Aug. 29, 2021

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon: how to embrace the art of beign findable

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About the author

Austin Kleon is the New York Times bestselling author of a trilogy of illustrated books about creativity in the digital age: Steal Like An Artist, Show Your Work!, and Keep Going. He’s also the author of Newspaper Blackout, a collection of poems made by redacting the newspaper with a permanent marker. His books have been translated into dozens of languages and have sold over a million copies worldwide. He’s been featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, PBS Newshour, and in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. New York Magazine called his work “brilliant,” The Atlantic called him “positively one of the most interesting people on the Internet,” and The New Yorker said his poems “resurrect the newspaper when everybody else is declaring it dead.” He speaks for organizations such as Pixar, Google, SXSW, TEDx, and The Economist. In previous lives, he worked as a librarian, a web designer, and an advertising copywriter. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and sons.


About the book

A book for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion, Show Your Work! is the followup to my New York Times bestselling guide to creativity, Steal Like An Artist. If Steal was a book about stealing influence from others, Show is about influencing others by letting them steal from you.

In ten tight chapters, I lay out ways to think about your work as a never-ending process, how to build an audience by sharing that process, and how to deal with the ups and downs of putting yourself and your work out in the world.

This book is not just for “creatives”! Whether you’re an artist or an entrepreneur, a student or a teacher, a hobbyist or a professional, it’s time to stop worrying and start sharing.



Like this episode? You might want to hear the three big ideas from Austin's first book Steal Like An Artist.


Big idea #1 — Show Your Work

The idea here is that your work doesn’t have to be done or perfect, or you don’t have to be an expert, in order to share something. Austin shares a quote that says “the real gap is between doing nothing and doing something”. As opposed to the real gap being between being good and great work.

Without showing your work, it’s harder to find your own voice, your own style and refining these as they’ve never really been exercised enough.

This isn’t about just self promotion, but about being findable by showing your work and being visible. This allows space for opportunities to happen, it allows people to stumble upon your work and find you.

You don’t even have to show a finished product. You can share a question you’re pondering, a behind the scenes process, something that didn’t work out, or an idea that’s in progress. And who knows who you might inspire by doing this.

This is really how punk started, as people saw others getting up on stage, playing terribly and saying, ‘I want to be terrible on stage too!’, or ‘I can do better than that’, and embracing the DIY way of expression.

Importantly, this isn’t just unique to creative projects or creative pursuits. This is absolutely relevant if you’re a thought leader on leadership, or an accountant who’s thinking about the future of financial reporting. Whatever you do, your way of thinking, doing things, operating, is worth sharing in some way, shape or form.


Big idea #2 — Show others how to do it

Teaching is a great way to show your work. And sometimes it feels less like self promotion, so it can be a nice gateway into showing your work more often. Showing your work is a gift, but even more so when you teach someone something.

Austin encourages us to share our secrets, our techniques, and our operating manuals of how we do what we do.

And before you worry about ‘copying’, just because you’ve shared, it doesn’t mean that people will put in the required time / effort / money to copy you. So we should be much less concerned about people copying us, and much more concerned about being invisible.

Some experts in the secretive art of barbecue are bucking the traditional trend and embracing this mindset. They’re sharing their secrets and will teach you everything. By doing that, many people are then very happy to pay the $10/$15/$20 to go eat the expert’s food because they realise the time and the effort that has gone into it, having seen the behind the scenes process. This is much more likely than them wanting to do it themselves, or certainly at a commercial level.

Austin also says the minute you learn something, you should share it. And we don’t have to be experts in order to share and start teaching things. In fact, amateurs are usually the best place to actually help other amateurs because they don’t have the curse of knowledge. Amateurs can actually be more helpful to another amateur who’s facing the same problem because they’ve experienced that same problem more recently.

Teaching is a constant cycle; share, learn, share, learn, share, that we need to make a habit.


Big idea #3 — Show up

Austin publishes something daily, and then he shares these daily posts in his excellent weekly newsletter. He is a big proponent of the compound effect or not breaking the chain, doing something daily, which sharpens your thinking and builds momentum, consistency, and improvement.

This is not an invitation to become human spam as he calls it. There’s a line between contributing and spamming and Austin suggests that the difference is that contributors will ‘shut up and listen’. They’ll connect with people through sharing their work, and stop to have conversations, rather than just pumping stuff out.

Most importantly though is that we shouldn’t quit. Those with long careers stick with it. They roll one project into the next one. They create, they assess, they think what worked well or what didn’t, and roll those lessons into the next project. They ride the highs and the lows, and remain focused on the work in front of them rather than the overwhelming thought of what’s next or the idea of doing this forever.

That said, we obviously need to find ways to recover and to restock our creative reserves and brain power through appropriate levels of rest, and also from finding inspiration from other places.


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