The Penguin Latte Podcast #20 – Uri Bram on Publishing a Newsletter with 50,000 Subscribers, How to Enjoy Writing, and Statistical Errors We Make Everyday

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Warning: what follows is a communion of two souls in a chance encounter.

Uri Bram is the publisher of The Browser — a weekly newsletter curated by Uri and his team, read by over 50,000 subscribers. He’s written two books: Thinking Statistically and The Business of Big Data. Uri is also the designer of three games: Lettercat, Person Do Thing, and Days Old.

Uri and I had never spoken before we recorded this episode. And neither had I heard of The Browser prior to two weeks before this post. The morning I discovered their work was the morning I became brighter, smarter, more entertaining, or at the very least, half as much as the folks working hard to produce the world’s favorite curation newsletter.

I kept scrolling through their site.

I was floored.

Their website is topnotch. The giraffe mascot is cute as all hell.

Most important, they collect only the finest, most entertaining and thought provoking articles on the Internet. I’m incredibly impressed at their high bar for quality. I promise that any article chosen by their hard working team is worth the read. This isn’t your typical buzzfeed bullshit. And nor is it as high brow as The New Yorker. The content they collect is fun, interesting, hilarious, and full of humanity. Reading articles from The Browser is now a part of my evening reading routine. It’s making me less stupid, and it’ll make you less stupid, too.

In this conversation, we discuss Uri’s writing process at length. Uri’s a much more experienced writer than I am. And I learned so much about how difficult it is to organize hundreds, if not thousands of ideas in a book. We also discuss content curation (not creation), and why The Browser is world-class at it, game design, meditation, getting unstuck, going for walks and getting out in nature, how regular people can benefit from learning statistics, and much more.

So grab your favorite coffee and please enjoy our talk!

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The highest benchmark for every creator

Two friends asked me if content creators should have separate channels. One channel for business content (whatever that means). Another for personal content.

If you think your personal life is more interesting than your job (content creation is a job), yes.

And if that’s true, then you must know that you’re boring yourself and your audience with your content. Listen to the voice that’s begging you to do something totally off the cuff. Don’t make your audience navigate extra links. Deliver the goods up front.

If your job is to tell good stories, no. All good content creators know this. Their job is to tell good stories. Their job is to express themselves through stories about people, places, products, and ideas.

Not everything personal needs to be about you. John Daub makes personal YouTube videos even though he rarely talks about himself. John Daub loves Japan, and so he makes videos about Japan. He doesn’t have a separate channel about his life. Japan is his life.

The highest benchmark for every creator isn’t a million subscribers or followers. No, the highest benchmark is a story you never get tired of telling.

“If you can tell a good story, you will always have a job”

John Daub

PS: A job should be challenging, rewarding, and something you’re proud of. I spoke with John Daub a few weeks ago about what it means to have a job that hits all 3 of those qualities. It’s one of the shorter episodes of the podcast, but one of the most beautiful conversations I’ve ever had. I hope you’ll have a listen. It’s magical.

328: Thoughts on quitting for everyday of the year

For those who want to quit,

To quit writing is to take “packing it in” to the extreme. By quitting, you’re packing everything in. All your potential to change someone’s life, shoved back into your prefrontal cortex, never to be seen again.

I’ve almost quit writing these daily posts 328 times. Every morning when I show up to write, I have the choice: write, or don’t write.

But that choice isn’t mutually exclusive to my daily blog.

I’ve almost quit writing my weekly newsletter 10 times.

And I’ve almost quit doing my podcast 17 times.

I’ve come close to quitting so often because I tried to do everything like everyone else. I tried to market my work according to so-and-so. I tried to write about so-and-so topic because it’s popular. I thought I had to be Tim Ferriss to make a 2 hour interview as compelling as a dog chasing its tail. And I thought I had to write a newsletter to rake in oodles of cash.

What’s kept me afloat?

By knowing that if I were to join the military, I wouldn’t last a second.

The best part of starting your own projects is the freedom to do things your way. You need discipline, but you don’t need the same structure as everyone else. You need to organize, but nobody neds to know that you’re terrible at tracking your marketing assets.

Writing is rarely going to be fun, but you can make it fun. You make writing fun by making it rewarding. Jumping around in a bounce house is fun for 12 minutes (more if you’re on LSD), but is it rewarding? The most fun things I’ve ever done were the most challenging. And the most challenging things I’ve ever done were the most rewarding.

If you like writing, but you begrudge it like Thanksgiving dinner with your Uncle Craig, write about something else. This applies to everything. Podcasting, making YouTube videos, starting a business, running a non-profit..

If you like the idea, but you don’t like acting out the idea, try adding a little spice.

The Penguin Latte Podcast #14 – Andrew Barry on Flow States, Life in South Africa, Good Books, and Living Curiously

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Recording this episode was like frolicking in a bounce house for adults.

Andrew Barry is one of the most humble and joyful people I’ve ever met. He’s completely shattered all of my previous notions about what a CEO “needs” to be: fast-talking, a phone in each hand, scheduling meetings and forgetting their child’s birthday parties. Andrew’s life is proof that no matter how busy you are, there’s always time for a little curiosity. (Or in Andrew’s case, much curiosity.)

So, who is Andrew Barry? He’s the CEO of Curious Lion – a company that helps clients scale and improve their online learning. Andrew is also an avid blogger who writes about creativity, education, decision making, and group learning.

This is a far-reaching and wide ranging conversation, much like Andrew’s own openness to the world and it’s people. We talk Zen philosophy, Aldous Huxley, meditation, writing, music, flow states, life in South Africa, and so, so much more. We could have spent hours talking about every nook and cranny about life and growth. So expect to see Andrew on the podcast again sometime in the future.

Please enjoy!


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The work of a creative professional starts with a signature

What does a creative professional do, exactly?

Do they show up to a marketing firm with a bunch of coloring books and crayons?

Do they throw paint everywhere and make a bunch of abstract art and then try to sell it to advertising agencies?

Do they run B2B slam poetry gatherings over Zoom?

That stuff is cool, but the creative professional likes to get paid.

So what do they do to get paid?

They look at your organization’s copywriting, marketing assets, leftover zoom videos, blog posts and articles, and they make something useful. The creative professional takes a bunch of disparate stuff, stuff that sort of has a coherent message, and they find the signal in the noise.

The creative professional connects the dots using their signature.

Mark Woollen & Associates, the team behind my favorite movie trailer, has a signature. I get goosebumps every time I watch their brilliant piece for The Social Network.

The late Toonami had a signature. Their nighttime commercials on Cartoon Network created a generation of lifelong fans. For the Toonami faithful, exciting commercials are synonymous with the (sadly, now defunct) Toonami brand.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find your signature right away. But if you’re like all the others, it’ll take you a very long time to find it.

So what’s the payoff of spending months, maybe years, looking for your signature?

Liberation. You’ll no longer be oppressed by the temptation of the cliched and popular. You’ll start writing about your weekly hiking trips. You’ll start recording podcasts about black coffee and flannel hoodies. You’ll no longer bore yourself with what you make. And the people who work with you won’t be bored, either.

It’s the creative professional’s job to rid the world of boring stuff. And the only way to do that is to start developing a signature. If you don’t, you’ll end up making stuff that’s like all the other stuff out there.

Your signature is a currency that increases in value the more you spend it. The more you use your signature, the better you’ll be at using it. A stronger signature will lead you to bigger and better projects. Bigger and better projects means bigger and better pay, which leads to more opportunities…you can see where this is going.

And sure, people can counterfeit your signature. But like a fake dollar bill, the forgery will be obvious once you hold it under the light.

The point of creativity is to solve problems in interesting ways. The creative professional gets to show up, armed with a pen in hand, prepared to do something that might blow up in their face. But the risk isn’t as big as it seems. There’s always a silver lining in every failed project.

For the creative professional, the world is like a giant contract. They go out and sign their name here, here, and here.

A Conversation with Phil Desforges “The goal is not uniqueness, it’s not originality, it’s to be you. That’s the only goal”

Hi all. Welcome to another conversation about the pursuit of creative excellence. I’m so happy that I finally get to share this episode with you! What follows is an intimate, insightful, and entertaining conversation with a true artist — Phil Desforges. I highly recommend you browse through Phil’s portfolio while you listen to this episode.

Talking Points

  • How Phil developed his color palette
  • The art of building a world in your art
  • How photography saved Phil’s life
  • Why men should open up about their feelings
  • Sensitivities to music
  • Why Stoicism is important to Phil
  • Phil’s favorite movies and directors
  • On Casey Neistat
  • Following your gut vs your reasoning
  • The comfort zone and consistency conundrum
  • On Beeple
  • The nuances of creating on certain mediums, thoughts on Tik Tok
  • Getting inspired by the right creators
  • The flaw of originality
  • A message from Pakistan
  • Spending a week without creating
  • Phil’s favorite coffee and tea
  • Memento Mori
  • “The output doesn’t matter; it’s the outcome.”
  • On being bored productively
  • “Less counting, more doing.”
  • The necessary constraint of mortality
  • Sonder and This Is Water
  • We are all living in our own bubble
  • On current world conflicts, and feeling helpless
  • Honing in on the skills you can’t teach
  • On the beauty of flow
  • Why it’s so tough to be natural on camera
  • What modern people are afraid of
  • On geeking out about the things you love, and creating around that
  • Phil’s message for stuck creatives

Mentions in this episode

Salvadar Dali

Casey Neistat

Sonder

This Is Water by David Foster Wallace

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

Memento Mori

Symbols of Transformation by Carl Jung

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Beeple

Everything Is Fucked by Mark Manson

John Daub and OnlyinJapan

David Perell

Two groups of words

Proactive. Ambitious. Productive. Efficient.

I like those words.

Those words convey movement. When we embody any of those words, we signal to others that we mean business. Because even when we’re sitting in the backseat of a car, we can still get things done. We can listen to a podcast. Or we can write down ideas for our next blog post. Seize every opportunity!

And I like these words. Centered. Harmonious. Aware. Intentional.

Those words convey stillness. I get anxious when I’m merely productive. But I feel better when I remember this second group of words.

We’re familiar with the signals and messages of the first group. But what’s healthier is when we combine the two groups to form a compound behavior.

We can be…

Productive and centered; harmonious and ambitious; proactive and aware; efficient and intentional.

We could describe ourselves and our work with one word. But nobody is only productive. And nobody is only intentional, either. We’re always combinations of two or more qualities.

This might sound stupid, but

it’s not.

Let yourself say the stupid thing. As long as you’re not being offensive for the sake of being offensive, you’re fine.

I flinch when I hear myself editing my words out loud. This happens either before or after I speak. Sometimes both. “This might sound stupid, but…” or, “that sounded so…”

But when I watch myself being authentically stupid, without hesitation or self-editing, that’s when I start smiling. I’m not smiling because I enjoy hearing myself saying stupid things. I’m smiling because I wasn’t holding back. I was fully present in my stupidity.

Authenticity doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t apologize for saying something unwarranted. Authenticity means no hesitation, no editing.

When you’re editing live in front of somebody, you’re no longer present in the conversation. You’re in the future when you start with “this might sound…” and you’re in the past when you say “that sounded so…” But you’re in the present when you say the stupid thing. There is no ego in the present. Only your stupid Self.

Speaking mode, listening mode, writing mode. All for the present.

Be here now, be authentic, be stupid.

The Penguin Latte Podcast #5: Audrey Hebert On Laughing at The Sliminess of The Human Condition

[A note on audio: this was recorded in my room. I only have one mic. This was the best that I could do given my current equipment and setup. In retrospect, we could have leaned into the mic, but I wasn’t thinking about that. So, pardon that.]

Hey guys, welcome to another episode of The Penguin Latte Podcast! Today I’m joined by my girlfriend, Audrey Hebert. Audrey is a stand-up comedian and visual artist. In 2019, she won the funniest student contest at UC Santa Cruz. She’s one of those comedians that makes us laugh at the sliminess of the human condition. Seeing her perform always reminds me not to take myself too seriously. What I’ve learned from her comedy routine is that we are all just pissing, shitting, slimey, smelly monkeys in space who have no clue about anything.

You can find Audrey Hebert’s art on her Instagram page by clicking here.

“Sometimes you just have to do things that will make you feel like pure shit in order to get to do the things you want, and to get to a place to where you feel comfortable.”

Audrey Hebert

Talking Points:

  • Our favorite passage from The War of Art (3:00)
  • Time slots in stand-up comedy (6:00)
  • Dealing with hecklers (12:00)
  • Being inspired from local comedians (17:00)
  • Why being yourself on stage is important (21:00)
  • Gary Goleman’s gigantic list of tips for comedians (22:00)
  • Leaning into your intuition as a way to find your true fans (24:00)
  • The element of surprise in comedy (and cooking) (25:00)
  • Writing jokes on the day of the show (27:00)
  • The one Google Doc of Jokes (31:00)
  • On writing and drawing (34:00)
  • Cringing at our old work (37:00)
  • Strangest places for comedic inspiration (40:00)
  • Crowdworking (43:00)
  • A comedian who asked her parents to heckle her (45:00)
  • Why certain types of comedy age badly (47:00)
  • The Monty Python Debate (48:00)
  • On Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld (49:00)
  • On the brilliance of Nathan Fielder (50:00)
  • On the brilliance of Niel Cicierega and Nathan Fielder (57:00)
  • Why we need comedy (1:00:00)
  • Audrey’s message for people who want to get started in stand-up comedy… (1:13:00)
  • …and for getting better at performing in front of people (1:15:00)
  • Parting words of encouragement for those who are stuck (1:20:00)

Show Notes

The War of Art

Nathan Fielder

Monty Python

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Niel Cicierega

Gary Goleman’s 366 Tips for Comedians (Much of this applies to more than stand-up comedy. See, The War of Art, Mark Twain quotes, and other names I’m sure you’ll recognize.)

The Penguin Latte Podcast #3: Alexander Hugh Sam on Writing Without Censoring Yourself

Hey! Today I’m joined by Alexander Hugh Sam. Alex is the author of one of my favorite newsletters: The Kaizen Newsletter. Alex is unafraid of expressing himself through his writing. If you’re scared of opening up what Austin Kleon calls, “your cabinet of curiosities,” then I highly recommend you check out Alex’s writings, which you can find here. He parses out important lessons from anime, tech, product design, and hockey. It’s fresh, unique, and definitely worth the read. I’ve been a big fan of anime since I was ten years old, so seeing his newsletter pop up in my inbox is always a treat.

Please enjoy, and take care!

“I use writing to have a conversation with myself. I use it as a way to tell myself that it’s okay to fail. Even though you failed, we know that you learned a lot of lessons from your experience.”

Alexander Hugh Sam – @alexhughsam | The Kaizen Newsletter

Talking Points

  • Self-improvement philosophy from anime (2:00)
  • Writing as the best way to solve your own problems (10:00)
  • Being a part of Write of Passage (12:00)
  • Writing about what interests you (14:00)
  • The nuances of optionality, choices, and failure (18:00)
  • How stand out as someone with a broad range of interests (22:00)
  • The struggle of defining yourself (28:00)
  • Letting your audience dictate your art/finding your 1,000 true fans (31:00)
  • Does “success” matter in life? (34:00)
  • How to publish a blog post everyday (36:00)
  • The challenge of writing short pieces (39:00)
  • The benefits of deadlines (42:00)
  • Structured procrastination and “precrastinating” (44:00)
  • Alex’s message to creative people who struggle with accepting their interests (51:00)

Show Notes and Resources

Alex’s Newsletter

Write of Passage

Want to start your own newsletter? Here’s an easy to use platform called Substack. Some of the world’s most popular newsletters run on substack. I even run my newsletter on Substack (but it’s not yet the world’s most popular. Yet.)