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Prioritize your get-better-at projects

William Copperthwaite in his handmade yurt.
William Copperthwaite in his handmade yurt.

“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.” – allegedly said by John Ruskin

A golden boy novelist wants to rewrite his novel so it intrigues readers from beginning to end, but he can’t figure out the point of view.

An executive wants to become a dynamic speaker as part of her next-act venture in the field of leadership, but the stage daunts her. 

A husband-wife team of consultants wants to move from the stage to the screen and scale their programs online, but the translation confounds them. 

An engineer wants to build a more meaningful business that still provides for his growing family, but he doesn’t know where to start.

You likely know the scenario. You have great passion for a project, but beyond passion lies considerable uncertainty. Left unchecked, uncertainty eventually overrides passion, and you’re paralyzed.

Those projects get pushed to the back burner if they even make it to the stove. Or else you dawdle and wander with unclear goals for a few months or years.

But what if behind that uncertainty is in part a skills gap? What if behind your lack of confidence is simply a lack of skills – which you can change while having fun?

Building skills is a more sure-footed way to build your business artistry than faking confidence – bad business advice I challenge in this article “Confidence: Make It. Don’t Fake It” at Productive Flourishing.

Here’s what I mean: The novelist might need to expand his understanding of how different points of view can work in a novel to heighten mystery. The executive might need to learn a few skills for refining a message and shaping her message’s story arc. The consultant team might need to learn new skills in teaching online.

When pursuing a venture or executing a project daunts you, the advice to break down the project into manageable daily tasks is useful but not complete. 

Take your planning another step and identify five key skills needed to execute it well. Doing so can take you out of angst and back into a curious learner’s mindset. You shift your attention away from processing your emotions ensnared in the resistance and toward something not about you. 

Business artistry is about learning. It’s about craft. It’s about doing something well.

You might be a master romance novelist but an amateur literary novelist. You might be a master at marketing techniques but an amateur at shaping your business’s story.

Between the amateur and the master is the curious apprentice hungry to hone craft. (Click to Tweet. Howl to you!)

Once you’ve identified those skills, ask yourself how curious you are to learn or hone that skill. If you’re not that curious or are woefully incapable, then consider delegating the skill. 

But for each skill you are curious about learning or honing yourself, seek two key complementary tools: resources and models.

Resources might be books, videos, programs (Skillshare and CreativeLive offer solid skills-based courses). But resources also might include allies, mentors, advisors, and experts.

Studying models wisely can bring out an under-appreciated face of wonder – admiration

If your company provides online tax services for other businesses, and you want to improve its customer engagement and loyalty, study three companies outside of your industry who are top-rated for customer engagement. Break down what they do, how, and why.

Identify your own models to study based on the skills you want to hone.

If you want to get better at giving a seemingly conversational, witty talk that actually builds a surprising argument, study the structure and delivery of Sir Ken Robinson or of Brene Brown

The Makings of a Masterpiece

In 1923, golden boy F. Scott Fitzgerald struggled with the novel that later would be titled The Great Gatsby. His editor of editors, Max Perkins, felt that Fitz’s choice of a third-person all-knowing point of view gave away everything too early to the reader. 

Perkins understood how a few modern writers of the previous 20 years were constructing stories designed to captivate readers in new ways. 

Perkins suggested that Fitz study Joseph Conrad’s A Heart of Darkness. The young writer absorbed the master’s psychologically astute way of having one character tell the story of a larger-than-life and mysterious figure who arouses great ambivalence in the narrator and, thus, in the readers.

The result of the study? Fitzgerald created a new character named Nick Carroway to tell the story Jay Gatsby. He also admits later to learning from Conrad that  “the purpose of a work of fiction is to appeal to the lingering after-effects in the reader’s mind.”

Fitzgerald is wise enough to admire masters. And admiration is one of wonder’s faces that helps us be in wonder at someone else’s feats. 

Fitz would radically rewrite his manuscript and write in less than 200 pages what many people still consider one of the most remarkable American novels.

Maybe Ruskin was onto something.

Thanks for running with me,



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