Show Your Work! (Austin Kleon) – Book Summary, Notes & Highlights

My rating: 9/10

6 minutes read

Intro

A transformative guide that urges creatives to share their creative journey, not just the final outcomes. It emphasizes the value of openness, encouraging artists to showcase their process, inspirations, and evolution.

The book in 3 sentences

  • Whatever you do, you have to constantly put yourself out there in order to be seen.
  • Small steps turn into long distances over time; don’t stop sharing.
  • Even a beginner could teach valuable lessons to someone that’s just a step behind on their journey.

Impressions​

This is indeed a short read that may be too short for some people out there, but in my opinion it is as impactful as it could be. The author gets to the point fast without wasting the reader’s time. The book has the potential positively impact and ignite careers, especially for those working within the creative field.

Who's this book for

Everyone. Austin’s book, in my opinion, should have a place in everyone’s libraries. And when I say everyone, I do mean people from all walks of life. Yes, the book’s main audience is indeed creative people, but every single human being can benefit from the core ideas presented here. Amazing short read!

How this book changed me

This book helped me shift from a perfectionist mentality to a doer mentality. I believe this is something many creatives struggle with. I was always afraid of showing work that I didn’t think it was perfect so I won’t be seen and/or judged in a negative way by my peers. But by far the biggest difference between a successful person and “the rest” is the work (whether good, mediocre, or even “bad”) the former type of person is continuously putting out there.

Top 3 quotes

  1. “In order to be found, you have to be findable.” — Austin Kleon
  2. “Put yourself and your work out there, every day, and you’ll start meeting some amazing people.” — Bobby Solomon
  3. “Whatever excites you, go do it. Whatever drains you, stop doing it.” — Derek Sivers

Book notes and summary

A new way of operating.

People always wonder how to promote themselves and comedian Steve Martin says “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” While that’s true, it’s not the whole truth because, as the author of the book states “In order to be found, you have to be findable.”

By building sharing into your creative routine, you’ll be able to attract an audience that resonates with your work and ideas. With this book, Austin Kleon is trying to create a beginner’s manual for self-promotion.

1. You don’t have to be a genius.

Stop believing in the “lone genius” myth – find a “scenius.” A term coined by musician Brian Eno that refers to an “ecology of talent.” More specifically, it’s the idea that lone geniuses were actually part of a group of people that contributed to their genius in different ways.

Good work isn’t created in a vacuum. Anyone can easily join a scenius in this day and age by simply using the internet. By taking advantage of the fact that we’re not more connected than ever.

Be an amateur. You have to be led by curiosity and not be afraid of making mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. Be in love with what you do and have fun sharing it. People can learn both from your successes or failures.

2. Think process, not product.

Picture this: you’re going to climb Mount Everest. You’ve probably seen at least once a picture of its summit, right? What a thing of beauty! And what an achievement that is! Think of Mount Everest as the product, the finished work.

However if you’d ask me I’d say that, while indeed Mount Everest is a gorgeous “product”, it’s the journey from stepping in your boots, to your journey to Kathmandu in Nepal, to seeing the mountain standing tall from far away, to waiting days (or even weeks) for the perfect climbing day at Base Camp. Now think about your process (and everything that happens in between, behind the scenes) as the journey.

Document everything that happens on that journey and don’t be afraid to share it.

3. Share something small every day.

“Overnight success is a myth.” If you really want to deconstruct someone’s success story, you’ll find out that they’ve been building towards that outcome with hard work and dedication.

Sharing something every has two advantages: creates a body of work and shows activity.

Don’t bother with perfection. You don’t know what works until you’ve tried everything. However, do always remember that anything you post online will become public so “Post as though everyone who can read it has the power to fire you.” (Lauren Cerand)

Turn your stock into flow in a little corner of the internet that you own (your website—a place nobody can steal from you). The “stock and flow” concept refers to turning small ideas you share every day (stock) into long-form content every now and then (flow).

4. Open up your cabinet of curiosities.

Share work and ideas that are not just your own. Sometimes sharing what or who influences you can paint a bigger picture on who you are. When doing that, be genuine and own all of it. Be open and honest. And, most importantly, make sure you give proper credit.

5. Tell good stories.

Imagine the difference between an original Picasso painting and a (really good) forgery. At first you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, but when an art curator sheds light on that fact, which one would you like to purchase? That’s the power of the story behind the original painting.

“When shown an object, or given a food, or shown a face, people’s assessment of it—how much they like it, how valuable it is—is deeply affected by what you tell them about it.” — Paul Bloom (psychology professor)

 

6. Teach what you know.

Share your trade secrets. This is especially true when it comes to creative people, yet most of them aren’t doing it because they fear competition. Creativity is different for everyone, and whether you’re using the same tools and frameworks on an identical project brief, the results won’t ever be the same. “Teaching people doesn’t subtract value from what you do, it actually ads to it.”

7. Don’t turn into human spam.

Find the time to be interested in something else other than your work. Everyone knows that in order to be a good writer, you need to know how to read first. Don’t just put your work out there and “turn into human spam” by only caring about what you do.

Be interested in others and look for collaborators or co-conspirators. Good work isn’t created in a vacuum. Engage with the community and artists that share your passion and exchange opinions. “If you want fans, you have to be a fan first.”

You want hearts, not eyeballs. When it comes to who you follow or who follows you back, don’t worry about quantity—focus on quality. “If you want followers, be someone worth following.”

Find your tribe. Online or offline (in real life), join meetings, conferences and find and connect with likeminded people. People that deeply share your passion and ideas. Make sure you keep these people close.

8. Learn to take a punch.

You’ve finally started to put your work out there and now you’re expecting people to like it, right? Because it is your work. You’ve poured your heart and soul into it.

Bad news? It’s not always going to go the way you want. There’s internet trolls and the so-called haters you’re going to have to deal with. You have to develop a thick skin.

Good news? You’ll learn to get over it. It’ll take practice, but you’ll learn to filter that negativity out and only care about the ones coming from the right people.

9. Sell out.

Some artists consider that making money off of their work means selling out. That’s the wrong way to look at it. You’re a citizen of the world. A world where you have to pay for your living. Just like the author mentions, “Some of our most meaningful and most cherished cultural artifacts were made for money.” You got to eat. We got to eat. They got to eat. Put a fair price on your work and don’t be afraid to sell it.

10. Stick around.

Perhaps the most important advice in this book is to never give up, whatever you do or wherever you find yourself on your journey. This, in my opinion, is what most people struggle with. I know I was (and still am sometimes). But you have to take it one day at a time.

Build a discipline around it and do whatever it takes to just keep going. You never know when success will strike. Focus on not losing momentum.

And last but not least, remember to take a break every once in a while. You’ll feel overwhelmed at some point—you’ll feel burnt out. That’s your cue to just walk away for a bit and come back refreshed.

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