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Curious Answers, Average Speed, & Doing More than the Do-able (Reading Notes 7.2.18)

Resource: A curious answer to the most common question


This is one of my favorite pieces from Sivers and his main point applies to jobs outside the music industry as well. The idea here is to accept that you’ll always have to answer questions like “What kind of music do you do?” Most people give a boring general answer like “everything” or a mixture of everything.” Others will just pick the safest label and say “jazz” or “pop.”

If you answer in this way, according to Sivers, you’re blowing a great opportunity to create interest in your music. The purpose of answering the question isn’t to make the question go away. It’s to generate more questions. If someone asks you about your music, you want to give them an answer that makes them want to hear one of your songs.

Sivers suggest an answer like “it’s like the sound of fresh baked bread.”

This works for everyday careers too. Instead of saying “financial planner”, you can say “I help people who work for money figure out how to make money work for them.”

The whole point is to describe your work in a way that’s actually descriptive. Instead of taking the easy way out and hiding behind titles, the goal is the challenge yourself to think about what you do in terms of experiences you create or problems you solve. Following this practice not only makes your work sound more interesting, but it also helps you think more clearly about why your work matters to others.

Tell your story, not your status


“People will always and forever ask you, “What kind of music do you do?” You will always and forever have to answer that question. So have a good description prepared in advance. Many musicians avoid answering by saying, “We play all styles.” No you don’t. That’s like saying, “I speak all languages.” Many musicians avoid answering by saying, “We are totally unique.” No you’re not. If you use notes, instruments, beats, or words, you’re not totally unique. If you give people a non-answer like this, you lose them. You had the chance to make a fan, and you blew it. They won’t remember you because you gave them nothing to remember. You didn’t make them curious.”

“Imagine if you had said, “We sound like the smell of fresh baked bread.” Or “We’re the soundtrack to the final battle to save the earth.” Or “Bob Marley with a Turkish pipe smoking Japanese candy.” Then you’ve got their interest! A creative description also suggests that your music will be creative, too. So make up a curious answer to that common question.”

“With one interesting phrase to describe your music, you can make total strangers wonder about you. But whatever you do, stay away from the words “everything”, “nothing”, “all styles”, “totally unique”, and the other non-answer: “a mix of rock, pop, jazz, hip-hop, folk, reggae, blues, techno, and metal.”

Resource: What is Your “Average Speed” in Your Life, Your Health, and Your Work?


Consistency beats hard work. Average output consistently sustained over time is more reliable and rewarding than superstar performances every once in awhile.

Your health and success in any area of life is determined by your average speed, not your occasional breakout performances.

When you’re trying to create change in your life, look for sustainable starting points. A path that you can maintain on a bad day is more likely to get results than a path that relies on you always performing like an all-star.

This point reminds me of the phenomenon in basketball of a bad player who gets hot and has a 30 point game. It’s impressive for one night, you can’t count on it every night. A successful career is based on consistency.

Habit graduation — increasing your average speed in feasible and sustainable increments.

If your average speed is slow, don’t wallow in guilt about. Consistency is more important and you can increase your average speed through practice.


“I have a friend named Nathan Barry who recently finished writing three books in just 9 months. How did he do it? By following a simple strategy. He wrote 1,000 words per day. (That’s about 2 to 3 pages.) And he did it every day for 253 straight days. Now, compare that strategy to the classic image of a writer hiding out in a cabin for weeks and writing like a madman to finish their book. The maniac in the cabin has a high “maximum speed” — maybe 20 or even 30 pages per day. But after a few weeks at that unsustainable pace, either the book is finished or the author is. By comparison, Nathan’s maximum speed never reached the peak levels of the crazy writer in the cabin. However, over the course of a year or two his average speed was much higher.”

“For example, anyone can feel a burst of inspiration, head to the gym, and push themselves for a single workout. That’s maximum speed. We waste a lot of time obsessing over it. How hard was your workout? How motivated are you? How fast are you pushing it? But what if you were to average all of your days in the last month? How many of those days included a workout? How about the last three months? Or the last year? What has your average speed been?”

“Here’s the surprising thing about average speed: It doesn’t take very long for average speed to produce incredible results.”

“Recently, I was told about the idea of “habit graduation.” That is, graduating from your current habit to one level higher. Basically, habit graduation is about increasing your average speed. Here are some examples…If your average speed is eating three healthy meals per week, can you “graduate” that to one healthy meal per day? If your average speed is exercising twice per month, can you “graduate” that to once per week?”

“We all have an average speed when it comes to our habits. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, that average speed might be much slower than we’d like. The truth is, anyone can get motivated and push themselves for one day, but very few people maintain a consistent effort every week without fail. The important thing isn’t to judge yourself or feel guilty about having a lower average speed than you would like. The important thing is to be aware of what’s actually going on, realize that it’s within your control, and then embrace the fact that a small, but consistent change in your daily habits can lead to a remarkable increase in your average speed. In your health, your work, and your life, it doesn’t require a massive effort to achieve incredible results — just a consistent one.”

Resource: Do-ability


Seek out challenges, not conveniences.

The most valuable things to do are the ones that require you to push yourself, take risks, and stretch your abilities.

In an adult world where we no longer have teachers telling us what to do at every step, it’s easy to drift into auto-pilot or what Seth calls “the dumb lane.”

Don’t limit yourself to the projects, books, and tasks that are doable. Find some things that don’t appear doable and push yourself to reach beyond where you currently are.


“It’s essential that we differentiate between things that remind us of fear and those that are actually risky. In our adult world, the most valuable activities are actually inconvenient, fraught with the fear of failure and apparently un-do-able. Without someone telling us what to do, without a test to prove that we did it, it’s easy to slip into the dumb lane. Dumb, simple, easy, do-able. But what if we committed to the other path. To find a way to allocate our time to things that might not work?”

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