3-2-1: On the lessons of history, imperfect starts, and critiquing your own work

Author : danishraza794
Publish Date : 2021-01-27

3-2-1: On the lessons of history, imperfect starts, and critiquing your own work


Over 107 billion people have lived throughout history. (There are roughly 7.7 billion people alive right now.)

Over the centuries, these billions of people have tried things, failed, learned, and tried differently. Sometimes, they found new solutions. And when you are born, you get to inherit the insights they learned by trial and error.

The cumulative lessons of those 107 billion people have been passed down to you. It is the greatest gift you will ever receive. We are smart not because of our individual genius, but because of our collective knowledge.

As the historian Niall Ferguson noted, “The dead outnumber the living fourteen to one, and we ignore the accumulated experience of such a huge majority of mankind at our peril.”


“Life is short.

And if life is short, then moving quickly matters. Launch the product. Write the book. Ask the question. Take the chance.
Be thoughtful, but get moving.”


“Start now. Optimize later.

An imperfect start can always be improved, but obsessing over a perfect plan will never take you anywhere on its own.”


Toni Morrison, a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning writer, passed away this week at the age of 88. In memory of her, I wanted to share one of my favorite quotes from her on critiquing your own work…

Interviewer: “Did you know as a child you wanted to be a writer?”






Toni Morrison: “No. I wanted to be a reader. I thought everything that needed to be written had already been written or would be. I only wrote the first book because I thought it wasn’t there, and I wanted to read it when I got through. I am a pretty good reader. I love it. It is what I do, really. So, if I can read it, that is the highest compliment I can think of. People say, I write for myself, and it sounds so awful and so narcissistic, but in a sense if you know how to read your own work— that is, with the necessary critical distance—it makes you a better writer and editor. When I teach creative writing, I always speak about how you have to learn how to read your work; I don’t mean enjoy it because you wrote it. I mean, go away from it, and read it as though it is the first time you’ve ever seen it. Critique it that way. Don’t get all involved in your thrilling sentences and all that…”

Later in the same interview, she adds:

“After all, this is my work. I have to take full responsibility for doing it right as well as doing it wrong. Doing it wrong isn’t bad, but doing it wrong and thinking you’ve done it right is.”

Source: Toni Morrison, The Art of Fiction No. 134


Morrison’s quote pairs well with the following passage from Stewart Butterfield, the founder of Slack. Today, Slack is a software company valued at billions of dollars. However, back in 2013, Butterfield sent a memo to his team two weeks before the product launched. In it, he explained to his team what it would take to create something great:

“It is very difficult to approach Slack with beginner’s mind. But we have to, all of us, and we have to do it every day, over and over and polish every rough edge off until this product is as smooth as lacquered mahogany.

“Each of you knows ‘really good.' Each of you is able to see when things are not done well. Certainly, we all complain enough about other people’s software, and we all know how important first impressions are in our own judgments. That is exactly how others will evaluate us.

“Putting yourself in the mind of someone who is coming to Slack for the first time — especially a real someone, who is being made to try this thing by their boss, who is already a bit hangry because they didn’t have time for breakfast, and who is anxious about finishing off a project before they take off for the long weekend — putting yourself in their mind means looking at Slack the way you look at some random piece of software in which you have no investment and no special interest. Look at it hard, and find the things that do not work.

“Be harsh, in the interest of being excellent.”

Source: We Don't Sell Saddles Here

Finally, here's a tough question to consider this week:

How long will you put off what you are capable of doing just to continue what you are comfortable doing?

Until next week,

James Clear
Author of the New York Times bestselling book, Atomic Habits
Creator of The Habits Academy and the Habit Journal

P.S. “James, are you planning to write another book?”

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