A Successful Plan

“Nothing that happened was intentional. Nothing. Everything was about trying to make something cool for our friends that they would like.”Rick Rubin, on the only plan he ever had for Def Jam Records

This quote has been resonating with me ever since I heard it in a short documentary on producer Rick Rubin. In it, he visits the New York University dorm room where he started and ran Def Jam Records for its first few years. In fact, if you bought a Def Jam album during those early days, the business address printed on the sleeve was the address of that very same room. The album was likely shipped to the record store from the mailroom in the dorm by one of his classmates. They had some memorable parties at that dorm, for sure. It was college after all. But those parties are now even more memorable in hindsight because all of Rick’s friends were there and many of Rick’s friends were people that are household names — Rap music legends — now.

Def Jam Records went on to become, even today, one of the most powerful and profitable labels in music. Rick Rubin went on to produce musicians way beyond Rap. Credited in no small part with resurrecting the careers of living legends and always having the finger on the pulse of the next big thing. By any measure, one could make the argument that he is one of the most successful producers the music industry has ever known.

But, I would be willing to bet that even today he’s still just, “…trying to make something cool for our friends that they would like.” That his current success in no more intentional today than it was back then. The reason I suspect this is because it is a successful plan. A solid plan that worked then and remains a plan that works today. And, it’s a plan that scales. Because, if your friends like it then the chances are good that there are millions of other people just like them who would like it too. And, if you can make something millions of people like and place a fair price on it then you will sell millions of that thing and make millions of dollars in the process.

And, sure, there are many other factors to go from selling to a few friends to selling to millions of strangers. Luck, timing, and dozens of other factors mostly out of your control certainly come into play in order to reach those kinds of numbers. But, the one thing you can shoot for — to make something cool for your friends that they would like — is a measure of success that is achievable by all. And, even if you argue against it being your only measure of success you have to admit that it is a pretty good place to start counting it.

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Random Notes and Recent Thoughts #3

I haven’t done one of these in a while. Here are some short ideas I have yet to fully flesh out but are complete enough to share right now anyway. Perhaps in doing so they will drive a discussion that will lead to a longer post.

  • When “No” is your default, the things that fight their way to “Yes” have a deeper value and meaning. They not only have to earn their place, they have to maintain their worth to keep it. “Yes” is important. “Yes” means that something really matters to me. But, this is only the case — and I would argue only can be the case — when “Yes” is not easy and “No” is the default.

  • It is not enough to simply accept, put-up-with, or ignore those things that might drive us nuts about our partners in a relationship. We must learn to appreciate them. Find the ways in which those things might, in fact, be a part of what makes the other person so great. Unless we do, we risk it becoming the chink that becomes a hole that, under pressure, breaks the dam.

  • Like wide margins in a book makes it easier and more pleasurable to read, leaving wide margins in your life makes it easier and more pleasurable to live. Also, having margins in a book leaves lots of room to make notes, observations, doodle, and offer your thoughts. So goes margins in life, too.

  • The reason for quantifying your commitments, and making the time and space for them on a calendar, is as much about committing to your tasks and projects as it is to committing to the margins.

  • The gulf between irresponsibility and opportunity is bridged by intention.

  • Kindness is a habit. One that is strengthened and improved the more you are so.

  • Always get the best paint you can buy. The difference between the good stuff and everything else is measured in decades and, in some cases, centuries.

  • Just a little bit more effort goes such a long way because so many do so much less than the minimum required.

Make It Real

When I come up with a new idea or a new project, I find that simply writing it down amongst the daily scribbling in my journal is nice but no guarantee of it ever becoming anything more than that. Instead, I find that if it is something I’m really serious about, I need to take a small step towards making that idea real.

For instance, Twyla Tharp notes in her wonderful book, The Creative Habit, that every new project for her starts with a box. She notes:

Everyone has his or her own organizational system. Mine is a box, the kind you can buy at Office Depot for transferring files. I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.

As you can see, it’s nothing big. It’s just some words on a box. But it is about everything that box now represents. It is a simple start, a promise to fill it, and a goal to finish the project. The box is a commitment.

It doesn’t have to be anything special — or even a box. Make a folder for your idea or write the project name and date at the top of a fresh notebook page. The point is to do something. To take the first step. To own it.

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