A Brief Summary of the First Four Chapters of “Show Your Work” By Austin Kleon (And How the Principles Can Be Applied to Real Life)

Last week I just finished the first book of the new year. Ok, I’ve been trying to work through a few others – one to sharpen my financial knowledge, and one to help me understand meditation as I begin a practice. But Show Your Work by Austin Kleon is one of those that was a short, easy read, yet packed with so much useful information. As someone who aspires to go into content creation and marketing, I found that the principles apply not just to any individual sharing their own work to the world, but can also be applied to the largest corporation, that is proud of the work their employees are doing, is proud of their customers for being loyal to their brand, and that wants the world to see how they all think different (yes, that was a nod to Apple).

I’ve only decided to highlight what I’ve learned from the first four chapters, as those are the ones I personally felt to be the most informative and inspiring. However, I encourage anyone who aspires to do great work and who wants to get their name out there to read the book front through back. Show Your Work is truly a great lesson in personal branding.

Chapter 1: You Don’t Have to be a Genius

A good introductory topic, this chapter touches on how being an “amateur” can actually be seen positively within any respective community. Kleon first touches on the subject of the “scenius” – aka, the genius who gives less credit than is due to his inner circle for influencing his achievements. Therefore, our accomplishments can be partially credited to the ideas of our closest friends, colleagues, mentors, etc. (not meaning that you steal ideas, as it’s likely you contribute your own ideas for them to use). Being an expert may not be as important as you think if you have the ability to constantly surround yourself with minds bigger and brighter than yours, or ones that see things in a different perspective.

Overall, Kleon tries to focus on how being an amateur is a great thing when you are willing to show the process behind your learning. Don’t worry about coming off as an amateur when documenting your work, because showing your willingness and ability to learn is what is more important than anything. This is what will stand out to anyone who wants to embark on a creative journey of collaboration with you.

“‘In the beginners mind, there are many possibilities,’ said Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki. ‘In the experts mind, there are few.'” – P. 15.

Chapter 2: Think Process, Not Product

Showing the process of your work is what shows people the thinking behind the product, whether it be what inspired the art, or what the hypothesis behind the science was. People like to see what created the results and feel as if they can step in to your creative world.

Kleon encourages us to all “become a documentarian of what [we] do”. And with the several online communities that we have before us today, never has it been easier to do so. If you’re an entrepreneur selling sustainably made clothing, show the factories in which said clothing is ethically produced and the materials from with the fabric is made. If you’re a freelance writer, break down a piece of your writing, and show what inspired it. It’s as simple as showing the things that we take for granted, because these very things are unique to others, who are constantly seeking new sources of inspiration.

Chapter 3: Share Something Small Every Day

Sharing one small thing per day is much less overwhelming than trying to think of the whole bigger picture when embarking on a creative pursuit. In this chapter, Kleon explains how these small things add up. With the larger product of your daily efforts, you can edit out the “crap” and create something big, which is how Kleon claims he actually wrote this book.

Kleon also explains the concepts of “stock” and “flow”. When applied to digital media, flow is essentially the daily feed of posts that “remind people you exist”. Stock, however, is the content that is going to hold up for several weeks, months, or even years. It’s any revolutionary idea or happening of which you document that has the ability to influence and inspire your fanbase.  And the best part is, it’s usually built by taking the best of your flow and compiling it into something greater.

Chapter 4: Open Up Your Cabinet of Curiosities

Kleon begins this chapter by saying to never be a “hoarder” of your ideas. We may think that sharing our work itself is enough, but it’s really being able to shamelessly share the inspiration behind it that makes us stand out from the crowd. This means sharing the ideas from others who inspire you, the music that inspires you, the quotes that do, and so on and so forth. People love to see the thinking behind the thinking, the art behind the art.

“Your influences are all worth sharing because they clue people in to who you are and what you do – sometimes even more than your own work.” – P. 77.

The other interesting point touched on in this chapter is having “no guilty pleasures”. Show the world your quirks and don’t be ashamed. The world doesn’t need more polluting posts about the same stuff. If you have a new idea or perspective on a topic or how to accomplish a task, share that and be ready to face the talk, whether positive or negative, rather than sharing the same old boringness and not really generating talk.

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you f—ing like something, like it.” – Dave Grohl


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