How to Create Something Cool and Launch It Into the World

This video’s 13 minutes long. If you can’t rock a video right now, you can also check out the notes below for the general idea. The notes also contain links to all the presenters whose ideas made it into this video.

All the photos collected in this presentation are used under Creative Commons license. Links to each photo can be found below in the presentation notes.


In 2010, I started reading Chris Guillebeau’s adventure/entrepreneurship blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris later put out a book, also called The Art of Non-Conformity, and I went to hear him speak when he came through Philadelphia on his Unconventional Book Tour through all 50 states.

The people at the book tour stop were an interesting bunch. I met a few people who I later learned were successful Web entrepreneurs. I met other people who did interesting things with their lives. One woman was a dog training expert. Another woman was researching a book on a distant relative of hers whom she thought deserved a bigger spotlight in the history books.

Chris later announced the World Domination Summit, a conference to be held in Portland, Oregon, that I thought would be like the book tour stop times infinity. Thanks to some help from family and friends and Starwood points, I found myself in Portland for WDS, which did not disappoint, reaching an all-time high of times-infinity plus one. After WDS was over, I was inspired to create this presentation based the notes I took at the talks and workshops.

Presentation Notes

How to Create Something Cool

Photo by Alex Aylar, used under Creative Commons license.

This photo is a Lego recreation inspired by the movie Inception. Cool. I can’t believe people can make this stuff with Legos. In fact it’s kind of funny, but I think I’m even more impressed with the Lego recreation than the original movie version, even though the movie portrays actual people suspended in mid-air, fighting.

And Launch It Into the World

Photo by Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha, used under Creative Commons license.

That’s a nice parkour move in this photo. Our family visited New York City recently, and on a trip to Heckscher Playground in Central Park, my son and I saw some older kids practicing their parkour moves, leaping nimbly over and around the concrete walls of the playground. My son, 3 years old at the time, was fascinated, and tried out some moves of his own, drawing cheers from the older kids.

This presentation’s title, “How to Create Something Cool and Launch It Into the World” was inspired by something I heard John T. Unger say at the World Domination Summit. John currently has a successful online business selling firebowls. He has also been, variously, a street performer and, during the dot-com boom, a graphic designer. He said his formula for success is “do cool shit and tell people about it”. Awesome. This title came out of that idea.

What’s Cool?

Picture of Fred Johnson Photo by Thomas Hawk, used under Creative Commons license.

I say in the presentation that this guy’s name is Fred, and his name really is Fred. And he really does seem cool. Thomas Hawk, who took this photo, writes:

I spent a good chunk of Friday lunch and afternoon hanging out with Fred Johnson from Adobe. For those of you who don’t know Fred, he is the Senior Marketing Manager for Professional Photography at Adobe and a hell of a nice guy. In addition to being responsible for Professional Photography at Adobe, Fred also handles outside marketing for Adobe’s Lightroom product. I bet a few of you use that software huh? He’s also a photographer and blogger himself.

Blow People’s Minds

Photo by ZeroOne, used under Creative Commons license.

When I saw this photo of the pigeon I knew immediately that it was perfect for this slide of the presentation. It’s only as I’m typing up these notes and looking at the photo more closely that I realize the pigeon is sitting on a building in Manhattan, looking out over the East River towards Long Island City, which is exactly where we lived before moving to Philadelphia. In other words, it is entirely possible the pigeon in this photo was looking directly at me at the exact moment this photo was taken. Across the river there’s a solitary skyscraper with a pyramid-shaped top. That’s the Citigroup Building. Our apartment was a block from there. The pigeon is definitely looking towards that area. Flickr says this photo was taken on August 31st, 2008. That was a Sunday. We were still living in Long Island City at that time. It’s very possible we were all playing outside on that day. I don’t know for sure though. For just one second, I really wish I were one of those people who can remember exactly what they did on specific days in their past. At any rate, it gives me great satisfaction to imagine me and my family going about our Sunday, safe under the watchful eye and protective wing of this vigilant pigeon.

The idea of blowing people’s minds came from a talk by Jonathan Fields, who’s a recovering lawyer, although being a recovering lawyer doesn’t make him unique among the WDS presenters. He did quit a big-law-firm job after almost literally working himself to death. That part seems unique, at least among the recovering-lawyer WDS presenters. He went on to become an entrepreneur, and eventually a blogger, and then a book writer, among other things. He’s publishing a book this year called Uncertainty, which sets out to help creative people overcome fear and uncertainty.

All creators, from writers to painters to entrepreneurs and team leaders, eventually come face-to-face with mounting waves of fear and uncertainty. It’s unavoidable.

How you handle these powerful influences, though, often determines the difference between glorious success and demoralizing defeat.

Properly understood and harnessed, fear and uncertainty can become fuel for creative genius rather than sources of pain, anxiety, and suffering.

As you might imagine, I found many ideas from Jonathan’s presentation were applicable to “How to Create Something Cool and Launch It Into the World”. So, you’ll see his name pop up a few more times in the notes below.

Serve People

Image via Michael Donovan, used under Creative Commons license.

This is a painting of McSorley’s bar in New York City. At McSorley’s, you can only get two types of beer: light and dark. The painting is by John French Sloan:

As a member of The Eight, a group of American artists, he became a leading figure in the Ashcan School of realist artists. He was known for his urban genre painting and ability to capture the essence of neighborhood life in New York City, often through his window.

The idea of serving people came out of a talk by Danielle LaPorte. She spoke about finding your creative mojo, and how to feel good about what you’re working on. Serving other people is part of feeling good about what you’re doing. So is self-expression, which shows up in the slide after next. Serving people is not a new idea of course, but it’s an important pillar that must be included here. Since I took that note during Danielle’s presentation, boom, she gets credit for the idea of serving people. Life is like that sometimes.

Prepare People to Be Independent

Photo by Nina Matthews, used under Creative Commons license.

I love this shot. One day my kids will be running off into the distance like that. Trying to get away from me.

This idea of preparing people to be independent came from Pamela Slim’s presentation. Pam is the author of Escape from Cubicle Nation, the book, and Escape from Cubicle Nation, the blog. She talked about this idea’s applicability in different areas of life, from raising children, and teaching kids to be self-sufficient, to the business world, and teaching your clients to be self-sufficient. This idea reminds me of something I heard Tim Ferriss say once. He received a piece of advice from someone who said, if you’re going to write a book, write the fucking book. Don’t hold anything back for a sequel. I think teaching someone to be independent is a similar concept — you teach them the whole thing, and don’t hold anything back.

Do What Excites You

Photo by Hani Amir, used under Creative Commons license.

Cool picture here of a guy diving into the water. I keep worrying that the water looks shallow and he is going to hurt himself. This photo was taken in the Maldives. The highest point in the Maldives is 2.3 meters off the ground (7 feet, 7 inches). Man, that’s crazy.

The idea of doing what excites you came from a talk by Leo Babauta. Leo’s the author of the blog Zen Habits, and a successful independent writer and entrepreneur. He’s been working on the idea of having no goals in life. He just does whatever excites him the most at any given moment, and that usually ends up being his best work. He used to set lots of goals and work really hard at achieving them, and he would set up elaborate systems with to-do lists and project timelines to help himself along. Now he just goes with the flow, and he feels as productive as ever. Sweet.

Be Authentic

Photo by Sukanto Debnath, used under Creative Commons license.

The lady in this photo is from Sikkim, which is part of India bordering Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan.

This idea of authenticity came from Neil Pasricha. Neil was supposed to speak at WDS but couldn’t come at the last minute due to an emergency. In lieu of Neil himself, we watched Neil the TED talk, which you can check out here. Neil was a regular guy going through a tough time in his life — the bad economy, for one, but then his marriage falling apart and his best friend committing suicide. To cheer up his spirits and the spirits of others, he started the blog called 1,000 Awesome Things. It features a new post every day with something awesome from everyday life, such as “When cashiers open up new check-out lanes at the grocery store” and “Flavor pockets“. The blog was a huge hit immediately, and he’s gone on to write a bestselling book, The Book of Awesome.

Find Your Mode of Expression

Photo by Navy Blue Stripes, used under Creative Commons license.

This photo is a self-portrait. Love it.The idea of finding your mode of self-expression came via Kim and Jason Kotecki. They are a husband-and-wife team making a living in large part from professional speaking. Roughly, Jason gives the speeches, and Kim runs the marketing and sales. Their message, which they get out through speaking, books, cartoons, and even T-shirts, is that people don’t have to be stressed out all the time. They can enjoy life more just by tapping into the carefree, playful mindset we all mostly have as children but seem to lose as we grow older. I believe their point here was regardless of the message you’re trying to put out into the world, you should spend time finding and developing your ideal mode of expression. Some people are going to be better at writing. Some, like Jason and Kim, might find success with speaking. Others might prefer video. It’s not always easy to tell what you’re going to be best at, so try different modes of expression and see what works. Look for the mode that works well for you and resonates well with others. Once you’ve identified it, sharpen your skills from there.

Embrace Your Choices

Photo by Joe Thorn, used under Creative Commons license.

I love trains. I used to take my son riding on the subway, just for fun. We would do that for hours sometimes. Have you ever wondered how trains are able to go around curves in the track? When you go around a turn, the outer wheels have to travel farther than the inner wheels. Cars have this problem too, and it is solved by having each wheel rotate independently of the others, with everything controlled by a system of gears. But a train has a single, solid axle holding two wheels together. So how does it work? Cones, my friend. Cones. Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman explains it in this video.This idea of embracing your choices came from Danielle LaPorte’s talk on finding happiness in your work. People are always hearing that in order to lead a more fulfulling life, they should follow their passions. But sometimes you need to pay the bills, and your passion project might not help you there. That’s OK — we all need to pay the bills. Embrace the choices you’re making, because if you’re always second-guessing your own choices, you’ll fail to take advantage of the opportunities you do have, such as working on your “true passion” project at night and on the weekends.

Don’t Compare Your Insides to Other People’s Outsides

Photo by Joshua Hoffman, used under Creative Commons license.

What a great picture. I’m not sure if he’s comparing his insides to someone else’s outsides, or if I’m comparing my insides to his outsides. The description of this photo on Flickr says this guy’s name is “MC Status, out of Chapel Hill”. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a Website for MC Status out of Chapel Hill. This idea came from a talk by Karen Walrond. Karen is a photographer, professional speaker, and the author of The Beauty of Different. I believe she’s also part of the recovering-lawyer subset of WDS speakers. I’ve heard this kind of idea expressed other ways too, such as “comparison kills”. But I really like Karen’s version, because it starts to explain why comparing yourself to someone else is a waste of time.

How Do You Create?

Photo by Kevin McDonnell, used under Creative Commons license.

I’ve tried to make fun animals out of clay. It never works. I am jealous of Kevin’s ability to form this purple and orange snail. Did you know it’s really easy to make your own playdough?

Form Positive Habits

Photo by Tim O’Brien, used under Creative Commons license.

Those weights look heavy. The idea of forming positive habits comes from Leo Babauta’s talk. He writes for Zen Habits, so as you might imagine, he thinks a lot about habits. Leo made the point that if you want to start developing a new habit, you shouldn’t think big thoughts. You shouldn’t think, OK, I’m going to start going to the gym. I’m going to go every single morning at 5am and become a sculpted masterpiece of a god among puny men. You shouldn’t do that because that first morning, when your alarm goes off, you won’t want to get out of bed. You’ll have built it up too much. Instead, you should start with something small. Say you are going to go exercise one time, for just 5 minutes. Make it so easily achievable that there’s no possibility of you not getting out the door. Then once you’ve made it 5 minutes, you might decide to go longer. Then, you try again the next day — just 5 minutes. Eventually, you may find yourself enjoying the exercise and bump things up to 6 minutes. By the way, Leo probably wouldn’t exercise in a gym like this. He’d probably just do some pushups.

Take Action In the Face of Uncertainty

Photo by Nicki Varkevisser, used under Creative Commons license.

I love the feeling of jumping off a cliff and landing on my friends. The girl in this photo is afraid of heights. In her words:

I am afraid of heights.

More than anything really. Standing at the top of the cliff I felt sick to my stomach and my legs were shaking so much I could harldy stand up. But I really wanted to try and get over it and just jump. I’m so glad I did. And look how happy my friends are waiting for me =] Maybe because it was after about 20 minutes of convincing.

By the way I am screaming my head off.

Personally, I just leap off cliffs for the fun of it. Sometimes into water, sometimes not.

This idea of taking action comes from Jonathan Fields. Many people have good ideas. The tricky part is turning them into reality. The only way that happens is through action.

Create an Environment to Create In

Photo by Lecates, used under Creative Commons license.

I remember that feeling, when I was a young girl, of being holed up in the back seat writing in a Moleskine I stole from my Dad. Oh, actually, that wasn’t me, that’s the girl in this picture. She’s seven.The idea of creating an environment to create in comes courtesy of Jonathan Fields. We’re in the Jonathan Fields wheelhouse right now. Perhaps I should’ve titled this presentation, “How to Create Something Cool Using Ideas You Took from Jonathan Fields,” but that wouldn’t have done proper justice to all the other people whose ideas I took.

Work In Bursts

Photo by fPat Murray, used under Creative Commons license.

Tigers clashing! I can’t believe I get to see this photo. Apparently these tigers are at the Philadelphia Zoo, so I should go see them. I went to the Philly Zoo recently, and I remember seeing polar bears, but I definitely did not see tigers clashing.This idea is also from Jonathan Fields. I am going to honor this idea by stopping to have lunch right now.

Reframe Problems

Photo by Håkan Dahlström, used under Creative Commons license.

I’ll give you one guess where this photo was taken. Hint: it rhymes with Fan Srancisco. Clever reframing, my friend. Very clever.This idea is also a Jonathan Fields special. Sometimes it can be difficult to escape from thinking about a problem, even if you know you’re wasting your time rehashing it over and over in your mind. One technique that’s worked for me in the past is to ask myself, Will I remember this problem in a year? Ten years? Usually the answer is no, and that helps me forget about it. If the answer is yes, then it’s probably time to PANIC.

Stay Open to Unforeseen Opportunities

Photo by Niel Schubert, used under Creative Commons license.

I’m allergic to cats. Especially this cat. My wife loves cats and she used to have one named Scarlett when we lived in NYC. Scarlett loved to come over and lick me, which was cute right up until when my airways closed shut. Luckily, Jordan’s parents love cats, and they’ve adopted Scarlett.This idea of staying open to unforeseen opportunities comes from Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads. Jodi rounds out the troika of recovering-lawyer-speakers. She quit her biglawfirm job in New York City to travel the world on her own. Five years later and she’s still traveling the world, living off savings and freelance gigs she’s picked up along the way. When she set out, she didn’t really have a plan to make money, but those freelance writing opportunities came along after she had started traveling. That’s an example of opportunities that materialize only after you’ve set out on a particular path.

How Do You Launch?

Photo by looking4poetry, used under Creative Commons license.

This photo was taken in Paris during a protest against restrictive immigration laws:

A protest took place in Paris (as well as in other cities of France) and gathered thousands of demonstrators against French governement’s immigration law.

Several associations were altogether in this protest to denounce the latest laws that have limited and made more difficult for foreign people to become French in the last 5 years, as well as other laws easing expulsion of the country the clandestines.

Spend Time Marketing

Photo by Bob B. Brown, used under Creative Commons license.

The airplane’s full banner says, “What the flugtag are you doing down there?” I’m not sure what you mean, airplane. Actually Flugtag seems to be some kind of event invented by the makers of Red Bull, the energy drink.

Red Bull Flugtag challenges teams of everyday people to build homemade, human-powered flying machines and pilot them off a 30-foot high deck in hopes of achieving flight! Flugtag may mean “flying day” in German, but all these crafts ultimately splash into the waters below. They are judged not only on their flight’s distance, but creativity and showmanship as well.

This idea comes from John T. Unger and Kim & Jason Kotecki. John said when he created one of his first firebowls, he posted it online with a “buy now” button, and sent the link around to various blogs. Soon enough it was picked up by some blogs, and he gradually started to build a following. John said even now that he’s established himself, the majority of his time is actually still spent markting. Kim & Jason budget a certain amount of time each week for marketing their professional speaking product, either contacting people who have expressed interest via their Website, or calling on leads. It’s something they do day in and day out. In short, marketing is something you want to budget time for. By the way, if you heard about this video via an email from me, you can blame John, Kim and Jason.

Build Relationships With People

Photo by Robert Bejil, used under Creative Commons license.

Cute photo right? This photo was taken at a party. Here’s another picture from the same party.This idea comes from John T. Unger, maker of the firebowls. As mentioned earlier, even though he’s established himself at this point, he still spends the majority of his time marketing. Part of what he said he does is just build relationships with other people online. He’s not contacting people only when he has something to sell, he’s building relationships with other people — real people! — over time, and when he needs help getting the word out, his friends will help him out.

Get Off Your Site

Photo by FOCH, used under Creative Commons license.

This idea came from Danielle LaPorte. It came up in the context of trying to make a name for yourself online. If you want to get your name out there, how do you do it? Well, you have to put yourself out there. There’s a tendency to keep creating within the confines of your own site, because it’s easier, but you should look for opportunities to appear elsewhere. Some example would be guest-posting or interviews for other Websites. If possible, get your name out there to other forms of media like newspapers, radio or TV. In short, get your message out far and wide.

Remember Marketing Is Like Fishing

Photo by Duane Romanell, used under Creative Commons license.

Nice tail. From the photographer:

This is the “tail end” of a large, steel bass fish sculpture atop the sign for Pepper’s Bait and Tackle shop, a true landmark along the Dixie Highway in Louisville, KY.

I really liked this fishing analogy from Kim and Jason Kotecki. They were the professional speaking duo. They were talking about some of the keys to success in developing a career as a public speaker. You want to narrow your focus, like so:

  1. You can have 1 topic for multiple audiences. For example you can speak about personal productivity to people from all walks of life.
  2. You can have multiple topics for 1 audience. For example you can speak exclusively to dentists, on multiple topics.
  3. You can have 1 topic and 1 audience. For example, you can speak about personal productivity to dentists. This is ideal.

Why is it idea to narrow your focus? Because marketing is like fishing. I you want to catch a fish, you should pick a specific lure for the specific audience you’re after. If you try to be all things to all people, you won’t get any traction with anybody. If you focus, you’ll improve your odds of connecting with someone.

Keep a Positive Attitude

Photo by Massimo Ankor, used under Creative Commons license.

This idea was taken from Neil Pasricha’s talk. He felt that staying positive in the face of adversity was one of the reasons his 1,000 Awesome Things blog took off. People appreciate a positive outlook and are more likely to listen to your message and share if if you adopt a positive stance. I think this also applies to the creative process — if you have a positive outlook, you’re more likely to create the thing you’re trying to create. A negative outlook will not help you along.

How Do You Get Paid?

Photo by velo_city, used under Creative Commons license.

Dolla billz! The photographer says:

My roommate (and tenant) likes to pay his rent in various ways. This time it was almost all in one dollar bills.

Have a Way to Get Paid

Photo by zizzybaloobah, used under Creative Commons license.

This idea comes from Mr. firebowl, John T. Unger. When he created his first firebowl, he put a picture of it online and put up a PayPal “buy now” button. If you want to get paid, you need a way for people to pay you. You also need a product. A simple idea perhaps, but maybe people will start blogs or other sites thinking they will monetize it somehow, at some point. That’s fine, but if you want to actually get paid, sooner or later you’ll need a way to get paid.

Do What Makes the Most Money Fastest

Photo by C. J. Peters, used under Creative Commons license.

Cute photo of the lemonade stand here. This was taken in Chagrin Falls, OH. That’s the next town over from where my Mom grew up and where my grandmother still lives.This idea came from Danielle LaPorte. This was her advice to anyone starting up a business — first focus on generating cash flow so you can survive. This is often going to be doing work on an hourly basis, such as consulting. This ultimately isn’t sustainable, so spend part of your time on long-term projects that can run without you.

Do What Makes the Most Money

Photo by Kevin Dooley, used under Creative Commons license.

I had a tough time finding a non-cheesy picture that would illustrate long-term financial success. I liked this one visually, and the name “Modern Plastics Corp” really stuck out to me as being funny in a dated way. Clearly they had been around for a long time. As I’ve looked into it further, this business actually just closed down after 70 years of operation. That’s impressive longevity, though I’m sure that’s little comfort to the people who lost their jobs when this factory closed.This idea came from Danielle LaPorte. Following on from the prior point, once your business is up and running with positive cash flow, start spending part of your time on long-term projects that can run without you. Namely: create products and services you can sell that don’t require your own time to deliver.

Get Good

Photo by Thomas Hawk, used under Creative Commons license.

This is the second photo by Thomas Hawk in the presentation. He’s trying to publish 1,000,000 finished, processed photographs before he dies. How cool is that? The idea of being good at what you do is quite simple but it goes to show there’s sometimes not much magic to this. Of course, if you want to get paid for something, you need to be good at it. When you’re just building up your skills, you might work for free. That’s OK, working for free will help your build up your skills, and you can ask people for testimonials if they liked your work. This idea comes from Kim and Jason Kotecki.

To Sell…Radiate. Then state the facts.

Photo by Wen-Yan King, used under Creative Commons license.

This girl was photographed inside a slum in Mumbai, India. From the photographer:

This girl started following me around in Dharavi out of curisody, and then finally stopped me to ask for me to take a photo of her. I didn’t realize at the time the beauty that radiates from her face…

I liked this framing from Danielle LaPorte. Some people don’t like the idea of selling. Of course we all have to sell our ideas as we go through life, but for some reason the idea of selling a product strikes fear into many people’s hearts. I love how Danielle breaks the process down into a simple structure like this.

Find Brilliant People to Complement You

Photo by Zach Rathore, used under Creative Commons license.

All I can say about this photo is AWESOME. That, and he’s a British guy dressed in a Mexican wrestling mask.This idea comes from Laura Roeder. (Note, pronounced ROAD-er, not RAY-der like I thought. My pronunciation doesn’t make much sense phonetically, but just in case you are the one other person out there pronouncing it RAY-der, you can stop now.) Anyway she’s got a multi-million dollar business teaching other businesses how to market themselves using blogs and social media. Her basic point was that you should find great people to complement you, as opposed to finding the “cheapest option”.

Well, thanks for reading these notes. I had fun writing them up, though it took a while. One of the things that kept me going was knowing I’d be pairing up this idea from Laura Roeder with a guy in an Mexican wrestling mask.

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