Monthly Archives: April 2015

Salesmanship for Artists and Writers: The Inner Skills

A goal always on an artist’s and writer’s mind is to generate consistently high-quality work, and a continuing question he/she wrestles with is “how can I do that?” Answering that question is bottom-line, and it’s a complicated question that creative people are trying to answer all their careers, and is one whose success in answering distinguishes one from another. Shakespeare produced better text than anyone else; Michelangelo better art; Mozart better music. But creating high quality work is just one of a writer’s or artist’s skills among many others. It’s naïve to think that the best artist is necessarily the most successful artist. To succeed, the writer, painter, actor, composer must accomplish much more than generate excellent work.

Professional artists and writers have careers to manage and responsibilities and expenses. Food must be put on the table. A life of financial risk and the threat of going broke can keep them on their toes and motivate them or it can be paralyzing. To many writers, artists, and performers, their work is not a hobby and is not just a craft and not just an art, but a hard-nosed, deadly serious, ferociously competitive war of survival requiring the skills of the showman and unabashed, unapologetic self-promoter. Those are roles that seem unnatural to many creative people and make them uneasy and unsure of themselves.

color-palette-207082_640Inhibitions are hard to hide, and research and everyday experience alike bear out that many writers—many artists; many creators of all types, many “inner-directed” people in general—are haunted by them, and know better than anyone that they are, and don’t want to be, and wish they weren’t. And everyone on the globe—the most powerful, the most famous, the most accomplished–is inhibited sometimes. It will be impossible to reach your creative goals if your inhibitions are powerful. They are impediments that can prevent even the most talented and gifted writers and artists from achieving the successes they are aiming for. And that can happen, and I’m sure it does, more than we realize or care to admit.

Working in solitude—the lifestyle of the creator–is a way of hiding from inhibitions because inhibitions involve interactions with other people. In fact, one of the main reasons creative people have chosen a creator’s life rather than a more typical life is to be able to work alone, secluded, sheltered, untouched, and away from other people; hidden from the world. But when writers and artists come out of hiding into the clear light of day, so to speak, some essential tasks require that they do something about their inhibitions—give in to them, or overcome them.

When my first major book was published, I was surprised to learn that not every author is sent by the publisher on a publicity tour to promote their book because they “don’t come across” to audiences, and that, it seems to me, is a direct result of inhibitions. One publisher jokingly asked if I would go on tour to promote other of their author’s books; so many writers didn’t come across. Also, every writer and every artist of every type eventually realizes that talent and skill are not enough to guarantee success, though that would be the artist’s ideal world, but that you’d better learn the skills of marketers and salesmen, skills that inhibited people do not perform well. But to survive, they must learn to. Or they may perish, giving up completely, or will go only so far, and will reach a plateau, and will not reach the career peak they otherwise could. All creative work involves showmanship and salesmanship.

hands-545394_640When I was a business consultant for many corporations, I trained hundreds of people to be high-excelling marketers and sales people, and time and again witnessed before my eyes the growth of awkward and inhibited, tongue-tied, self-doubting people into fluent, persuasive, uninhibited people confident and comfortable with themselves. Such a transformation is possible for anyone. Every artist’s and writer’s skill, including marketing and selling—foreign though they may seem–is learnable.

After reading my Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life, which lays out practical strategies for living a more vigorous assertive (and hopefully happier) life, a shy, soft-spoken, self-doubting artist/illustrator called me and said she wished she had a samurai like those she had seen in the book to help her market her work (which had won awards) to galleries, clients, magazines, and publishers, and I said, “You don’t need another person. Become a samurai yourself.” She took that to heart and acquired marketing and sales skills coupled with her new self-confidence, and now her lovely work seems to be everywhere.

The Basic Problem

People weighed down with inhibitions don’t express their genuine personalities. That’s the basic problem. Inhibitions such as shyness, self-consciousness, dreading new experiences, feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, guilt that’s out of proportion to the event that caused it, feeling ill at ease with strangers and in social situations, difficulty getting along with others, and excessive modesty are psychological obstacles that affect writers, and artists of all kinds time and again. These “maladies” are based on being too concerned with how you’re coming across, of what people are thinking of you, or trying too hard to impress others. Inhibitions result in excessive caution and carefulness.

Some people aren’t inhibited enough. You probably know some. They’re too impulsive, too rash, too inconsiderate, too outspoken, too hard-headed, too much of a boring windbag everyone wishes would shut up. But the more general and serious problem is being too inhibited.

Many specialists believe that some inhibitions are genetic. But it’s a myth that once your genetic blueprint is established at birth it is set forever. I know a sculptor who was shy all her life, but decided at the age of thirty she wasn’t going to be shy anymore, so she stopped being shy, just stopped. Many inherited traits can be changed by changing behavior.

Strategies for Conquering Inhibitions: Be Yourself; No One Else

  • Realize that inhibitions are not a fate. You can get rid of inhibitions.
  • Be indifferent to the reactions of others. There is such a thing as a healthy and liberating disregard for the opinions of others. Don’t stop to think of how they are judging you. Don’t worry what they’ll think of you if you do or say X. Just do and say X. Don’t give a damn what they think.
  • Don’t exaggerate your embarrassment. Why are we so ready to say that this embarrassed me or that embarrassed me, even over the silliest things. When you’re feeling embarrassed ask yourself if what is embarrassing is all that important in the grand scope of things. It isn’t.
  • Overcome self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is really other-consciousness. To believe that every eye is on you is an error. Most people could hardly care less what you look like, what you’re wearing, what you’re saying, and what you’re doing. They’re preoccupied with what they look like, and what they’re wearing, saying, and doing.
  • Never try for a contrived effect. You’ll rarely go wrong if you’re sincere. The people who make the best impression are the very people who aren’t trying to make a good impression. You can’t be fooled by a phony for very long. For example, job interviewers encounter legions of applicants who behave the same as everyone else. Then an applicant appears who lets his or her sincerity come through. She stands out and the interviewer is impressed, and she gets the job. If you’re sincere you’ll favorably impress people, even if you’re not trying to impress them.
  • Be like a baby; be authentic. A baby isn’t pretentious, artificial, or superficial, but just what he or she is. A baby expresses honest feelings and isn’t the least bit inhibited.
  • Be more spontaneous. When you’re anxious about a situation, your spontaneity flies out the window. When you’re spontaneous–with a friend over a beer for example, or your family around the table–you’re not on guard for fear of making a mistake. Your spontaneity gives you courage.
  • Be fast. Do what you’re thinking of doing or saying before an inhibition appears.
  • Speak with greater verve, and louder than you normally would. Inhibited people often speak softly and in a monotone. Raising your voice and speaking in a louder and more energetic voice can free you from social inhibitions.
  • Look people in the eye. Don’t avert your eyes.
  • Be “larger than life.” You might have noticed that people who are self-confident and persuasive literally seem larger. Stand up straight and expand your chest as an exercise. Develop the habit of physical expansiveness.
  • When talking with others stand closer than you think you should, be physically involved, and be friendly. Particularly persuasive and socially comfortable people tend to stand a little closer than most people do. Gesture, smile, move your hands and your eyes. If you expect the other person to like you and you behave accordingly—as though they already do– you will be proven right in almost every instance.
  • Recognize your right to be imperfect. If we were perfect our lives would be very dull– we would be very dull– and we would still find something in ourselves to complain about. And others would always find something in us to complain about too. We shouldn’t think we have to be perfect to be worthwhile.
  • Don’t second-guess yourself. Inhibited people wonder if they did the right thing: “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Maybe I hurt her feelings. I probably should have put it differently,” when more than likely the person spoken to has no memory of what was said or didn’t think it was all that significant.
  • Forgive yourself– for making a mistake, for being too timid, or for saying the wrong thing or making a stupid remark. Perhaps you felt awkward or were intimidated, or self-conscious, or were inauthentic and insincere, etc. Forgive yourself. Then get right back into action and be genuine, be yourself, no one else.

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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The Life Path of Artists and Writers

path and sunlight-166733_640Who are you? Where are you going? Where have you been?

As a boy I realized that Socrates’ advice that everyone in the Western world has heard at least five or six times–“Know thyself”–was no less difficult than to walk from my porch to the moon. But I know now that if we look carefully at where we have been, who we have known, what our life’s events from the earliest days have meant to us, and where we are going, we can in fact satisfy Socrates and know ourselves. This is a goal that is particularly important to creative people because their work is an exact reflection of the remarkable men and women their lives have made them.

 Your Ground Plan

It is a biological concept that applies very much to artists and artists’ development: everything that grows—a rose, an eagle, a human being– has a life plan, a ground plan, and a life structure. All parts of this structure have a time to emerge that when complete form a unified identity, in our case, they come together to form the identity “artist,” and more specifically a type of artist: novelist, violinist, classical pianist, jazz pianist, movie composer, stage actor, ballet dancer, modern dancer, etc. That ground plan leads either directly in a straight line or in a roundabout helter-skelter way to that identity, but lead to it, it does. There is an order to our past, present, and future lives, however disorderly and unconnected they may seem.

frank-lloyd-wright-396991_640(1)

Frank LLoyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most renowned architect, knew from his earliest days that he would be an architect. When he was a child his mother told him he would, considering architecture man’s crowning achievement, and began to mold him to that art by placing illustrations of architectural masterpieces on his bedroom walls and encouraging him. And prodigies, Mozart, dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, Broadway composers Marvin Hamlisch and George Gershwin, and trumpeter Miles Davis among innumerable other artists followed a “neat and tidy” development, and knew as children precisely what their adult life’s pursuit would be. There could be no doubt. Novelist Henry James and his philosopher/psychologist brother William were raised with one objective in mind: to make them creative geniuses, and that’s what they became.

However, many successful artist’s ground plans follow a less neat and tidy, “messy,” meandering path, as in the cases of painters Vincent van Gogh (failed teacher, failed preacher, failed everything who yearned to find his true calling—and did at thirty-three when he was told he was starting too late), and Paul Gauguin (former affluent stock broker who abandoned his family to paint), and novelists Sherwood Anderson (successful business owner who also abandoned his business and family to write),Joseph Conrad (sea captain), and Henry Miller (telegraph office worker), and playwright Eugene O’ Neill (ship’s deck hand, grave digger, and aimless ne’r-do-well). The meandering path is typical of many artists as they experience hits and misses, successes and failures, victories and defeats, false starts and detours over and over. Straight or roundabout, tidy or messy, the artist’s ground plan is in effect and leads to his/ her being an artist and being recognized as such. There is not one best way to become a successful artist—writer—performer, etc. But there are any number of perfectly fine ways.

Has your creative ground plan been tidy or has it been messy?

La Grande Ligne

Out of the mass of experiences of his life, the artist (1) must somehow or other settle on an art and way of life that fits him; (2) must have the personal makeup necessary to excel in the art; must possess the (3) knowledge, (4) drive and persistence, (5)  confidence and (6) complement of skills necessary to excel, and must (7) further develop strengths along certain clear lines.

music-7971_640La grande ligne (“the long line”) is a term in music that means simply that every good piece of music gives the audience a sense of flow, of continuity from the first note to the last. That continuity and flow is the challenge and be-all and end-all of every composer’s existence. Every artist’s life—every painter, writer, actor, dancer–whatever his/her chosen art, has a grande ligne, a flow from beginning to end. All of the artist’s choices and goals should be understood as relating to their ground plan, whether the artist is or isn’t aware of that fact.

A number of components must come into alignment to result in a unity of direction and purpose of a person’s life, and certain steps must be followed. The components making a business woman are different from the components that work together to make a diplomat or a baker. Artists have alignments of components of a certain characteristic type–many personal qualities, interests, motivations, values, abilities, experiences, and other components. If just one component is missing, you no longer have a painter, sculptor, writer, or dancer. Everything must be present.

Life History Process

A way to acquire a clear view of your life’s “long line” is to come to understand: yourself as you are at this moment; the relationship between the person you are now and the days and years of your past life; how you conceive of your whole life; what happened in your life—what events meant to you and what they mean to you now. And to answer the question, “What am I trying to do as a human being, and as a creative person?”

  • Divide your life into periods, such as:

++++ Birth-15 years

++++ 15-25

++++ 25-45

++++ 45-65

++++ 65-

  • Recall key EPISODES from those periods, period by period—“When I was six this happened to me. It was very important because it introduced me to music…” “At twenty-three I had a gig at a local bar and met an agent at a party…” “At thirty I started to dabble with bright colors…” Very often an episode occurs when the artist’s existence seems to be organized and focused toward the art and he has a premonition that from that point forward the art will be prominent in his life. Your entire life is a drama composed of the total number of significant episodes. Looked at closely and objectively, they reveal larger plots and themes. Right now, even without much thought, what particularly meaningful episodes come quickly to mind?

++++ Episode 1

++++ Episode 2

++++ Episode 3

++++ Episode 4

Methods that can be used to help you recall key episodes include discussions with relatives and friends, looking at report cards, documents, and records, and at your products—stories, drawings, compositions, paintings, performances. Photo-history is a method that involves looking at photographs to stimulate your memory. Assemble photographs from your life. Put the photos in chronological order; look at one at a time; ask about the photos—when was it, where was I, who are those people, what was happening?

Looking closely at individual episodes, ask: “What was I trying to do?” “Who was I?” “What was I learning?” “How was I changing?” “Was something leading me in the direction of my future work—an experience, a teacher, a success, a failure?” How did everything contribute to your becoming who you are? When did your artist’s, writer’s, or actor’s ground plan start taking shape? How did it begin? Through what ups and downs did it lead you then?

You may wish to write an autobiographical narrative about important episodes as I do with my “Growing Up” stories—direct statements of what happened when. When you do, memories buried deep in your mind will come flooding back, and you will remember what was happening and how you were feeling. Memories—particularly of childhood–are a main source of a creator’s inspiration. Author Thomas Wolfe’s ambition was to describe everything he had ever experienced. Author John Updike said that nothing that happens to you after the age of twenty is worth writing about. Personal motifs begun earlier in life stay with the artist throughout life and are reflected again and again in everything he or she produces. These themes cannot be avoided; they are the artist’s DNA. Artists accumulate experiences, people, places, key episodes, and ideas which they will draw on the rest of their lives, endlessly recapitulating them in their work. He/she never forgets them. These are the origins—and the content– of their craft.

  • When reflecting on episodes think about:

++++ Your characteristics; your personality at the time

++++ Your abilities

++++ Your needs

++++ Your ambitions and dreams

  • Look at the episodes for times in your life of shifts and changes of direction—crises, periods of trouble and distress, great pleasure, and achievements. Look for the choices you made and how you dealt with their consequences. What did the choices mean to your life?
  • Sift through episodes for MAJOR THEMES. Your life has been a route of recurring themes, like those in a musical composition or a novel. For author Ernest Hemingway the themes of danger, of war, of adventure. Chagall’s Hasidism. Themes help explain many events in a person’s life and show continuity. Themes are groups of episodes that fall into a type.

What do you think right now, without much reflection, are your significant life’s themes?

My major themes are childhood, family, the place where I grew up, growing in understanding.

++++ Theme 1

++++ Theme 2

++++ Theme 3

++++ Theme 4

Bearing the major themes you’ve found in mind, ask yourself:

“Where do I seem to be headed? Where does it appear my grande ligne will lead me now?”

“What have I learned about myself from reflecting on my life and my artistic career?”

“What more do I want out of my painting, my dancing, my writing, my acting? What more can I give to it?

“Where do I want to be headed from this day on?”

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Boredom and Burnout: What To Do When Artistic Work Stops Being Fun

barbed-wire-345760_640During World War II prisoners of war often contracted “barbed wire disease.” It was not the result of maltreatment, but of lack of stimulation. Ships’ crews, explorers, and people in monasteries contract it too. It is characterized by irritability, restlessness, pessimism, and boredom. Nothing excites them. They lack vitality, freshness, energy, and verve. Writers and artists—often those working on a project steadily for a long time, especially without feedback—may develop a form of barbed wire disease.

They go flat and their work becomes a burden and its quality suffers grievously. When work is drudgery creativity quickly declines. You’ve experienced that, sometimes for considerable periods of time, and sometimes to the extent that you don’t want to face the work and so you avoid it, entering a stage of total non-productivity about which you feel miserable. No two ways about it, you’ve now come eye to eye with a major obstacle.

I’m sure I am not the only serious writer who after working steadily and intensely for a long time writing, writing, writing, writing experiences a “word nausea” when you become sick of the sight of written words. For a time you cannot write; nor can you tolerate reading another word. When you’re experiencing a writer’s or painters barbed wire disease, keyboard-313373_640you can always imagine a more exciting place to be, a more exciting thing to be doing, and exciting people to be doing it with. Sometimes the disease spreads and everything turns gray and seems boring beyond belief. When you’ve burned out and bored you “kill time,” hoping the barbed wire disease will blessedly pass.

Here’s what you can do:

Strategies

If your interest starts to decline make the “boring” task a game. In my first writing job I wrote grant proposals for an organization. I wrote many, many of them. At the beginning, the proposals were quite long and the success rate quite high. Millions of dollars were raised. Writing grant proposals every day from 8:30 to 5:00 is a ritual that is not nearly as stimulating as writing a poem or novel, as you can imagine. They are dry, and after a number of them you burn out. I needed a more interesting, more challenging goal. So then my goal became to raise the level of funds the organization received as a result of my proposals relative to the length of the proposal—to write the shortest possible proposals for the most money. Eventually the proposals were extremely short, but just as successful.

How could you make your work a game, a contest? One way is to monitor your daily production and make the aim of the game to produce more every day compared to the previous days. Every hour I monitor the number of words I’m producing and look at yesterday’s tallies.

Focus continually on your overall goal. Success in life is often built on tedium. Tedium can be tolerated if it must be endured to achieve a larger purpose that matters a great deal to you–to write a good book, to have your work in galleries, to be satisfied and successful. The French Pointillist painter Georges Seurat was certainly bored some of the time–perhaps most of the time—when for two years he applied those almost three and a half million tiny dots of various hues to a ten foot wide canvas to paint Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the painting that altered modern art and introduced Neo-impressionism. But that was his purpose, and his boredom was irrelevant to him.

Choose to do what you’re doing. Boredom is often caused by the sense that you’re being forced. But when you declare your right to make a decisive choice and say to yourself, “I’m choosing to do this of my own free will,” your outlook changes dramatically.

Focus on external rewards. When you’re bored, the work has lost its intrinsic value to you so think of other rewards: “I may not be happy with the work but I’m going to make a lot of money, and maybe I’ll win an award.”

Have the intention of doing just what you’re doing, nothing else—no distractions, no impediments, no worries, fears, or self-doubts. Just you and the work. Boredom is caused by the wish that there were something else you were doing: “I wish I were…” at a movie, or making love, or sitting in the bleachers. Make what you’re doing the single thing at that time you have every intention of doing. You don’t change the task. You change your attitude. You can mesmerize yourself with the thought, “This, now, right now, is the one thing in the world I want to do. Nothing could be better.”

Look for something of interest in the work and in the process of working–even if you have to look hard. There is always at least a tiny core worthy of your interest in everything, like the eye of a violet. What is boring for your friend may be the most exciting thing in the world for you. That’s because nothing is intrinsically boring. Physicists and formula-594149_640(1)mathematicians love spending their lives scribbling figures on chalkboards. Would you like to spend your best hours doing that? But people do. And then again many people would find what you love doing—producing artistic work as often as you can—about as unpleasant an activity as they can imagine.

If you tell yourself something is boring that’s just how you’ll find it, so never use that word or any such word. Eliminate them from your vocabulary starting now. Our emotions follow what we’re thinking, including boredom. Instead of, “Oh, man, I can’t stand this anymore,” think, “To say I can’t stand it is incorrect. It’s an exaggeration. I can stand it. I will stand it.” Instead of, “Damn, is this tedious” replace it with an interest-inducing statement: “There is something stimulating here. All I have to do is stay focused long enough to find it. Look—there’s something interesting!” By focusing and absorbing yourself in something, it becomes more interesting. And the more interesting it becomes the more you’ll be drawn to it, the more attention you’ll want to give to it, and the more engrossing it will become.

The famous naturalist Louis Agassiz was known for turning out students with incredible powers of observation. Many of them went on to become eminent in the field. A new student appeared and asked Agassiz to teach him. Agassiz took a fish from a jar of preservative and said, “Observe this fish carefully and when I return be ready to report to me what you noticed.”

goldfish-537832_640Left alone, the student sat down to look at the fish. It was a fish like any other fish. There was nothing special about it. The student finished looking and sat waiting, but no teacher. Hours passed and the student grew restless. He asked himself why he had hooked up with an old man who was obviously behind the times.

Bored and with nothing else to do, he counted the fish’s scales, then the spines of the fins, then drew a picture of it. In doing so he noticed it had no eyelids. He continued drawing and noticed other features that had escaped him. And he learned that a fish is interesting if you really see it.

Persevere longer with whatever bores you. The person who holds uninteresting ideas in mind until they gather interest will succeed. Many people give up too quickly.

Wait. The sense of boredom may go away on its own without you doing a thing.

Tackle the most interesting part of the job first. Most tasks have features that you find boring and others that you find more interesting. Bodybuilders often start their workouts with lifts they enjoy most. Once started, they go on to the lifts they enjoy less. Try to do the same whatever you’re lifting.

Aim for more difficult goals. If the goals you’re pursuing are too easy, you’ll be bored.

Alter your routines. Sometimes it’s not the tasks that are boring, but the routine of carrying them out. Change your schedule. People need change or they go as stale as old cookies. Much of the time our lives grow stagnant, unhappy, and mechanical for no other reason than that the same things are done in the same way, at the same time, with the same people with no variation, like a broken CD that plays the same phrase over and over. It’s torture. How many times can you follow the same never-changing routines without going nuts?

Stay physically active. Hit golf balls or get down on the floor and do pushups. Creative work requires intense, exhausting mental concentration and benefits from a “physical” break.

Take periodic breaks. Working hard in short, intense, concentrated spurts, with rest periods between spurts proves to be the best way to work.

sisters-74069_640Let your mind wander. Don’t resist. During boredom our minds wander and we daydream, and daydreaming and mind-wandering often lead to the solutions to our problems.

Get yourself temporarily to another project. Most artists have more than one project going on simultaneously—some have many. If one becomes boring, they work on another. Painters work on small paintings as a break from large paintings. Writers alternate research and writing and write short stories to break the monotony of long, uninterrupted work on a novel.

Eliminate what you find boring. Let’s say you’ve tried everything your inventive mind can conjure up and you’re so bored you can hardly breathe. If you’re that bored and that burned-out maybe you shouldn’t do it anymore. Maybe the boredom is a message telling you the book or the sculpture isn’t a good idea after all and you should go on to another. Identify the specific activities that bore you and are burning you out and slice them off like shavings off a stick.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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