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Book Review: The Practice, Seth Godin

Seth Godin’s latest book, The Practice, reads like a manifesto about doing creative work, but beyond the apparent surface, it makes a beautiful, inspiring case for generosity and commitment in whatever we do.

Truth be told, I would probably not have started writing in my blog and publishing every day if I hadn’t read The Practice and felt inspired by it. Anyone looking to bring better into the world would benefit by reading it.

The concepts apply much more broadly than to work such as writing, music, or the visual arts. Arguably, we are creative in how we lead, how we solve problems, and how we interact with others, too. We can bring many of Godin’s ideas to bear in those dimensions of work as well.

As the title suggests, The Practice means doing the work we set out to do, day in, day out, despite adversity or resistance. Godin means it in the same sense as a musician or a professional athlete.

Beyond daily practice, the subtitle of the book, “Shipping Creative Work, “makes an important point. It’s not about doing work in secret, privately squirreling away the pages of a novel never to be published. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s the work of an amateur. It’s about what Godin calls “shipping,” a concept he comes back to again and again in his work. Simply put, it means putting work out there for the public to consume, to experience, to react. Shipping is sharing.

The focus on sharing is why I see The Practice as a book about generosity, perhaps even more so than creative work and discipline. The generosity that Godin calls for is both a generosity to ourselves and to our audience. The first chapter of the book is about trusting yourself, believing in your voice and your value. What better way to anchor a creative practice?

From there, Godin speaks about generosity itself, because doing creative work means leaving people and situations better off. “Artists have a chance to make things better by making better things. Contributing work to those whom they serve. Turning on lights, opening doors, and helping us not only connect to our better nature, but to one another.” (p 46)

This sort of creative generosity grounds our intent — again, not necessarily as artists but as agents of any kind of change in the world, change mediated by the things we make or do. Godin asks readers to take a long, hard look at the change we seek to make in the doing work that we do.

Intent brings in the other theme I found so powerful in this book, that of commitment. Intent gives us something to commit to. It’s why I see this book as so relevant to the practice of thought leadership as well. I don’t think it even counts as thought leadership if it isn’t grounded in some notion of what you are trying to change.

Intent galvanizes commitment. It’s what means enough that we are able to commit to it. It’s what powers us through creative blocks. In fact, Godin boldly claims that creative blocks don’t exist. Creative blocks dissipate when we show up and do the work, again and again, and elevate the commitment to the courage to ship our stuff. Not explicitly how Godin phrases it, but it’s a chain reaction. Intent, commitment, courage.

Repeat the cycle, and that’s The Practice.

Purchase from a local independent bookstore: Godin, Seth. 2020. The Practice. Portfolio / Penguin.

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