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The Inner Skills of Creative People

I’ve been writing blog posts for writers and artists for sixteen months and over that time have published about 120,000 words. And though I’ve been a professional writer for many years, have written national and international best-sellers, startup-594126_640 (1)been contributing editor to popular magazines, have had published non-fiction, poetry, and prose, have advanced degrees, have taught in graduate schools, and have been studying, reading, and researching about the arts all my adult life, very rarely will you find me writing anything about how to write or paint better because that is not my main interest.

I will not tell a painter how to paint because I don’t know enough about that. But even if I did I probably wouldn’t talk about good technique or good use of color except to say I recognize them when I see them. I will talk about what made great artists tick and why they’re so special. And I will say that people who do great things are great in themselves.

I know enough about writing to have taught serious writers and found great pleasure in that and discovered I have a lot to say. I’ve written about extraordinary writers—the most extraordinary ever to write. But you won’t hear from me these days anything about developing characters, scenes, conflicts, and episodes, or how to write dialogue, or generate a mood, or structure a plot, or that kind of thing. There’re plenty of books, magazines, web sites, classes, and blogs for that. People have been writing about those things for 2,000 years.

My interest—the territory I have staked out for myself—are The Inner Skills of Creative People, for there, I think, inside, in your spirit, will be found the magical difference between adequate creators and great ones.

ballerina-534356_640_copy2I write freely, unabashedly, happily of human qualities that distinguish one creative person from another such as strength (suggesting that every day it’s worth a creator asking, “Am I strong today? Will I be strong?”) And I write about courage, persistence, tenacity, will power, commitment, empowerment, sense of purpose, discipline, good writing moods and bad writing mood, and ideal writing moods. And self-resilience, enthusiasm, guts, self-motivation, energy and your capacity for work, sacrificing for the sake of your craft, boldness, doggedness, adaptability, endurance, resilience, maintaining at all times a high hope of succeeding, and other spiritual dimensions of you. I teach Buddhist and Hindu non-attachment so that the writer or artist might become selfless and dispassionate, and free himself from debilitating envy and worry that so recklessly destroy talented people.

I write about self-doubt, the creator’s curse, and I write about creator’s confidence because confidence may be the most important factor of all. Creative people fail because: (a) they lack the necessary skill, or (b) they have the skill but don’t have the confidence to use that skill well. More fail because they lack the confidence and not because they lack the skill. If you have confidence and faith in yourself you’ll reach higher levels of success than other creators of equal ability who lack them. So much of realizing your long-held hopes—possibly you’ve had them since childhood–is a result of knowing exactly what they are, wanting badly to achieve them, and believing that you can. Confidence precedes success. All great creators are confident.

A poet who lived several hundred years before Plato wrote, “Before the Gates of Excellence the high Gods have placed sweat.” No outstanding creative achievement has ever been produced without a lot of effort on the part of the creator, however much natural ability or how many technical skills he/she possesses. So I write about sweat.

I write about creative patience because patience makes artists and writers more successful.

martial-arts-291051_640I write about warrior artists and writers—and warrior actors and ballet dancers—because warriors know things and possess skills that enable them to go through life 18 inches off the ground and to move faster and live more intensely, with stronger commitments and greater seriousness, than everyone else.

I write about production because to produce a work—a painting a sculpture, a poem, a stage performance—is the reason for being of a creator. Everything—all the creator’s training and education, habits and routines, dreams and hopes—are aimed at that central goal: no matter what is happening around you, to get the work out. Some writers and some artists are 25 times more productive than others.

Out of the mass of experiences of a life, you (1) must somehow or other settle on the creator’s way of life, which is a distinct way of being; (2) must have the personal makeup necessary to excel as a creator; must possess the (3) knowledge, (4) persistence, (5) confidence, and (6) complement of skills necessary to excel, and must (7) minimize your weaknesses and develop your strengths.

The creator who has technical skills, but lacks these spiritual inner skills will not go as far as he could, or may not go far at all. What you are—what you are made of, what constitutes you, what you stand for—is so important.

Your technique and your spirit must be united. Creators grow from within.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Filed under Artists, Becoming an Artist, Creativity Self-Improvement, Dancers, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Eastern Philosophy, Goals and Purposes, Inner Skills, Motivation, Samurai Techniques, Self-Confidence, The Writer's Path, Warriors, Writers

Take Charge of Your Creative Life

What would you say is most significant about the writers and artists I’m going to describe?

How are you like them?

How are you different?

What might you do if you wished to be more self-directed?

“I could…”

For the last few days before starting work I’ve been inspiring myself looking at my write-ups of artists and writers I’m Cezanne-image(1)especially drawn to—Nobel Prize playwright Eugene O’Neill, novelists Henry Miller and Raymond Chandler, and painters Paul Cezanne, Mary Cassatt, and Jackson Pollock–and have decided that they have in common not only their accomplishments and prodigious skills and the uniqueness of their personalities, but that they were all self-directed—guided by themselves, no one else.  At one time or another you’ve observed first hand, heard about, or read about self-directed writers and artists too. Textbooks, anthologies, magazines, literary journals, galleries, museums, shows, and newspapers are filled with their names. They strike out on their own, taking full responsibility for themselves, their work, their careers, and their fate.

They all possess that rarest of qualities I admire so much and most people nowadays seem to have lost—intensity, single-mindedness, a “seriousness of intent” about their work. Their art means everything. There is not a minute of their waking day when their minds are not is some way or another on their work. They are vital: alive and electric. They give off sparks. They mean business. They go about their work undeterred, unknown or famous, poor or rich, unhappy or happy, in a bad mood or good mood. The commitment of their less memorable and less serious, less intense peers peters out, but that of a real writer and real artist goes on and on.

the-song-of-first-swallow-paul-pulszartti

The Song of First Swallow by Paul Pulszartti

Nothing can compete with, nothing can replace, their joy during the act of creating– the self-discovery, self-awareness, and self-expression that satisfies their deepest needs. They so saturate themselves with their work that to paint or write—or sculpt, act, or dance– becomes as much a need as sleep. A painter perceives the world in which she finds herself in lines and planes, a dramatist thinks in dialogues and scenes. A novelist divides his life into episodes.

Production is their never-ceasing main goal–to get the work out. Their existence is centered on, focused on, and organized around that work, and their ability to produce it is staggering. Shakespeare wrote an average of two plays a year–thirty six–many of the greatest examples of literature in the world’s history. And was also a poet, an actor, a family man, and a producer who had to attend to the practical concerns of mounting the plays’ performance. Due to bad health (a nerve problem that made it impossible to hold a pencil) and wandering the world in search of a place to work—France, Switzerland, America—Eugene O’Neill lost twelve years mid-career, but still wrote 49 plays. Belgian Georges Simenon who was capable of writing 60 to 80 pages per day, produced 200 novels, 150 novellas, autobiographical works, numerous articles and scores of pulp novels under two dozen pseudonyms—yet all of high quality.

Their standards lead to setting high goals and high goals lead to high success. Once unknown, they become known. It may take time. Raymond Chandler didn’t start writing until his forties and published his first novel at 53, becoming an “overnight” success. Success may not be easy: Henry Miller lived the life of a homeless beggar on the streets of Paris, penniless, yet considering himself the happiest man on earth, into his late forties before his genius was recognized. Early mary-cassatt-89730_640(1)in his career, before becoming rich and the talk of the art world, Jackson Pollock was poor and couldn’t afford brushes, so he’d steal them. Mary Cassatt, the greatest woman painter of the nineteenth century, didn’t become able to buy a chateau until two things happened in mid-career: she became an Impressionist and she found her subject: mothers with their children.

They produce continually better work and expand their abilities. Over an extended period writers and artists with a minimum of natural talent who apply themselves can acquire a great talent. Writing and art teachers are generally in agreement that it’s not the best, most talented students whose names they hear about in later years. The students with the most talent but the weakest work ethic who dazzled the class, disappear into oblivion, while the hard workers often go on to excel. Poet John Berryman thought that talent was no more than 20% of a successful poet’s personality, and the same is probably true of every creative field. Every minute spent painting or writing increases your talent. High performing self-directed people in all the arts and every other field wherever on the globe they’re to be found are universally alike: over and over again they are people who believe in trying to excel, in doing one’s best, in working very hard and not wasting time. Van Gogh in particular was an artist who couldn’t waste time, starting late but producing in just over a decade 2,100 works before his death at 38.

The word “easy” never enters their mind because what’s easy isn’t worth bothering with. If they don’t meet their high standard they are dissatisfied. Then what they do is not what everyone does. They work harder than before and don’t stop until they’re satisfied that they’ve done their best. If to be superb a poem must be revised 200 times, they revise it 200 times.

If they’re self-directed they set their own work schedules, work alone, and persist over a long period of time that the majority of people cannot match. They direct their achievements by setting challenging long-range and short-range aims to develop themselves and increase their knowledge and skills, and by applying a variety of five, six, ten, fifteen pragmatic strategies, techniques, and rituals to reach those goals.

Eugene O'NeillThey’re original; they invent and innovate. Cezanne and Pollock both revolutionized painting. O’Neill single-handedly created serious American theatre.

They believe in themselves and their capabilities, and are committed to meeting the challenges of the creator’s life, which is not an easy one. They are willing to take risks and sacrifice other goals and other activities. Psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung thought that the creator’s life cannot be otherwise than full of conflicts because two forces are at war in him—on the one hand the normal human longing for happiness, satisfaction, and security, and on the other hand “a ruthless passion for creation which may go so far as to override every personal desire.”

The confidence in their abilities of self-directed people can’t be broken, and more than anything else is the most powerful source of their drive. So much of achieving goals and realizing your long-held creative hopes is a result of knowing exactly what they are, wanting badly to achieve them, and believing that you can. The more self-assured a writer and artist is, the stronger his commitment to high achievements. All great writers, artists, actors, and dancers were and are self-assured where their work is concerned.

Writers and artists—actors and performers–who harbor deep and prolonged doubts about their capabilities are easily set back by obstacles and failures. But when confident self-directed writers and artists encounter daunting obstacles, disappointments, and failures, they find a way to show courage, rally, and make a comeback, intensifying their efforts and persisting until they succeed. Among the personal qualities that cause self-direction and motivation that is strong enough to sustain success through the inevitable trials, valleys, disappointments, setbacks, and self-doubts are not luxuries but necessities for any writer or artist who is in any way serious about his craft: passion, obsessiveness, will. new-york-115629_640Very little is known about why some artists and writers give up before reaching their peak while the steady commitment of others to their goals and their doggedness in achieving them borders on the super-human.

They are self-aware and monitor and continually evaluate their performance, keeping track of their productivity, their working time, and their career progress. They strive to keep regular working hours, and organize their life and their environment to accommodate their commitment to their creative existence. Their names and their works are often topics of conversation. They’re published. Their works are shown. They win prizes. When they die, they’re remembered.

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Self-Taught Artists and Writers

I’m guessing that very few of you reading this post graduated from the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and  many did not graduate from any graduate writing program, and possibly you were not even an English or journalism major in college. You might have had a major that was totally unrelated to writing, like Nobel novelist Saul Sorbonne634035_640Bellow, an anthropology major, or innovative French novelist/ screenwriter/essayist Alain Robbe-Grillet, an agronomist, or may not have attended college at all. Many great writers, like Nobel winner Ernest Hemingway, had no interest in attending college, and many others, like Nobel winners William Faulkner and playwright Eugene O’Neill didn’t take college seriously (well that’s probably true of 30 or 40% of all college students), and quit it because they thought it was not only not helping them, but holding them back. And I’m guessing that not more than, let’s see, two of you painters attended the Sorbonne, and some possibly never attended any art school. Yet you’re capable and have had writing and painting success. Your work has been published and art works have been shown. Some of you are professionals earning a substantial living.

The majority of you are autodidacts—mainly self-taught–and many of you autodidacts, you formally “untutored” creative people, have surpassed and achieved more success than many if not most Iowa writers, and Sorbonne painters. When most of what you know about how to paint or write creatively is a result of what you have taught yourself, of knowledge and experience you’ve acquired on your own, there is directness, freshness, and truthfulness in your work that you might not have achieved had you followed a more conventional developmental route that “everyone else” seems to be following.

French painter Henri Rousseau (1840-1910) was a self-taught autodidact too. An official with the French customs office, he began painting as a late-blooming amateur “Sunday painter” who might take his cheap paint box out into the park for an afternoon’s relaxation. He signed Rousseauhis first picture at the age of 36 and exhibited in his first show at 40. His earliest paintings were technically incorrect and unsophisticated as the work of a beginner usually is. The forms were stiff and simple; the proportions were inaccurate, and the perspectives were wrong. But in his work there was “something” that drew the attention of critics and the public—the honesty in the works, a directness that came right out of his obvious joy in the act of creation. He was an advanced autodidact and did things that other unschooled artists did not usually do, and conventionally trained painters did not do. Paint which in a run-of-the-mill painting of a beginner would be thin and dry is applied with rich body. Colors that would be anemic or muddy in the ordinary newcomer’s work were clear in Rousseau. His work continued to grow in popularity. His paintings created a world of enchantment.

This was a dangerous point for Rousseau because he had to strike a balance of learning to be more technically proficient, but not to the point that technical qualities would obliterate the originality that came to him naturally, just as I hope however technically advanced you become, you never lose your natural and authentic voice.  Rousseau had to guard his naiveté and so he created for himself a personal style based on the forms that had been spontaneous to him as a beginner—a highly cultivated style that at the same time was rooted in an untutored simplicity. And that is Rousseau’s special charm.

Although seriously technically limited by conventional standards, a painting or a story, poem, or novel, or any creative product, may be a work of art even if the work’s quality is half-accidental, as it was with Henri Rousseau.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), another thoroughly self-taught autodidact, ended his formal education at eleven. During the six years between 1849 and 1855 he turned himself from a lazy second-rate journalist and less than average creative walt-whitman-391107_640writer who couldn’t hold a job into–through a “liberation of language” never seen before on earth—one of the greatest poets the world has ever known. Prior to his first book– Leaves of Grass–he seemed to be a very untalented man. Before becoming the” father of American poetry,” he worked as a carpenter (building his own home) and as an elementary school teacher, printer, editor, shopkeeper, and in the world of newspapers, paled around with artists and sculptors, attended operas (said he learned more about writing from operas than from anything else), studied history and astronomy on his own, read voraciously, and believed in self-help and self-education. He said that during those years before Leaves of Grass when he was writing “conventional verse” he was “simmering, simmering, simmering.” This man who wrote, “I have not once had the least idea who or what I am” developed in those mystical six years a vision and style that no one since has been able to duplicate. His poetry startled the literary world and started a new direction in poetry. Readers were astonished.

Living not far from Whitman at the time, and working in solitude, unknown to the literary world, was quiet, subdued poet Emily Dickinson. Do you think it is a coincidence that those two untutored autodidacts who worked alone, were unknown, taught themselves, and never met,  would become America’s finest poets and produce work the likes of which no one had ever seen before?

Most often the reason a writer, artist, composer, etc. is not yet accomplished is not because she’s unintelligent or not talented, but because she isn’t knowledgeable enough yet. In writing and every other art, every other discipline, knowledge isn’t everything, but almost everything. The more you know, the more you can achieve—the greater your reach. The self-taught creator knows that and follows an atypical but most productive route to the knowledge she needs to excel. She looks for it wherever it may be and acquires it on her own. She has high motivation and a thirst for learning about her craft that cannot be quenched.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) was reading Whitman in 1886 around the time he was painting the apocalyptic “Starry Night.” If you know your Whitman that makes perfect sense. A solitary who worked outside of any school or tradition, vincent-van-gogh-89422_640van Gogh was self-made. He had only one year’s total training from instructors, but studied ceaselessly on his own, the autodidact of autodidacts. He had tremendous faith in the future of his work, and felt it was worth sacrificing everything for it. He was a harsh self-critic, considering many of his paintings now accepted as masterpieces mere studies. At the time of his death he had sold one painting and traded another for brushes, had been represented by just a few dealers, had participated in a half-dozen shows, and had dissuaded critics from writing about his work. Few artists of any kind have made themselves as knowledgeable or clear-sighted about their art, or have a more developed understanding of painting. He rarely signed his works, believing that to do so was arrogant, and that an artist should work humbly. He had a short but prodigious career, leaving behind a legacy of more than 2,000 paintings and drawings at his death at thirty-seven.

Artists and writers and people in general who don’t follow a traditional route to expertise and beyond that to excellence–who go off on their own–may produce direct, fresh, original work they might not have been able to produce had they followed a traditional path. They are original often because they see that the traditional rules don’t suit them, or they don’t know the rules and aren’t limited by them. It may take them longer. By necessity they may have to be late-bloomers like Rousseau, van Gogh, and Whitman. But what does time matter if time is needed for you to come into your own? When writing Leaves of Grass, Whitman told himself, “Make it new.” and he did.

What we learn from autodidacts is to be original, be true to ourselves, be honest, be direct, don’t hide from ourselves, and find our own truth though it may be different from everyone else’s. You are not like other artists or writers. In Leaves of Grass Whitman writes, “I celebrate myself” which seems to me not a bad place for creative people to start.

(For further reading, you may wish to see the excellent Van Gogh: A Retrospective, edited by Susan Alyson Stein, and Geoffrey Dutton’s Whitman)

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Writers’ and Artists’ Deadline Problems and What To Do About Them

vincent-van-gogh-74018_640Writers and artists are almost always marvelously productive human beings able to generate huge quantities of work, amounts of work which put people in other walks of life to shame. They are concerned with their production and pay close attention to it—did you write your 500 words today; did you finish painting that corner of the canvas before quitting for dinner? If production falls off, they want to know why, and if good work pours out of them fluently, they want to know why that is happening too.

Hard as I try, I find it difficult to imagine any writer or artist—amateur or professional, novice or expert–who hasn’t had  production deadlines to meet, and it’s not unusual for them to have had problems meeting them at least once or twice, and possibly more frequently than that. You’ve heard it said, and maybe you’ve said it yourself when you’ve been under the pressure of a tight deadline and are having trouble meeting it: “This deadline is important. It’s in the contract, and it’s very clear.”  Think how ominous the word is. It’s not a “lifeline,” but a “dead” line, as though if you exceed it you’re a goner.

You have a task that you’re supposed to finish by 2:00. Or it may be by next Tuesday, or one year from Tuesday. There’s some kind of principle or another—Murphy’s Law–that goes, “If something can go wrong, it will go wrong.” Let’s say you start to work and encounter a setback. You begin thinking, “I’m falling behind.” You’re not worried and you continue on, but you run up against another snag or block that slows you down more. More work, another snag; the ideas just won’t come, or you can’t find a concept for the drawing, or your computer crashes, and it will be a long time before it’s fixed. (I had that problem once and was told there was a backlog and that I’d have to shut down for ten days while I waited for a repair person. But I had a deadline to meet, and I really couldn’t wait ten days. So I called the national president of my internet service provider at that time, calendar-148598_640 (1) AT&T, and had a nice conversation with his personal assistant. I explained to her that I was an author and had a book to get out to the publisher right away, so I needed my computer to work. She was an avid reader which I think helped. A repairman was ringing my doorbell at 8:00 the next morning. By 8:20 I was back at work, everything copacetic, things under control.) Or you move out of your old place into a new place or have a baby, and your work comes to a standstill.  A crack in your confidence then appears. You soon begin to conjure up a grim chain of possible events: “If I don’t finish this assignment-story-novel-report-painting-lithograph on time, this might happen and that and that, and that would be very bad.” And then there are other slowdowns and still more. Eventually you think, “Oh, God, no matter what, I can’t possibly finish on time. My butt’s in a sling. What a predicament.”

Strategies for Freeing Yourself from Deadline Difficulties

  1. Pay not the slightest attention to the deadline. You have only so much attention. It’s not divisible. If it’s on one thing, it can’t be on another. Resist any inclination to worry about the deadline. Fix it in your mind once, enter it on a calendar, then get to work immediately. Whatever attention you devote to fretting about it is that much less you can devote to the job at hand. Yet that’s where your mind should be totally focused. It will be helpful if you are able to be dispassionate and non-attached. Perfectly unworried.

archer-160389_640Archery contests are held at a temple in Japan and the best archers compete. The object of the contest is to see how many arrows the marksmen can shoot from one end of a 128 yard long veranda into a target on the other end in one day. The ceiling of the veranda is very low, and the archer has to shoot without much arch. That requires considerable strength and is exhausting. The record is 8,133, or about five arrows every minute for twenty-four consecutive grueling hours. Now how many arrows would the archer have shot if he stopped to fret about the deadline? Certainly not 8,133.

No matter what, we must refuse to let our mind waver from the job at hand, agonizing less about the deadline, absorbing ourselves in tasks, just shooting our arrows, just punching away at the keyboard, just drawing lines. The more we remain firm and focused, shifting our minds again and again persistently to what is in front of us that needs doing, the higher the quality of the work we produce will be and the sooner the work will be accomplished.

  1. Remember that some time pressure actually enhances performance. There are many things we would never have completed if we hadn’t had a deadline to prod us. In school you had papers to write or a drawing to do. You were forewarned: it was due in four weeks. If you were like most students, you put it off for three weeks, six days and 19 hours. You stayed up the night before and, bleary-eyed and rendered useless the rest of the day, turned it in on time. There you are; you obeyed another principle: work tends to expand to fill the time available for its completion. So had you just one week, you would have finished it in one week, and would have finished it on time had you had only five hours.
  2. Bear in mind, however,  that unrealistic deadlines create too much pressure, and too much pressure interferes with performance. You worry. You tighten up. You lose focus. After a while when you’ve fallen behind, you find yourself beginning to pay more attention to the deadline than to doing well what needs doing. The need to finish on time gets more urgent and you start taking shortcuts. You really don’t want to, but you’re lowering your usually high standards and getting sloppy and the work’s quality is falling off.
  3. If you have any say in the matter make the deadline reasonable. Realistic deadlines motivate performance. I’ll confess: I’m a naturally excitable person, and I used to get very stirred up and to be too optimistic about reaching any deadline that I set. At times my staff had to work ridiculously long hours and on weekends and holidays and even while they were sick to meet them. So I devised a simple precaution which I called “the kick.” When I was asked by a client to estimate how long a job would take, an associate would kick me under the table. That was the signal to increase my estimate by 30%. Never let your enthusiasm exceed your better judgment. Can you use some version of the kick?
  4. Choose deadline-beating thoughts, not worry-creators. You are inwardly free to replace one thought with another whenever you want. Instead of, “I’m losing ground,” replace it with, “I’m making progress. I’m whittling this baby down,” or “Every time I stop to look at the clock (or the calendar) I’m wasting time.” “I’m going to have the focus of those archers.”
  5. Accept the deadline as an exciting challenge. When I was working on a particular book, as I turned in one chapter after another, the editor thought, “This is pretty good stuff, and it’s getting better and better. This book is going to make money.” She told the publisher, “I think we have something.” The publisher then said to her, “The longer his book, the larger the cover price we can charge. Have him double the number of words we contracted for (from 60,000 to 120,000 words). And let him know since the book is so good, we’ll want an earlier pub date. Finish with it as soon as possible.” So the length was doubled and time pressure increased. Rather than the usual “cut, cut, cut” I had to think “add, add, add.” I could have renegotiated, but accepted the new terms as a challenge and didn’t ask for any more time. I just worked longer hours (an extra writing shift every night), and everything went well.
  6. In some cases, renegotiate the deadline. When you do not see the time constraint as challenging, but rather as completely unrealistic, renegotiation makes sense. No one wants you not to meet the deadline.
  7. Overcome the causes of the snags and slowdowns. For example, often a person’s failure to meet a deadline isn’t that person’s fault at all, but of someone else’s failure to meet their deadline. If you can help them overcome their snags it will help you overcome yours.

I don’t think American novelist Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938)—that master of language–ever met a single deadline his entire career. When you’re as talented as Wolfe, you can get away with murder. Until you can get away with murder too, you will have to find effective ways to handle your deadlines, striving never to be late.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Leadership: The Effective Leader’s Mind

David J. Rogers writes for artists, writers, performers, and creative people of all kinds and has also provided consulting in strategy and leadership to some of the world’s largest corporations. He has lectured on these subjects extensively in North America and Europe. His best-selling book Waging Business Warfare: Lessons from the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority–now a new, revised, and updated E-book–has been called a business masterpiece.

“The responsibility for a host of a million lies in one leader who is the trigger of its spirit.”(Ho Yen-His)

alexander-the-great-35767_640The greatest competitive leaders in business, whatever the industry, are exceptional. They may be anywhere in the organization—as is also true of leaders in warfare. They are out of the ordinary because they combine a complement of qualities that equip them perfectly for a leader’s life but that are only rarely found together in one individual. They are knowledgeable, talented, creative, intelligent, energetic, flexible, and driven. They are obsessed with the need to take direct action and mix it up with the competition, and they are savvy strategic thinkers.

Hannibal, the Carthaginian (247-183 B.C), was a true master of strategy. In fact, he is called the father of strategy. Napoleon considered him superb in every aspect of warring, and the Duke of Wellington thought him to be the single greatest soldier in all of history. To this day Hannibal’s victory against the Romans, commanded by Varro at Cannae in 216 B.C., is considered the most perfect tactical battle ever fought. Hannibal’s army of 50,000 annihilated the Roman army of 86,000.

Before the battle began, Hannibal, knowing the importance of a leader keeping his people informed, called his army together and addressed them. He told them that at a certain point during the fighting it would appear that they were about to lose, but to have courage and have no fear because what would be happening then was part of his plan, and soon the tide would turn. It has been said that the mind of the leader is passed on to ten thousand subordinates.  A great leader is an inspiring leader.

How could a much smaller army beat a larger one, and so deci­sively? The historian Polybius provides an important answer: it wasn’t Hannibal’s soldiers or order of battle that made the Carthagin­ian army superior to the Romans. It was Hanni­bal’s superior personal skills. Then Polybius makes a matter-of-fact comment that carries immense implications for businesses vying for com­petitive excellence: “As soon as the Romans found a general who equaled Hannibal in ability, they immediately defeated him.”

And how could a little pipsqueak of a company like the WD-40 Company with its minute work force consistently outcompete giants Du Pont, 3M, and Pennzoil the way Hannibal beat the Romans?

In short, a contest within the contest between the Carthaginian and Roman armies was the contest between leaders. The better leader won; the less capable leader lost. More than 135,000 men took part in the battle of Cannae, each pitting his abilities against his counterpart on the other side. Yet it was the qualities of just two human beings—Varro and Hannibal— which stood out and dominated the day.

startup-594126_640 (1)The situation is precisely the same in business competitions. Many companies have had all the material resources necessary to gain the advantage over competitors but weren’t able to do so until the right leader with the right vision, right strategy, right plan, and right insights into how to manage people took charge. We should guard against becoming so accustomed to discussing competitions between businesses that we forget that businesses don’t run themselves: people run them. We shouldn’t forget for a moment that behind the corporate names GE, Procter & Gamble, IBM, McDonald’s, Toyota, GM, Microsoft—and behind their every strategic and tactical move are the leaders who are pitting their quality as leaders against the quality of competitors’ leaders.

CEOs know how integrally leadership ability bears on the well-being of their corporations. When 300 of them around the world were asked what they would look for in their successors, “personal leadership style” was the most sought-after attribute. “Aggressive competi­tive outlook” was second. Who a leader is and what he or she is made of and how clear a thinker may be more important than all the other company resources, including size and wealth.

Every strategic and tactical move reflects the minds, the spirits, and the personalities of those leaders. However much information the business man or woman or entrepreneur has in hand–studies, reports, analyses, anecdotal stories, scenarios–strategic decisions require problem-solving under shifting, loosely-defined, ill-structured circumstances. They are made in a kind of fog and because of the fog always require of leaders qualities of decisiveness, courage, and clear thinking.

Man thinking-23838_640Effective leader-strategists are thinkers with a two-pronged ability. First, they are sensitive to the complexities of the problems they are facing and able to process multiple perspectives. They try patiently to understand the situation objectively and to penetrate the problem to its core.  They also consider a range of goals that are sometimes inconsistent before considering a number of solutions and arriving at a satisfactory answer. Then, second, they are equally adept at integrating the perspectives into a coherent viewpoint, in this instance, a strategy. They are not conservative in their thinking, but are independent, open-minded, and flexible.

People with little strategic ability, being less complex thinkers, think simply. They work with only a single, simplistic perspective, and are generally unwilling or unable to consider alternative solutions. They are impatient and evaluate quickly and then turn to other matters. Their thinking tends to be rigid, dogmatic, and inflexible, a world removed from the more active, quick, alert, and subtle mind of the superb leader-strategist.

French colonel Ardant du Picq (1821-70) made highly detailed and scrupulous studies of the factors leading to success in battle. His most fundamental conclusion was that “It is the mind that wins battles; that will always win them, that always has won them throughout the world’s history.”

In his Art of War, Sun Tzu (400-320 B.C.) put the issue quite simply: any commander will be able to forecast which side will win by answering the question, “Which of the two commanders has the most ability: me or him, (or her)?”

It is minds that win business competitions—often one woman, one man sitting in an office alone, thinking.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

 

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Non-Attachment: The Solution to an Artist’s or Writer’s Problem

It’s a paradox that when we detach ourselves from thoughts of ourselves and how we’re coming across and do with concentration solely what’s necessary to do to create good art, many obstacles disappear and no longer trouble us. Then the work we do is infinitely better and the artist’s life we lead is infinitely happier. We just do our work as well as we can and live our life as well as we can because that’s how work should be done and an artist’s life should be lived.

“Victory goes to the one who has no thought of himself.” (Chozan Shissai, The Way of the Sword)

 Archers and Artists

bows-and-arrows-650474_640(1)Two thousand years ago Chuang Tzu wrote a description of a situation so relevant to painters, writers, dancers, and other artists of today that he could have written it this morning. He wrote that when an archer is shooting and no external prize is at stake he possesses all his skill. The moment a prize is riding on the shot, even a brass buckle, the archer becomes nervous and loses confidence. If the prize is more valuable, as a quantity of gold, “he shoots as if he were blind.”

Describe that situation to archers today and they will tell you what they tell me: “That’s exactly what happens.”

The archer’s skill hasn’t changed, but the importance the archer has attached to the prize has made him care too much. Because he is thinking more about winning the prize than simply shooting the arrow he becomes anxious and his performance suffers.

When realizing that a critic, an editor, an agent, a reviewer, a gallery owner, a potential buyer, an audience will soon be evaluating the work, for most artists, even the best and most highly regarded, the self-conscious uneasiness begins.

Crippling self-doubt and fear of not succeeding and falling in someone’s estimation are not only the archer’s, but the artist’s, major internal obstacles, haunting many artists, writers, composers, and performers, replacing self-confidence with discouragement at the first hint of possible failure, and making many magnificently talented people give up and quit their art rather than endure them.

So the question is: How can artists keep from going blind?

 What is Non-Attachment?

On the one hand, making a painting or story should be its own reward. The artist should be happy just because of the fulfillment inherent in the artistic work itself. He shouldn’t care whether the work will be liked by others, or whether he will receive public recognition and possibly wealth. But he does care, and the conflicting motivations of art for its own sake on the one hand and art for profit or other external signs of success on the other put the artist in a quandary, particularly if to achieve success he is asked to make compromises and do things he does not want to do. Is there a way to solve this quandary?

misty-364498_640To non-attach means to be totally engrossed, completely absorbed in the fulfillment of the task before you, whatever it is, and the full realization of your art and your potential, giving everything to them and nothing but them, forgetting everything else. Bullfighter Juan Belmonte, the greatest torero of his era, an artist of the bullring, wrote, “I forget the public, the bullfighters, myself, even the bull.” Japanese samurai, the most action-oriented and decisive people ever to live, were advised that to be effective in action they must “forget life in the face of an opponent, forget death, forget the enemy, forget yourself.” Free yourself from any preoccupation with yourself—your fame, your wealth– and you’ll overcome impediments to your best work because your focus will be on the work 100%, nothing left over for anything else. All your attention will be brought to bear on the one thing to be written, painted, composed, or performed.

The non-attached artist is the most conscientious of people. All actions are equally important to him or her. Non-attachment doesn’t mean to be indifferent to the results of your efforts, or not to be ambitious. Be active, be industrious, like a sculptor, make chips, be ambitious, accomplish goals, emphasize actions, get things done.

If fame or fortune, success, honors, and achievement come your way, that’s fine, that’s wonderful, that’s something to be happy about. But the mistake we make is getting caught up in them, hungering for them, clinging to them, needing them desperately and, measuring our self-worth against our ability to achieve them. If we make that mistake and don’t achieve them, we’ll feel we’re failures. Just put your mind, your spirit, your energy–your whole being–into the action at hand, the person at hand, the life at hand, the writing or painting or dancing at hand, and forget everything else.

 The Woodworker and “Outward Considerations”

woodwork-166695_640There was a master woodworker who made such beautiful works that the king himself demanded to know the secret of his art.

“Your highness,” said the woodworker, “there is no secret. It’s all very simple. When I set out to make a chair I enter the forest and look for the right tree, the tree that is waiting there to become my chair. I cut it down and set to work. I clear my mind of everything else. I become oblivious to any reward to be gained or fame I might acquire. When I’m free from such outward considerations I just do exactly what I have to do, using all my skill.”

When you free yourself from everything else, and again and again bring your concentration back to what you have yet to do, you’re at your best. The woodworker produced masterpieces, but didn’t worry about producing a masterpiece. The highest performers in field after field—business and industry and the arts–are motivated by the work itself—to do the best job possible–and not by external rewards. Even though they are more successful and receive those rewards more than other people, they aren’t driven by them.

When you work best you accept yourself with no strings attached. Finally, at last, you don’t have to prove yourself. You just do whatever is there for you to do. If you’re a woodworker you absorb yourself in creating the finest chair you can, never stopping to think of what glories will be yours when you produce a masterpiece. If you’re a baseball player you don’t worry about how cheered you’ll be if you get a hit, or what a goat you’ll be if you don’t. You just step up to the plate, keep your eye on the ball, and when it gets close you swing the bat. If you step to the podium and worry about what the audience is thinking of you, you won’t be totally focused on what you have to say, and you’ll fumble and stumble. But if you just concentrate on the words you’re speaking and speak with sincerity, you should do well.

cabbage-flower-204087_640Philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, a Nobel Prize winner, wrote, “I was not born happy….In adolescence, I hated my life and was continually on the verge of suicide, from which, however, I was restrained by the desire to know more about mathematics. Now, on the contrary, I enjoy life; I might almost say that with every year that passes I enjoy it more. Very largely it is due to diminishing the preoccupation with myself.”

 The Process of Brushing Off

One person may be 25% taller than another or 25% more intelligent. We think that’s pretty significant. Yet some people are 50 or 100 times more creative than others. Creative artists are the best workers in the world. They are models of human motivation and productivity. They will work alone long hours for years, without feedback, without recognition, without praise, overcoming hardships and setbacks without flinching, always returning with high energy to the work which life has equipped them with a talent for, often producing a vast output. Yet they often meet hostility from critics of all sorts unparalleled in other fields.

English writer Rudyard Kipling would go on to establish himself as a master stylist with a staggering ability with words and to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. But early in his career a publisher wrote him: “I’m sorry, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Vladimir Nabokov, also a dazzling stylist, received this message from a publisher in response to Lolita: “I recommend that you bury this under a stone for a thousand years.” Many successful writers, artists, and actors, like painter Jackson Pollock, who revolutionized painting, have been told, “You haven’t an ounce of talent.”

When you non-attach you brush off such attacks, insults, and unfair criticisms because you’re not seeking anyone’s approval. If there is one thing famous artists will tell you it is that you work best and are most powerfully motivated to create and will surmount even major obstacles when you’re not thinking of anyone’s liking but your own.

Such a confident attitude gives you courage. In response to so many heartless rejection letters from editors, novelist Henry Miller, who was not one to suffer fools, said, “Who are these shits? Where do they get off telling me these things?” It is often the artist who’s not seeking approval who receives it.

 Not So Eccentric After All

Many creative people are considered eccentric when they aren’t eccentric at all. They just non-attach and are less at the mercy of people’s opinions. They genuinely don’t give a hoot what others think. Independence is a cornerstone of the creator’s personality.

Composer Igor Stravinsky was doted on by people who knew of his greatness. But he enjoyed himself more when in the company of people who’d never heard of him. Maurice Ravel, possibly the greatest piano composer of the twentieth century, was always averse to writing and talking about himself. When complimented for his creative ideas, Thomas Edison, as creative a human being as ever lived, declined credit. He said that ideas were “in the air,” and that if he hadn’t discovered them someone else would have. Of the handful of Emily Dickinson’s poems published in her lifetime, not one bore her name.

 Strategies

Practice letting go of any preoccupation with yourself. Nudge your attention away from yourself and back to the work at hand and the actions the art calls on you to perform, and you will excel. Just render the drawing; just write the novel, just perform the dance, just market your work.

  • Whatever task you’re performing say to yourself, “This one thing I’m going to do as well as I’m able. I am not concerned with myself. I am indifferent to everything but the quality of my work.”
  • Refuse to frighten yourself with anxious thoughts of all that’s riding on your success, of the honors that may be yours if you succeed, or of the horrors if you fail. Just bring your focus back to the objective at hand and watch obstacles dissolve. If wealth, fame, or accolades come your way, they will without your worrying about them.
  • Be bold in the face of harsh criticism. If you believe you’re right, stand your ground. Be unruffled under fire—cool and calm, unintimidated. Never let undeserved criticism weaken your confidence. They are wrong; you are right! We remember Rembrandt and Michelangelo; no one remembers their critics. You must never lose unshakeable confidence that you have the ability to produce quality art and will succeed sooner or later.
  • Always try to improve, but never dwell on your imperfections.
  • Place your emphasis on developing your skills to the highest possible level above everything else. The higher your skills, the higher the goals you’ll achieve and the more clearly you’ll express yourself, your vision, your voice.
  • Do what your life calls on you to do for its own sake. Engross yourself in it–big job or small job, important or unimportant, praiseworthy or not, paid or unpaid. Give freely of your talent without expecting anything in return.

CalderArtist Alexander Calder was asked why sculptors like to produce large works. He answered, “It’s more exhilarating…and then one can think he’s a big shot.” Rare are the people who can live five days without getting caught up in themselves–or five minutes. Ninety percent of what we talk about is ourselves and 95% of what we think about is ourselves. Our preoccupation with ourselves creates many of our miseries.

But when we become non-attached and focus on our work and the steady development of our talents to the exclusion of every other concern, we stop worrying about being big shots and talking and thinking so much about ourselves.

Then our work leaps up and becomes exceptional.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Artists and Writers in Ecstasy

It’s not unusual for artists–painters, sculptors, writers, dancers, musicians–who are at work to be in a state of bliss, a state of ecstasy. Their enjoyment is deep, their focus uncommon, intense, and virtually super-human. Time means nothing at all and self-consciousness and self-awareness disappear. Every thought is solely of the task at hand. They have no attention left to think of anything else. There is only they and the work; all distractions, all worries, all fears, all self-doubts, and all impediments are gone—an extraordinary state of existence.

sunset-100367_640Fully absorbed, there is a rightness about everything they do; their every action is sure. The possibility of failure is of no concern. They need nothing more than the brush in their hand, their fingers on the keyboard, dancing slippers on their feet. There is nothing else—no other pleasure, no other enjoyment–that is more meaningful and brings such rewards. It is as though they are thinking:

This thing that I am doing is essential to my fulfillment and well-being. I will be tenacious; I will persist for long periods of time, not being diverted, and try to make this work I am doing exceptional, applying all the skills I’ve developed. I am finding that my skills are all that I’ve wished for and just right for this work. My mind will be sharp, my energy unstoppable. I will be relaxed and alert too—confident, in balance; in control of all my faculties. I am willing to sacrifice. At times I will forget to eat, forget to sleep. I will block out distractions as best I can. When I reach an impasse, I will ask for help. I will arrange a life-style and personal habits and routines to accommodate my work and will find the time.

 Seeking a Perfect Match of Goals and Skills

Artists begin with a vision of what at last they could become. That is the basis of their goals–a guiding vision. The major factors in achieving creative ecstasy are: being powerfully motivated to succeed, (so powerfully that it is almost impossible to keep you from your work); having the confidence that you will succeed, (if not now, eventually); making decisive choices and pursuing goals that are personally extremely meaningful (few things in your life are as important, possibly nothing is as important); receiving immediate feedback on performance every step of the way (performance feedback and high motivation go hand in hand); and possessing all the skills required to perform the task (no skill is lacking).

Often feedback comes from an external source—a teacher, for example, or mentor, the audience the artist is aiming to please, or in the case of a writer, an editor. But experienced artists have internalized the “rules” of the art and know good work from bad work so well that their most useful feedback comes from themselves. They don’t have to wait for feedback from the outside.

sisters-74069_640Many writers, painters, and dancers—possibly most; possibly most people– don’t give their goals much thought and don’t care if they achieve them. Only a minority do. And if they do care, many aren’t willing to put out the effort to reach them. Research shows that 85% of Americans wait for things to happen. Only 15% are proactive and make things happen. Many people don’t have the first notion of the causes of success or failure or how to achieve their goals—the means that must be involved. But artists in ecstasy are clear and their motivation knows no bounds.

Of special importance to ecstasy and bliss, it seems to me, is the ideal state when the artists’ skills perfectly match the goals the artists aim to achieve. The skills are exactly what’s needed to reach the goals. That means that artists should pursue goals that are not too easy, but not too difficult, based on their assessment of their skills.

 The Alternatives

If your goals are higher than your skills, you won’t achieve the goals and will feel frustration, disappointment, stress, and anxiety.

If the goals are considerably less than your skills and success is guaranteed, you’ll be bored.

Anxiety and boredom alike interfere with work and are signals that your goals need to be changed.

But if you don’t care whether you reach the goal you’ll be indifferent and apathetic.

So if you’re meeting only frustration, disappointment, and worry, you may continually be aiming too high and should lower your sights, not permanently, but until you develop your skills further and are in a better position to reach the goals. Make developing your skills to the highest level your priority, principally through deliberate practice,

And if you’re often bored, set higher goals, you’re aiming too low.

If you’re apathetic, pursue only goals that mean something to you. (I realize this isn’t always possible, such as when you’ve been given an assignment that you dislike but have no choice. But in that case find ways of making the goal more interesting, such as making it a game, as how quickly you can finish the work while still doing a good job).

If you’re often in ecstasy—some artists are every day–the balance between the difficulty of the goal and your skills is perfect.

Things That Are a Little Out of Reach

piano-302122_640The most challenging goals—and those leading to the best benefits–are those that you’re most interested in, are not completely certain you can reach, and will get the greatest satisfaction from when you achieve them. We work harder to get what is a little out of reach—but not too far. When the goals you set are difficult but achievable you’ll have no problem persisting until you achieve them. That happens automatically. If you come up short, all is not lost. Every failure is valuable feedback indicating what needs to be improved.

As your capabilities develop, as they will if you apply yourself, you will have a natural urge to seek increasingly greater challenges, higher performance, and higher achievements. As your skill level rises, so do your ambitions, and a goal that was once powerfully motivating becomes less powerful and needs to be replaced by a more difficult one. You wanted to have your artwork displayed in a gallery. Now it has been, so you want to see it in a more prestigious gallery. Your short story was published and was highly thought of; now you’re aiming for a novel. Your songs are popular, so now you will write a musical.

Setting difficult goals that require considerable work can significantly increase an artist’s motivation and at the same time, his/her performance. Difficult goals are motivating in and of themselves and build a strong sense of self-confidence. You’ll work harder to reach them. Attainable doesn’t in any sense mean easy. To write a good book may take an almost unbelievable amount of effort and persistence. Harder goals will take you to higher levels of performance than easy goals provided you’ve chosen the goals voluntarily and have or can develop the necessary skills.

People put out more effort if they consider the goals difficult, but not so difficult as to be unachievable. Yet, the creative person must also be willing to work hard and long on ambitious projects that verge on the impossible—an epic novel, an opera, a symphony.

The Definition of “Difficulty” All Depends

vincent-van-gogh-85799_640(1)Now the definition of what is a difficult or easy goal depends totally on who you are. For example, a goal that may be impossible for me may be perfectly reasonable for you. Whenever I hear someone say, “The odds of succeeding are one in ten,” I think, What you’re saying is that you think they are one in ten for you. However, they may be one in five for me. I’m going ahead with it because I think one in five is very attainable.

A Little Quiz

A goal is more difficult—and possibly impossible– to reach if you aren’t a hard worker. It’s particularly difficult if you’re lazy. Ask yourself, “How hard a worker am I?” Rate yourself on a scale of one to ten, one being “Not a very hard worker” and ten being “An exceptionally hard worker. I’m inexhaustible.”

Are you a one, a seven, or a ten? It is hard to imagine artists who have reached high levels being anything but tens. They pour tremendous stores of energy into their work. If they are separated from their painting, their writing, their music for more than 24 hours they get nervous; any longer, they get depressed. Artists who are not hard workers are in trouble.

Do you know what the causes are of success or failure in reaching goals?

Do you set artistic goals?

If so, what are they?

Are they clear? Some artists are not any more talented or intelligent than others, but they are far more successful because they have not a single doubt about what specifically they are attempting to accomplish. They are single-minded, with only that supreme goal in mind.

Do your goals match your skills or are they too high or too low?

If they are too high, how will you change them to better match your skills?

Are they a little out of reach? (If yes, that’s good.)

If they are too low, what will you do to make them more ambitious?

How important are they to you?

Not very important

Kind of important

Couldn’t possibly be more important

How do you plan to attain them?

Often when their goals are not properly matched with skills and artists are enduring periods of anxiety, disappointment, or boredom, they try to force themselves, and the work product is usually not up to the artists’ standards. But when in ecstasy and everything is aligned, they are fully functioning and can do no better.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Steps to Becoming a Successful Artist and Writer

You can develop as an artist any way you wish. This post lays out a process of development that is generally, in one way or another, followed by successful artists. The steps are not necessarily linear, occurring one after another in a strict order, but they are usually present in the lives of writers and artists of all kinds. I’ll be curious to hear from you about your own development. Did it follow a direct path or was it roundabout? What steps were involved? How difficult was it? What did you learn from it?

My life of devotion to writing and studying the arts and the artist’s life—setting writing as a high priority in my life; thinking of it all the time; sacrificing for it—were shaped by these experiences:

classroom-510228_640In the third grade the teacher read to the class my theme in which I’d used poetic language (I’d written a simile), and I decided I would become a writer and write similes as often as I wanted the rest of my life.

At eight or nine I saw Laurence Olivier, the world’s greatest actor, in a movie on TV and decided that I wanted one day to be able to affect people the way his performance had affected me—he had made me gasp. Even as children we are able to recognize art at its highest and wish to know more about it and about artists who are such extraordinarily talented beings.

A major event for me in college involved another teacher, a well-known teacher of writing who one day read to the class a piece I’d written about my childhood. When she finished reading, she said, “A teacher waits her entire career for a student who can write like this.”

Very quickly after that, while still in college, I wrote a story that was published in a prestigious literary journal.

Then came the education, the writing jobs, the artistic friends, the teachers, the ambitions and goals, the teaching of others, and the hard work.

I entered the writer’s milieu—publishers, agents, best seller lists, book tours, foreign editions, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, reviews, public recognition—success.

Then I took off years reading, researching, and experimenting.

Next, while continuing to research especially on artists, I began writing blog posts.

At every turn there was positive feedback, reinforcement, and encouragement.

 Steps

stairs-315952_640I’ve talked to many artists of all kinds and studied the lives of artists of every variety looking for patterns in their development: how did they become artists? In most instances the process of developing and perfecting an artist’s talent involves:

First signs of talent and interest: It may happen at any age–prodigies at three; painter Grandma Moses in her eighties. A child’s interest often follows an interest of a parent, and that parent often followed an interest of their parent. What is most amazing about young prodigies is that they are “pretuned”—they know the rules of their area of talent before being taught them. Few artists are prodigies, and in the overwhelming majority of cases later in life the artist who was not a prodigy–and often showed no particular talent in youth–surpasses the prodigy in achievements.

Some artists take to the art as a second career that may become a primary career, or they excel in both careers. Composer Charles Ives and poet Wallace Stevens were both also successful insurance executives. Award-winning American poet William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician. Prolific novelist Anthony Trollope was a British post office employee. Painter Henri Rousseau was a tax collector in Paris.

Interest aroused: There is almost always a moment in a talented person’s life when he/she became enamored of a particular art. There was a connection, a suitability, a symbiosis: the to-be-composer George Gershwin as a boy sitting on the curb outside his friend’s lower east side New York apartment and hearing him play the piano.

Trying it out/taking a stab: This often has a lasting effect, overcoming hesitation, shyness, reluctance, embarrassment, and fear.

Tentative commitment: “Okay, Mom, I’ll take lessons. I’ll see if I like it.”

crystal-439297_640A crystallizing experience: Often a moment occurs when the person’s existence seems to be organized and focused toward the art, a premonition that from that point forward the art will be prominent in his/her life.

Discovery of aptitude, Inclination, potential: Reinforcement comes from the outside–approval/ support/ applause/ a successful recital or performance in a play. You will not go terribly far in the art if your personality and skills are not synchronized, harmonized, and matched with those required to excel in the art.

Awakening of desire: “This is the right thing for me to do. I like this. I’m good at it. I want more of this. I will work at this.”

Establishment of “themes” important to the artist: Personal motifs begun earlier in life, often childhood, stay with the artist throughout life and are reflected again and again in everything the artist produces. These themes cannot be avoided; they are the artist’s “fingerprints.” 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. These are the origins of their craft. Anyone who knows an artist’s work well is able to identify the artist’s recurring themes and subjects. His/her preoccupations are everywhere in the work.

Increased effort: Willingness to devote more energy to the art develops. What is often so impressive is how quickly some artists move from a first exposure to this level.

Self-confidence builds: The desire to succeed and the confidence that they can—along with skill and resilience—bring artists success. Those who are sure of themselves intensify their efforts when they don’t reach their goal and persist until they reach it.

Jelling: Everything starts to come together–ambitions, skills, progress, and success.

Deepening of desire: Stronger feelings toward the art increase; ambitions are raised.

Instruction, learning, knowledge, talent development: The specialized knowledge you accumulate through practicing your craft and receiving instruction, including self-instruction, is the most important factor in reaching exceptionally high levels of skills, possibly of greater importance than talent. The excellent writer or artist has acquired more sheer knowledge of the art and how to create it than the less excellent writer or artist.

All artists are to some extent studious and have the ability to apply themselves and to learn quickly; they are teachable. The need is for effective teachers. A poor teacher is as harmful, or is more harmful, than no teacher; the student of a bad teacher acquires bad habits. Being a stellar student in school is certainly not a prerequisite for artists. However, specialized training in certain arts such as painting and composing is often crucial.

Mentoring, coaching, modeling, guiding: No artists—no human beings–reach their goals and achieve success without help. The older generation passes on knowledge, styles, and techniques to the younger who emulate the older. Mentoring often plays an inestimable role in artistic development, as the mentoring that Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound provided to a young Ernest Hemingway, helping to shape his revolutionary writing style, or that Sherwood Anderson gave William Faulkner, starting him off on his professional literary career, by asking his own publisher if they would publish his protégé’s first novel.

Close personal support, encouragement: Many benefit from connectedness to others such as writers’ or artists’ groups and at times in the relationship with one other person as lovers, husbands and wives, siblings, or close friends: Frederick Chopin/George Sand, Jackson Pollock/Lee Krasner, Jean Paul Sartre/Simone De Beauvoir, Henry Miller/Anais Nin, Virginia Woolf/Leonard Woolf, Salvador Dali/Gala, Thomas Wolfe/Maxwell Perkins, George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin. Most artists form a set of personal and professional relationships in the field that support them, find them opportunities, and rally them when they’re discouraged. The partner/mate of the artist often takes pressure off the artist, freeing him to focus on his work, as with novelist Joseph Conrad and his wife Jessie George.

piano-233715_640Sustained deliberate practice: Months and years of work and improvements pass. The “ten year rule” (although it has notable exceptions) states that to progress from a novice to high expertise requires ten years of focused effort. That involves developing skills through intensive—often lonely–practice leading to competence, then to expertise, then excellence, then greatness. Even this process—tedious, boring, demanding—is a pleasure to the artist. Long periods of dogged hard work are nearly always the reason for superior artistic performance.

More focused effort: Realizing that artistic success is feasible, the artist buckles down with stronger motivation, drive, persistence, perseverance. Expectations rise. Picasso said, “Everybody has the same energy potential. The average person wastes his in a dozen little ways. I bring more to bear in one thing only: my painting, and everything else is sacrificed to it…myself included.” Some ballet dancers with an eye to excellence practice until their feet bleed.

Experimentation: William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and Eugene O’Neill began as poets, then switched to short stories and novels, or plays. Later in life short story master Anton Chekhov (the best there has ever been) began writing plays as well and discovered he could write masterpieces. A multi-talented man, Chekhov was also a practicing physician.

Narrowing down, specialization, development of a dominant style: As a result of experimentation and the clearer understanding of his strengths, weaknesses, and preferences, the artist defines himself more specifically: “I am a portrait painter.” “I paint skies.” A distinctive style (that develops over time) is the first sign of an artist’s high expertise. When I told that to the late composer/conductor Marvin Hamlisch, the composer of “The Way We Were,” and A Chorus Line, he asked, “Is that true?” and I said, “Marvin, you can’t write anything without my knowing it’s you.”

Breakthroughs: Often there are “years of silence” when the artist is working hard but has no tangible successes to show until the first successes which often then come in a flurry—novelists Jack London and William Saroyan received hundreds of rejections before their first success. Thereafter, everything they wrote was published.

Application, Working Harder: The taste of success creates a hunger for more success, which inspires more rigorous application and harder work.

Self-Education, self-determination: Every artist to one extent or another is an autodidact, a self-teacher. Some, like painter Vincent van Gogh and American poet Walt Whitman, were almost completely self-taught. Other famous painters studied with masters, but van Gogh and Henri Rousseau were exceptions. Writers are more likely than other artists to be self-taught. Most composers are taught by masters, and must have high potential to even be accepted as a student by the master. But classical composers Russian Alexander Borodin (also a chemist and physician) and Englishman Edward Elgar were essentially self-taught.

Settling on a Working Philosophy, Work Habits/ Tempo: Everyone working at an art develops his or her own work pace and philosophy of working. Van Gogh always painted at high pressure and at a feverish pitch, gathering up the colors as though with a shovel, throwing them on the canvas with rage, globs of paint covering the length of the paint brush and sticking to his fingers. He had no hesitations and no doubts. Cezanne didn’t understand van Gogh and told him, “Your methods lead to confusion. You don’t work in the manner of our ancestors.” American novelist Thomas Wolfe, a huge man with an equally huge capacity for work, wrote in a frenzy in clouds of cigarette smoke at lightning speed. Gustave Flaubert, on the other hand, worked meticulously, agonizing over every word in every sentence. Some film directors re-shoot a scene thirty times; others rarely more than once or twice.

Noticeable Improvement, refinement of skill, maturity: An evolution often occurs when the artist finds his “voice” as a result of long experience and reflection. Novelist Henry Miller: “It was at that point…that I really began to write… Immediately I heard my own voice…the fact that I was a separate, distinct, unique voice sustained me…My life itself became a work of art. I had found a voice. I was whole again.”

Greater reach, sudden growth spurts: At times, almost unaccountably, an artist experiences a leap in performance. The best example is Walt Whitman. In a short period he transformed himself from a below-average scribbler to America’s greatest poet.

Setbacks, obstacles, and Impediments: Artists often lead troubled, unconventional lives. Almost all go through fallow periods when success seems unattainable, but their recuperative powers seem inexhaustible and they work on, developing the resilience to rebound from setbacks. The incidence of addictions, mental illness (particularly bi-polar disorder), and suicide is considerably higher than that of the general population. Self-destructive American painter Jackson Pollack, American writer Ernest Hemingway, and too many poets to mention are examples. That, to me, makes artists even more remarkable, for often in spite of enormous personal problems that would debilitate most people, they still manage to produce tremendous volumes of artistic work of the highest quality. It is as though when they are focused on their craft all obstacles wither and disappear. Writer, poet, and essayist D.H. Lawrence wrote, “One sheds one’s sickness in books.”

new-york-115629_640Increased satisfaction, rewards, a way of life: Artists differ from one another in a variety of ways, but are unanimous in this way: they all love what they do. Their art provides a source of challenges, fulfillments, and opportunities for self-exploration and self-expression. The artist experiences the intrinsic satisfaction of continuous enjoyment from the art and the extrinsic benefits of success—particularly respect and praise—even adoration–and material rewards.

You want to continue to make regular use of your principal artistic strengths–your main aptitudes, talents, gifts, personal qualities, and capabilities, to do so freely, without inhibition, without conflicts, and without being interfered with, and to be in a position to say every day, “Now, at this moment, I’m doing what I do especially well. I love it. It makes me happy.” Once you know you’re moving in the right artistic direction and feel strongly about it you fly through your days aflame with energy and determination. To become clear as to what your intended destiny is and to say to it, “I devote myself to you” is to feel an unstoppable drive toward its due fulfillment and to spring to life.

One after another, you overcome obstacles that are conspiring to keep you from your intended destiny, and now you are an artist.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Tidy, Productive Lives and Messy, Creative Lives

dandelion-6296_640Swedes use the term “Dandelion Children” to describe children who thrive in any kind of environment under any conditions in the same way dandelions thrive regardless of soil, drought, sun, or rain. This is a post about dandelion children who grow up to be remarkable.

Tidy, Productive Lives

“The vast majority of individuals whose adult lives have been unusually creative or productive, or who have been unusually capable within various fields of expertise, have been people whose early years have been stimulating ones, characterized by plenty of opportunities to learn and plenty of guidance and encouragement, of one or both parents.” (Michael J.A Howe, The Psychology of High Abilities)

The influential study described in Developing Talent in Young People laid out a process that was generally followed in homes of people who were studied. The parents strongly encouraged development of the children’s talent in a particular area in preference to others, went to extreme lengths to help the child to do well, were always willing to devote their time and energy to the children–playing games, reading to them, or teaching them in one way or another. Parents showed interest in their children’s activities and encouraged them to do their best. Not one of the children reached their potential without strong support and training. Parents would move heaven and earth to give their children rich educational opportunities, finding for them the best teachers and advisors, sparing no expense.

Those paragraphs—those ideas, those luxuries, usually of middle or upper middle-class, highly-educated affluent parents and their privileged children–are the kind psychologists love to write about neat and tidy, ideal upbringings. But even as you read them you’re thinking:

“Who are they talking about? They’re certainly not talking about me!”

Messy, Creative Lives

There’s an alternative point of view:

“When you read the lives of various great men (and women)-of all great men, perhaps, if the account is truthful–you will notice that the conditions of their childhood, their education, or their profession did not predispose them to what they ultimately accomplished. It is not because of their education, it is often in spite of it that they were able to develop. This man grew up without books; that man had to study secretly. It makes you wonder what the word ‘advantages’ really means, what parents mean when they say they want their children to have all the advantages they themselves did not have…Is not the lack of something often more helpful? For the lack of an external thing arouses an inner impulse that replaces it; the ‘I,’ the individual’s native gift is substituted…So you need never pity people who complain that they lack this or that, provided they have pledged themselves to reach their goal.” (Jean Guitton, A Student’s Guide to Intellectual Work)

Popular American author William Saroyan wrote, “I must make it known that I do not believe it is required of art, science, religion, philosophy or family to assure every man born into this life, a secure childhood, in which a child knows only love and harmony…The supplying of such a childhood to a child… may not even be desirable. It may create a nonentity.” Playwright/novelist Gore Vidal wrote, “The protective love of two devoted parents can absolutely destroy an artist.” Creative attainment does not depend on coming from an intact family.

Cradles of Eminence

In a biographical survey of the family backgrounds of 400 eminent people of the twentieth century that included novelists, poets, actors, musicians, opera singers, composers, movie directors, painters, playwrights, dancers, and architects, 85 % had come from troubled homes with very little attachment, warmth, affection, or closeness.

American novelist Willa Cather and her mother arranged their lives so that their contacts with each other were minimal and Willa and her brother were left alone. In Cradles of Eminence the authors who conducted the survey say, “Contentment and creativity do not ordinarily go hand in hand in the homes that cradle eminence.” As children 75% were troubled by a variety of problems such as poverty, and “by rejecting, over-possessive, estranged, or dominating parents; by financial ups and downs; by physical handicaps; or by parental dissatisfaction over the children’s school failures or vocational choice.”

ernest-hemingway-401493_640The great majority of writers of fiction or drama, and a number of poets, came from families where there were tense conflicts between the parents. Sixty percent were dissatisfied with school. Nobel Prize winning author Ernest Hemingway grew up in a dysfunctional home and was convinced his mother’s constant badgering of his father led to his father’s to suicide.

Prolific 19th century English novelist Anthony Trollope achieved fame, fortune, and popularity, and knew many of the rich and the accomplished of his era. But in school he “suffered horribly! I could make no stand against it. I had no friend to whom I could pour out my sorrows. I was big, and awkward, and ugly. How well I recall all the agonies of my young heart: how I considered whether I should always be alone; whether I could not find my way up to the top of that college tower, and from thence put an end to everything…Something of the disgrace of my school-days has clung to me all though life….I feel convinced in my mind that I have been flogged oftener than any human being alive…These were twelve years of tuition in which I do not remember that I even knew a lesson!”

As twelve year old celebrated English novelist Charles Dickens suffered in poverty and was forced to live alone, away from his family, while working many hours a day in a rat-infested factory pasting labels on pots while his father rotted in debtor’s prison. When his father was released, Charles’ mother wanted her son to stay on at that miserable factory. Later Dickens wrote: “I never afterwards forgot, I shall never forget, I never can forget, that my mother was warm for my being sent back…Even now, famous and caressed and happy, I often forget in my dream that I have a dear wife and children; even that I am a man; and I wander desolately back to that time in my life.”

Cradles Of Eminence concludes that contributions to the arts and other fields are likely to be made by the person whose childhood was not trouble-free and who was not an all-round good student, and whose parents were a problem to themselves and the child. In many autobiographies of eminent artists there are frequent references to the positive motivating effects adverse circumstances had on them.

jazz-63212_640Famous jazz musician Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong’s father deserted the family, and his mother was “out on the town.” Louis was committed to an institution for delinquent boys where he learned to play musical instruments and became a band leader. He said, “All in all I am very proud of the days I spent at the Colored Waifs Home for Boys.”

Stephen Crane, Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were just a few writers of many artists who failed in college. Many, like Hemingway, had no interest at all in going to a college. Pablo Picasso failed at elementary school because he refused to do anything other than paint. Even as a child of nine he would duck out of class and wander the streets of Madrid, painting and sketching.

Psychologist E. Paul Torrance found that 70% of the children who rated high in creativity would not be selected to be members of a special class for intellectually gifted children. High IQ students are likely to prefer conventional occupations–doctor, lawyer, and engineer. Highly creative students find unconventional careers like writer more appealing. Few of the subjects in Lewis Terman’s high IQ study—the “Genius Study”– went on to excel in the fine arts, music, and literature. The group produced many successful people, but not one creative artist.

Boys and girls who’ll become famous are not often ‘all around” competent, conforming students. Creative people are not distinguished by high grades at school. Fathers who were abject failures are common in the lives of great artists and in the lives of eminent people in almost all fields. Writers and actors lived in particularly turbulent homes.

“Ironically the child that grows up with many privileges may have much less opportunity for her or his creativity than the child growing up in the slums. If everything is done for the child, and the child has little opportunity to show initiative, then whatever latent potentials there are for creative work may be suppressed because there is no need to develop these potentials.” Robert J. Sternberg and James C. Kaufman, “Constraints on Creativity.”

I’m betting that the majority of people reading this post, many of them artists, didn’t follow the psychologist’s “tidy” path to their current creative lives, but became successful in spite of—or because of–a “messy” childhood.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

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Do You Dance For Me Or Yourself?

Artists’ Intensity, Obsessions, and Will

yoga-366093_640To say that artistic work is often difficult and artists must be highly motivated if they are to produce it is to say the surface of the sun is quite hot. The artist must not only have that motivation, but must also sustain it, often over a long period of many years. Among the personal qualities that cause motivation that is strong are not luxuries but virtual necessities for any artist: passion, restlessness, intensity, obsessiveness, will, and persistence. It’s not hard at all to look at an artist and say, “That man (or woman) is driven.”

French author Gustave Flaubert called his motivation rage: “Sometimes I don’t understand why my arms don’t drop from my body with fatigue, why my brains don’t melt away. I am leading a stern existence, stripped of all external pleasure, and am sustained only by a kind of permanent rage, which sometimes makes me weep tears of impotence but which never abates.”

“While the daily life of every [ballet] dancer is a full-time struggle against fatigue, strain, natural physical limitations and those due to injuries (which are inevitable), dance itself is an enactment of an energy which must seem, in all respects, untrammeled, effortless, at every moment fully mastered.” The dancer’s performance smile is “a categorical denial of what he or she is actually experiencing–for there is some discomfort, and often pain, in every major stint of performing [–and we might add, practicing]. (Susan Sontag. American writer, teacher, and film-maker)

But artists seem to develop tremendous recuperative powers and verge on the inexhaustible. Flaubert went back for more every day and dancers continue to smile while in pain. Picasso, who worked incessantly from childhood and produced a quarter million works, claimed never to have felt tired, never to have felt the slightest fatigue. He said, “When I work I leave my body outside the door.”

 If There Is One Thing Famous Artists Will Tell You

Freud thought that artists are actually seeking wealth and power, but being unable to secure them directly find satisfaction in creative activities. Whether that is true or it isn’t, if there is one thing famous artists will tell you it is that you work best and are most powerfully motivated to create and will work long, often tedious, hours and endure a great deal and surmount even major obstacles when you’re not thinking of anyone’s liking but your own.

It may take years to come to that conclusion, but come to it many do. “I alone here, on my inch of earth, paint this thing for my own sole joy, and according to my own sole mind. So I should paint it, if no other human being existed but myself. Let who will get good or ill from this–I am not concerned therewith. Thus I must do it, for thus I see it, and thus I like it, woe be to me if I paint as other people see or like.”(Art Critic John Ruskin)

At the time American novelist William Faulkner’s picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine he couldn’t afford to pay his electric bill. As soon as he resigned himself to the fact that his unique vision and natural complex and rhetorical style and particular subject matter were not those of a commercially-popular author, he immediately entered a period of sustained creative energy that produced in quick succession one masterpiece after another. Making the decisions not to seek fame or wealth, he embarked on a path that would lead ironically to eventual world fame, financial security, and celebrity, culminating in the Nobel Prize.

He turned inward and decided to write for himself: “One day I seemed to shut a door between me and all publishers. I said to myself, ‘Now I can write.’“ He started working on what would be the innovative The Sound and the Fury–“thinking of books, publication, only in the sense in saying to myself, I wont [sic] have to worry about publishers liking or not liking this at all.”

The Awareness of Being Judged

When an artist is hard at work, work is center stage and doing it as skillfully as possible and enjoying it for its own sake are the strongest driving forces. The standard against which artists measure themselves is making use of their capabilities to the fullest each time they set to work—a notion of personal perfection, as in ballet, perfect expression and perfect technique.

But from time to time the thought that the work is going to be judged by someone else enters the artist’s mind. When thinking that a critic, an editor, an agent, a reviewer, a potential buyer, an audience will soon be evaluating the work, for most artists, even the best and most highly regarded, the self-conscious nervousness begins. Prolific nineteenth century English novelist Anthony Trollope said that an author should let criticism fall on him as “dew or hail from heaven,” and accept it as fate. But even the most renowned artists worry about the reception their work will receive and cannot help but to bear that in mind during the creative process.

Psychologist Teresa M. Amabile staked her whole reputation on proving that creative solutions to problems occur more frequently when people engage in the activity for the sheer pleasure it offers, and less frequently when their creativity is being judged. When we are not being evaluated, our creativity is liberated and free, but is inhibited when we are.  Amabile tested a wide range of subjects. No matter what the reward was or when it was given, if the subjects thought they were working for external remuneration, they became less creative. But when they were playing, they were creative. A playful approach to the task increases the likelihood of producing creative results.

Another experiment showed that even the hint that an external reward was riding on performance was sufficient to make the subject lose interest. The same happens to chimps. Given paint and canvas chimpanzees become so absorbed in painting that they show little interest in sex or food. But if the chimps are extrinsically rewarded for their painting, the quantity and quality of their painting declines. They do only well enough to get the reward. Chimps, like many humans, are more likely to be creative when no expectations of external reward are contingent on their performance.  Then it’s fun. But even  thinking about external rewards reduces creativity among many people.

The Thought of Failing

With every performance an actor, violinist, singer, or dancer gives, and every work a painter, writer, or composer begins, the slate is wiped clean. Past successes mean nothing, and there is a new opportunity to please other people, true, but also the possibility of disappointing them and having to suffer the devastating thought, “I failed,” and possibly the loss of reputation and income. More than one performer has vomited before going on, fearing the unfavorable opinion of the people filling the theater and critics out there jotting notes on their pads.

All artists go through fallow periods when success seems unattainable. Hemingway’s career consisted of alternating decades of critical success and failure. I have a friend who won a prestigious national literary award, but couldn’t find a single publisher who would publish his next book.

 Artists Deprived of Success

Deprived of favorable outward success and validation, some artists experience hopelessness and simply give up. But others continue to work at their craft without external feedback on the strong basis of their self-confidence or unflagging hope or sheer love of their art. (Creativity is addictive.) Jack London received 600 rejection letters before selling his first story. But within two years of that he was one of the most famous writers in the world. 85% of Equity (union) actors are unemployed at any one time, but survive as best they can, and refuse to give up their art.

An ideal world for artists would be one in which the work sold itself. Van Gogh wrote, “My opinion is that the best thing would be to work on till art lovers feel drawn toward it (his work) of their own accord, instead of having to praise or explain it.” I can hardly think of anyone who doesn’t believe their art would be better quality if they didn’t have to worry about making it saleable—possibly producing a more extreme, more original, more daring, and more outrageous art out of the commercial mainstream that is less compromised and truer to the artist’s individuality.

Artists would prefer not to be dependent on the opinion of others at all, and must decide, as you must, whose liking their art is for; if they dance for me or themselves.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

Fighting to win Amazon

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or

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fighting-to-win-samurai-techniques-for-your-work-and-life-david-rogers/1119303640?ean=2940149174379

 

Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority

Waging Business Warfare812sCY9edLL._SL1500_

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or

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/waging-business-warfare-lessons-from-the-military-masters-in-achieving-competetive-superiority-revised-edition-david-rogers/1119079991?ean=2940149284030

 

 

 

 

 

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