
A new day begins when I wake up, not at midnight. Midnight means nothing to me. It’s not a turning point. Nothing changes at that moment.
A new year begins when there’s a memorable change in my life. Not January 1st. Nothing changes on January 1st.
I can understand using moments like midnight and January 1st as coordinators, so cultures and computers can agree on how to reference time. But shouldn’t our personal markers and celebrations happen at personally meaningful times?
Your year really begins when you move to a new home, start school, quit a job, have a big breakup, have a baby, quit a bad habit, start a new project, or whatever else. Those are the real memorable turning points — where one day is very different than the day before. Those are the meaningful markers of time. Those are your real new years.
This isn’t just selfish. You know your friends and family well enough to acknowledge these special days for them, too. The day that I most want to celebrate someone’s life has nothing to do with the calendar day that they were born.
The fourth Thursday in November is not when I feel most thankful. The 14th of February is not when I celebrate my romantic relationship. To force these celebrations on universal dates disconnects them from the meaning they’re supposed to celebrate. It’s thoughtless.
Celebrate personally meaningful markers. Ignore arbitrary calendar dates.
When did this year really begin for you?
That’s version infinity. First launch version 0.1.
I hear lots of business plans.
Most of them are trying to do a ton of things.
For example: “It’s a social networking e-commerce portal for live music, where everyone creates a profile to enter all their dates, if they’re a musician or venue, or their available dates if they’re a music fan. Then we connect the fans with artists’ dates. Then we can sell the tickets for the events, and give a digital download preview of the music. After the show, the artist uploads the video from the night, and people can purchase the video of the show they were at, and connect with other people who attended that same show to create tribes of people, who will recommend other music you may like if you like that. Oh and it will have a dating component, and real-time chat.”
It sounds like I’m exaggerating but this is unfortunately a very typical example.
I have to say, “OK. You know software version numbers? Mac OS version 10.4? 10.5? What you just described is version infinity. That’s everything it will ever do in the future. First focus on launching version 0.1.”
What’s the one crucial part of that giant plan? What’s the one killer feature that nobody else is doing? Get it launched with just that. Then add the rest later.
The book “Good to Great” studied hundreds of companies that started out as good, then at some point in their history became great.
They found that all of these companies had the “Hedgehog Concept.” They focused on the one thing they do best, and let go of the rest.
A fox is smart, with many tricks. A hedgehog only knows one trick: curl into a ball with its spikes out. But the fox’s many tricks are no match for the hedgehog’s one. A fox can’t eat a hedgehog. Many companies are trying to be the fox. The book says the winners are like the hedgehog.
Got a complex business idea? Break it down into its ingredients, and let the specialists do what they do best.
Video aspect? Let YouTube handle that part. E-Commerce aspect? Use Amazon’s system. Payments? Use Stripe.
Don’t reinvent any of these wheels. Focus on what’s left — what hasn’t been done.
Specialize at that one thing, and become that go-to company that nobody can beat in your niche.
(P.S. I think the term “version infinity” came from a talk with Jason Fried.)
Is there such a thing as too much freedom?
I’ve always used freedom as the compass to guide my decisions.
We moved a lot when I was a kid. I lived in five states and countries by the time I was 5.
I left home at 17 and went off to college as far away as I could.
I joined a circus for 10 years. Then I quit my last job in 1992, vowing to make a living making music and never have a job again.
A few years after I started my company, I delegated all of my responsibilities, making myself unnecessary to the operations of my company, so that I was free to go live anywhere and do anything.
My email was filtered by the customer service staff. Hardly any needed my personal reply, so I was free to go days without checking email.
I gave nobody my phone number, and said no to all meeting requests, so I was free to work on my own schedule with no appointments to interrupt.
I gave away most of my stuff, including my entire recording studio, to my employees. So all I had left were some clothes and my laptop. Free to travel lightly.
I eliminated all physical mail, setting my necessary bills to electronic payments, and had tax forms go to my accountant. I was free to move without notice.
I moved to London for a year, just because I could. I hardly told anyone I was gone. Most people thought I was still in Portland. Then I went to San Francisco for a few months, India for a month, and Iceland for a month.
Friends back home would say, “So what did you do in Iceland?” I’d say, “Same thing as you. Same thing I’d be doing anywhere else. Just programming, working, writing, reading, living.” Living the laptop life. Location agnostic.
Switching countries was like switching rooms in your house. Why not go sit in the den for a while? Why not do some writing in the kitchen for a change How about the back yard?
How about Berlin for a while? Brazil? Buenos Aires? Beijing? It’s a big world. Why not do my work in each of these places?
I could be anywhere, but didn’t have to be anywhere.
But even though I had freedom of location, I still had some responsibilities to my company — CEO/owner type stuff. And I was still the main programmer, so in all of these places, I’d still be working mostly on the backend programming, improving the site and service.
My company grew 1000% while I was gone, from 2002 to 2008. But once I left for good in 2008, I really had no more responsibilities at all, and might never again.
I had done it! I’d reached the final destination of my life-long pursuit of freedom! Awesome, and overwhelming. So… Wow. Now what?
Where do you go, when you can be anywhere, and don’t have to be anywhere?
What do you do, when you can do anything, and don’t have to do anything?
What if you had no ties? Nothing holding you to any one place. What if you had unlimited plane tickets? What if you never had to work again?
Is there such a thing as too much freedom?
This story isn’t coming to some conclusion where I answer the question. I’m still living the question.
Watch Elizabeth Gilbert’s great TED talk called “Your elusive creative genius”.
Absolutely amazing speech. Emotional, universal, insightful, educational, and funny.
She comes across so nonchalant, light, and conversational. Effortless.
I was there at the conference, and saw it in person. It was the hit of the conference.
When the conference was over, she asked me to walk with her back to her hotel, so we had a good 15 minutes to chat.
She told me she had finished her new book on New Year’s Eve (it was now mid-February), so I said, “Congrats! Have you been relaxing in the last 6 weeks since then?”
She said, “No! I started preparing that talk the very next day! I’ve been working on that little 18-minute speech full-time, almost 8 hours a day, for six weeks.”
Aha! Now that’s sprezzatura!
“Sprezzatura” is an Italian word that means “to hide conscious effort and appear to accomplish difficult actions with casual nonchalance.”
I really admire how much work it took to research, write, edit, then practice that speech so that it seemed effortless.
It inspires me twice.
First for its own sake: for being such a great talk.
Second for finding out how much work went into making it.
When you think someone is amazing by DNA or destiny, you can be inspired by their work because it’s so unattainably beautiful. You can be amazed and think, “I could never do that!”
But when you find out they’re amazing only because of unglamorous persistent sweaty hard work, you can be double-inspired, thinking, “Wow! I could do that!”
My old girlfriend was not a musician, so one day she said, “I would like to be a pop star. It’s so easy! They never have to work. They just hang out all the time, being famous.”
She was sincerely shocked when I told her about how it’s actually a lot of work.
Prince was my biggest musical hero in the mid-80s. I didn’t take him seriously until Miles Davis raved about him.
First I admired his music. It inspired me for its own sake.
But later I found out about his work ethic. Nonstop perfectionist rehearsals, 18-hour recording sessions, recording hundreds of songs just to release ten.
Discovering this was a major turning point in my life. I now had a workaholic musician role-model. It was attainable! Just by practicing, I could do that!
So as an artist, it’s good to practice and prepare so well that you can put on an effortless performance with sprezzatura. Let most people think you’re just a natural genius.
But then it’s also good for other artists if you quietly reveal how much work went into it, to inspire future generations to practice, practice, practice.
How to take a compliment
You would think this would be a basic life skill, but it seems almost nobody knows it, so please spread the word.
When someone gives you a compliment, what should you do?
Do you say, “What? No! Not at all. That’s ridiculous.” Do you give details of why you disagree?
That’s what most people do. They refuse it. They deny it.
But think of how inconsiderate that is.
It takes courage to give you a compliment. It’s a little vulnerable for someone to admit they like something about you, and then to go up to you and tell you so. So when they do, is that nice of you to argue with them about it? How do you think that makes them feel in that moment?
So, when someone gives you a compliment, what should you do?
Just say, “Thank you.”
It feels strange, but it’s the right thing to do.
It doesn’t mean you agree. You’re just thanking them for their vulnerable courage in that moment, for taking the trouble to tell you something nice.
Then sincerely return their interest. Ask their name, or something more about them.
This advice came from Livingston Taylor, and was originally aimed at musicians, since they often get compliments after a gig, and always actively disagree with these compliments. But everyone can use this simple life skill.
And if only 1% of those people…
A musician had manufactured 10,000 copies of his CD in anticipation of 10,000 orders that were sure to come through that week.
He had bought a quarter-page advertisement in the back of a magazine with a circulation of one million people.
He kept saying, “If only one percent of the people reading this magazine buy my CD, that’ll be 10,000 copies! And that’s only one percent!”
He bought 10,000 padded mailers and mailing labels. He converted his garage into a big mailing center.
He kept saying, “Maybe we can get like 10 percent! That’s 100,000! But worst case scenario — if only 1 percent — that’s still 10,000!”
The magazine issue came out, and... nothing. He bought an issue. There was his ad. But the orders were not coming in! Was something wrong? No. He tested it. Everything was working.
Over the next few weeks he received four orders. Total CDs sold: 4.
He forgot there was a number lower than one percent.
I think of this every time I hear business plans that say, “With over one billion iPhones sold, our app is sure to…”
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Grateful for this podcast
I LOVE this podcast. Thank you Derek for sharing your thoughts in this form. There’s no filler, fakeness. Each episode is succinct, powerful, insightful. Please keep sharing. Thank you for not falling prey to the long-winded podcast trend and staying true to your minimalist practicality.
Derek you’re a rare gem in earth
I’ve listened to podcasts since they became popular (years now) and have never left a comment, I’m inclined to do do now. You are a practical, logical, thoughtful person full of insight and it’s only right that it’s shared. Very refreshing!
Love it 💗
This is such a good podcast. The stories and way Derek delivers them are fun, memorable and impactful.
Love the podcast. Thanks Derek 💛