Derek Sivers
The Icarus Deception - by Seth Godin

The Icarus Deception - by Seth Godin

ISBN: 1591846072
Date read: 2013-01-11
How strongly I recommend it: 8/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

VERY interesting. Seth is moving from talking about business to talking about being an artist in the broad sense of anyone who creates (and ships!) something daring and new. I loved the distinction between the industrialist and the artist, as it helped me give a term for something I'd experienced: not being able to relate at all to those who just want to grow business for business' sake, whereas I always saw my business like a creative art project. The book stays very high-level, so don't look for “TO-DO” type tips.

my notes

It’s far more dangerous to fly too low than too high, because it feels safe to fly low.

We shortchange not only ourselves but also those who might benefit from our work.

Figure out how to realign your comfort zone with today’s new safety zone,

Most painters, it turns out, aren’t artists at all - they are safety-seeking copycats.

Commit to the frightening work of flying blind, of taking a stand, and of making something new, complex, and vital.

What’s scarce is trust, connection, and surprise.

If your team is filled with people who work for the company, you’ll soon be defeated by tribes of people who work for a cause.

It’s the bridges between people that generate value.

Do you think we don’t need your art, or are you afraid to produce it?

The time their employees spend with customers (and the loyalty and enthusiasm it generates) creates more value than does the machine in the factory.

Success turns not on being the low-price leader but on being the high-trust leader.

Industrialism brought hospitals and CD players and the Egg McMuffin. What could be bad about that? The change in culture went further than most expected. We have changed the very nature of our dreams.

The industrialist needs you to dream about security and the benefits of compliance. The industrialist works to sell you on a cycle of consumption (which requires more compliance). And the industrialist benefits from our dream of moving up the corporate ladder, his ladder.

Capitalism is driven by failure.
Industrialization is about eliminating the risk of failure.
“Too big to fail” is the goal of every industrialist,
but “too big to fail” means that capitalism is no longer functioning.

It’s now cheaper and more efficient to make edgy, amazing products for the weird edge cases than it is to push yet another average product onto the already overloaded average people in the middle.

Better sorry than safe.

"Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves." - Rainer Maria Rilke

The Forbes 400: the lucky few who have won the corporate lottery. Like most lotteries, this is a loser’s game, with the odds against us.

We can’t suddenly quit a job and then race to find a form of art that will pay off before the next mortgage payment is due. Creating art is a habit, one that we practice daily or hourly until we get good at it.

What matters now:
Stories that spread
Humanity: connection, compassion, and humility
And here’s the thing: All six of these are the result of successful work by artists.

Leadership puts the leader on the line.

If you ask someone for the rule book on how to lead, you’re secretly wishing to be a manager. Leaders are vulnerable, not controlling, and they are taking us to a new place.

We seek out human originality and caring.

What we are drawn to is the vulnerability and transparency that bring us together.

Our revolution is turning most business into show business.

when they move from task to show, they are adding far more value than ever before.

Connection requires emotional labor: a little more emotional labor is often worth a lot.

The race to the bottom is lower prices, find cheaper labor.
The other race is the race to the top, the opportunity to be the one they can’t live without.

Delivering more for more.

It’s not what you’ve got; it’s how brave you’re prepared to be.

There are problems waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound.

Before the revolution: Virtually all musicians aren’t picked by a label and are invisible nonentities. Of those who are picked, 98 percent fail in the marketplace. Of the remaining 2 percent, less than half a percent ever receive a single royalty check as a result of their recorded music. Ever. So we have a world where the odds of being signed are close to zero and the odds of getting a check as a result of your sales, even if you are signed, is even closer to zero. After the revolution: A musician who sells two (two!) copies of a song on iTunes makes more money than she would have earned from a record label for selling an entire CD for seventeen dollars. There are more musicians making more music being heard by more people and earning more money than ever before.

Now, multiply what happened to music by a million.
Multiply it by consulting, coaching, and design.
Multiply it by manufacturing, speaking, and nonprofits.
Multiply it by whatever it is you care enough to do.
That’s what after looks like.

When she makes her own art on her own terms, two things happen:
She unlocks her ability to make an impact, removing all the excuses between her current place and the art she wants to make.
And she exposes herself, because now it’s her decision to perform, not the casting director’s.
It’s her repertoire that’s being judged, not the dramaturge’s.

We can unteach bravery and creativity and initiative. And that we have been doing just that.

Sol LeWitt invented rules, algorithms, and instructions, and the craft of painting his work directly on the wall is handled by an uncredited painter.

An artist is someone who does something for the first time, something that touches another.

Who do you want your customers to become?

Zappos turned its customers into people who demand a higher level of service to be satisfied.
Amazon turned its customers into people who are restless with online stores that don’t work quite as well or quite as quickly.
Henry Ford turned his customers from walkers into drivers.

If your work is filled with the hope and longing for applause, it’s no longer your work - the dependence on approval has corrupted it, turned it into a process in which you are striving for ever more approval.

Myths aren’t about gods. They are about us. They are about humans acting human but doing it while wearing the cloaks of gods. They’re about our favorite person, our best possible self.

Myths are mirrors, paths to walk, and bars to be exceeded.

We repeat them until they not only sound true but are true.

One definition of propaganda: It benefits the teller, not the recipient.

The feedback that comes from popularity becomes an addiction. How does the popular one stay popular? The cycle of short-term pleasing. Instead of standing up for things he believes in, he calculates what the audience wants to hear right now.

Six Daily Habits for Artists
Sit alone; sit quietly.
Learn something new without any apparent practical benefit.
Ask individuals for bold feedback; ignore what you hear from the crowd.
Spend time encouraging other artists.
Teach, with the intent of making change.
Ship something that you created.

If you owned a conference facility, what would you do with it? Of course, you could own it, at least a day at a time.

If you could lead a tribe (customers, coworkers, fellow scientists), which tribe would you lead?

The entrepreneur often needs an exit in sight. But the impresario takes what’s available and makes magic.

Industrialists see the world as broken or fixed.
Artists see the world as a series of projects to be built.

The industrialist asks, “How can I use this to make gradual improvements in the systems I have?”
The artist wonders, “How can I break this?” or “Is it interesting?”
How do I get more? vs. How do I give more?
Where is the map? vs. Where is the wilderness?
Do I have enough money? vs. Have I made enough art?

We don’t have a humility shortage
We don’t have too many citizens actively sharing their best and most generous ideas
We don’t have too many caring leaders eagerly building up dignity among their followers

The rewards for creating art are not present at its creation. That’s because the art isn’t truly art until it has touched someone else.

When your art fails, make better art.

Fly closer to the sun. Become naked and vulnerable. Make a connection.

It’s precisely the high-wire act of “this might not work” that makes original art worth doing.

We make the art and then we get the feedback, but the art must happen first. If we’re in love with the feedback and trying to manipulate the applause we get, we’ll cease to make the art we’re capable of.

Art is a commitment to a process and to a direction and to generosity, not to a result.

The twenty-four-foot-high diving board: after that first jump, the deflowered leapers always do the same thing. They get out of the water, run to the steps, climb right back up, and do it again. Safety zone adjusted, comfort zone aligned. For now. And the opportunity is to make it a habit.

Artists can’t afford to be fragile.

It wasn’t unusual for writers like Trollope and Dickens to write forty or more books over a career - while keeping a day job. You sat down and you wrote and then you were done. Starting in the 1950s, though, when writing became godlike, when creating the great American novel had a lot of kamiwaza associated with it, the drinking started and so did the blocking. It was easier to talk about making art than it was to actually do it.

We’re drawn to connect with people doing art. They are us at our best.

It takes confidence and guts to intentionally create tension.

In the connection economy, the fearful are disconnected. They are the ones who are punished, not by sinking but by being isolated.

If you rely on external motivation to be your best self, then you will have ceded responsibility and authority to someone else. You will be judged by how well your boss does at motivating you, not based on who you are.

Psychologist Angela Duckworth has outlined elements they call grit.

because they believe they have no choice, not if they wish to be who they are.

then processes that event into something that will allow a bigger impact next time.

turns every obstacle into a learning process

Grit exists whether or not it leads to measurable external success. Grit is its own reward.

Consciously set long-term goals that are difficult to attain and do not waver from these difficult goals, regardless of the presence of feedback. If you’ve sacrificed your long-term compass at the altar of instant feedback, you might enjoy some short-term achievement, but you’ve given up your grit.

swallowed up by our passion, focused beyond all reason, deep into something we care about.

Blaming the system is soothing because it lets you off the hook. But why you were relying on the system in the first place?

Artists never stop looking for the disturbing truth behind the facade. When reality arrives, they won’t be surprised, because they saw it coming. Sometimes they even encouraged it to come.

My work is always about connecting with the audience, and that connection brings vulnerability with it. Here I am, I have to say. Here is what I think, not what someone else said, not what some study said.

Willing to stand up in front of people and own what I have to say.

“Don’t Fix Me; Love Me for What’s Broken” : When our friend shares a litany of problems and explains why he’s stuck, he’s not asking for a solution; he’s asking for empathy and understanding. But why won’t he try to fix his problems? Perhaps they have become a crutch, a companion, perhaps a best friend for him now. Why not lean forward and use every tool available to take the huge steps to actually go forward? Because forward is risky.

When those in power want to ensure that the masses buy what they sell, they shame those who apparently can’t afford to buy what they need to fit in.

Edmund Bergler, “the megalomaniac pleasure of creation produces a type of elation which cannot be compared with that experienced by other mortals.”

The community responds to a courageous act by seeking to shame the courageous one.

Shame is the soul killer. The artist, then, combines courage with a fierce willingness to refuse to accept shame.

Make art that moves the audience of your choice.

Only a self-negating artist reads his Amazon reviews and the Twitter feedback on his work. He will learn nothing and will amplify his lizard brain’s certainty of his worthlessness.

With our true friends we let down our guard, set aside our armor, and open ourselves up. We’re vulnerable and trusting.

In school we teach kids to earn high scores and to comply and to meet the standards of their teachers and parents. But what if those things aren’t part of your agenda?

Reality TV offers us the dream of fame at the expense of our dignity.

Busy is the same as brave.
A mentor is going to change your life.
Waiting to get picked is the next step.
There is a secret, and you will soon learn it.

When I'm feeling the resistance, I’m thrilled because resistance is the shadow of art. No art, no resistance.

Yves Klein photo: Notice where Klein is facing. This is not a man intent on self-harm. It is someone comfortable with the void, eager to see what he will discover.

Once I realized that the cold sweat, the palpitations, the wily stalling, the insecurity, and the fear were part of making art, I was able to relax into my work.

When the resistance shows up, I know that I’m winning. Not my fight against it, but my fight to make art.

The resistance is not something to be avoided; it’s something to seek out.

Effort is rarely correlated with how much the audience cares.

The dangerous addiction is to keep expanding the audience until we find people who hate our work. And then our reflex is to listen to those people, to the haters, to the exclusion of those we sought to serve in the first place.

“Make good art” is Neil Gaiman’s prescription for whatever ails you.
If it’s not working, then make better art.
If you don’t know how to make better art, learn.
Train yourself to ship. Ship small art. Then ship medium art. Then ship world-changing, scary, change-your-underwear art.

Quiet your cleverness.

The trick isn’t coming up with an interpretation of events that allows you to maintain your worldview; it is to accept what happens without stopping to interpret it according to your biases.

The ability to see the market and the technology and the talent as it is, instead of how you want it to be (or fear it to be), is one of the secret skills of the successful creator.

When you’re wrong, the instinct is to blame the universe, not your worldview.
We rarely want to surrender our framework for how things work or question our assumptions.

The difficult part of seeing is setting aside what you’re sure you already know. When the Web was young, I was already an “expert.”

You can’t accurately see until you abandon your worldview.
Your worldview is incredibly useful in everyday life - it’s the set of assumptions, biases, and beliefs you bring to the interactions you have with the world, and it saves a lot of time.
Because you don’t have to come to new conclusions after each interaction, it’s easier to process familiar inputs and easier to be consistent.
But your worldview, by its nature, keeps you from seeing the world as it is.
A lifetime spent noticing begins to turn into the ability to see what others can’t.

Successful people are good at labeling people and situations and ideas. The problem with labels is that once they’re applied, it’s impossible to see what lies beneath. When the world changes, then, our labels cease to function and we’re blind to the opportunities.

Artists learn to see all over again. They learn to forgo labels and bring the fresh instead. Art is the act of pointing a light at the darkness.

If people are listening to or watching or buying something and you don’t get it, inquire as to why. Learn to see through their eyes.

The goal is to have so many pattern rules and so many labels and be aware of so many worldviews that they swirl together and allow you to become naive all over again. To be naive is to abandon your hard-earned worldview. It means seeing the world without prejudice and accepting it as it is, as opposed to the way you’re expecting it to be.

Everyone should learn to code.
Once you know how to make something, it changes how you see things.
Once you know how to assemble an electronic device, every computer seems a bit less mysterious.
Once you know how to give a speech, you see things in the speeches others give.
Learning how to make things turns you from a spectator into a participant.

Useless Questions:
What should I do next?
The answers don’t matter. At all.
You need the experience of repeated failure.
You need the good taste to see your own work for what it is, and you earn that taste not only not by emulating those who made art before you but by failing, by repeatedly discovering what works and what doesn’t.

Bob Dylan knows more about the history of American music than anyone you have ever met.
Fred Wilson can describe the details of a thousand successful venture investments.
This is an important foundation that makes it possible to do important work.

You don’t understand how the system works. It’s far easier to whine about unfair power brokers and unethical double-dealers than it is to dive into the dynamics of how things are actually made and sold.

They don’t speak the language; they are out of sync with what’s being bought, with what’s hot, with the needs of the audience with the power to pick them.

Use more guts to find your blank slate.

Robert Irwin carefully finishing the back of a painting.

Successful writers, programmers, entrepreneurs, graphic artists: when they were younger, feeling the pain of being outsiders, have chosen to live a life of standing out, not fitting in.

No one ever gets talker’s block. No one wakes up, discovers he has nothing to say, and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down.

The reason we don’t get talker’s block is that we’re in the habit of talking without a lot of concern for whether or not our inane blather will come back to haunt us.
Talk is cheap. Talk is ephemeral. Talk can be easily denied. We talk poorly and then, eventually (or sometimes), we talk smart.
We get better at talking precisely because we talk. We see what works and what doesn’t and, if we’re insightful, do more of what works.
How can one get talker’s block after all this practice?
Writer’s block isn’t hard to cure. Just write. Write poorly.
Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.
Do it every day. Every single day.
Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing).
Tell us how to do something. If you know you have to write something every single day, even a paragraph, you will improve your writing.

The World’s Worst Boss is you. If you had a boss who wasted as much of your time as you do, she’d be fired.

How often people choose to fail when they go out on their own.

Hiding from the real work, the stuff you actually get paid to accomplish.

If your work is to do art, then doing art is what you ought to be organizing your energy and your time around. Excuses aren’t welcome; the work (your work) that connects is all we are seeking.


Find someone who does every checklist task you do, probably better than you do it. Take the part of your job you can describe in a manual, and hire someone to do it. Find something to do but to do it so well that it more than paid for the person you just hired to do your old job.

Then you can spend all your time not just imagining a bigger, better future but also making it happen.

If you didn’t have to spend your time in meetings and reacting to incoming, no one would be standing in the way of your ability to generate value and insight and forward motion. The people with more leverage than you don’t work any harder than you do. They’ve hired people to do that. No, the people with more leverage than you do are making better art.


Entrepreneurs often do this when they raise money from venture capitalists. The VCs end up on the board; they are the ones who demand quarterly results and who scour spreadsheets and corporate-strategy decks and then give their permission. Painters do this when they sign on with a gallery instead of selling their work directly to the public. Musicians do it when they give away all their rights to a record label

The trade-off is that you will give up the freedom to decide what sort of art you’re going to make.


People succeed with a breakthrough or the creation of connection then work hard to ensure that they never have to do it again. They turn one original restaurant into a chain of a hundred restaurants, ensuring that the insight and innovation will never have to be repeated.

Our fear of having to do it again, means that we sign up for sequels, structure, and systems. Instead of aggressively pursuing the freedom to succeed or fail with the next thing,

Get as many people as possible into one room. And then go somewhere else.

Organize the talented. Connect the disconnected.

Yves Klein said, “My paintings are only the ashes of my art.” For him, the creation of the work was the art, and the canvas or the photo or the fake newspaper was merely the souvenir.

Art isn’t merely what Pollock put on the canvas; in some ways, the canvas is just the ashes of his art.

This is why art is rarely for the masses. But that’s fine, because the masses matter less than they ever did before.
The masses are interested in what’s popular, and the weird, the ones who get the joke, have more influence than ever in bringing ideas to them.

Complaining is stupid. Either act or forget. - Stefan Sagmeister

Yes, change your tactics, and often. Agility pays. But no, don’t give up your strategy of making art.

Isn’t it interesting that we never say, “I am a broken arm” or “I am cancer”? We understand that these are things that happen to us; they are not who we are.
And yet we say, “I am afraid,” and “I am a failure.”
Of course, afraid isn’t who we are; afraid is something that happened to us.

To reverse Descartes: You are. So think.

A problem is a chance for you to do your best. - Duke Ellington

The lizard’s tactics push you to fall in love with the impossible project, with the impossible dream, with the worthy but ultimately doomed mission. After all, if your quest is one that can’t possibly be achieved, how can anyone blame you for not achieving it?

Infinite games are played for the privilege of playing. The purpose of an infinite game is to allow the other players to play better. The goal of your next move is to encourage your fellow game players to make their next moves even better.

German word: funktionslust. It describes the love of doing something merely for the sake of doing it, not simply because it’s likely to work. Not because it’s his job but because he can.

Artists play.

We don’t analyze our return on investment or seek shortcuts. We are playing, not working, and the long way is often the best way to get to where we’re going, because sometimes we’re not going anywhere.

You will never be able to contribute enough reassurance to the artist.

Artists need significant reassurance that they have chosen a worthy path and that you have their back.

Push the artist to be more committed, not less. Push for more focus and edge and weirdness, not less.

The artist doesn’t need to be given an out to avoid making art. The artist doesn’t need reminders about reality or lawyers or regulations or even the rules of physics. The artist merely needs to be encouraged and cajoled and supported to make better art.