July 8, 2020

Book notes on the world’s best selling book by Paul Arden

Paul Arden was a creative director who was at the top of one of the world’s most competitive industries – he offers insight into the world of business through his work in advertising and working through creative processes. The book has the title: “It’s now how good you are, it’s how good you want to be” which immediately grabbed my attention when I was browsing through books, as I usually do, in one of the stores at the mall.

The book itself is a very quick read – in fact, it reminds me of one of Seth Godin’s books who shares insights, stories, quotes, analogies all along the same theme. There’s also lots of great quotes and takeaways and some of the ones that resonated with me include:

“Try to do the things that you are incapable of”

His first few ‘chapters’ of the book cover goal setting and this quote made me thought of Tim Ferriss’ excellent TED talk on fear setting. There’s also a quote by Jack Canfield who says that everything you want is on the other side of fear. Your fear is not necessarily a bad thing – it can help point you in the direction of what you need to do the most. Do you fear starting a business? Risking it all? Traveling to certain countries? Use Tim’s fear setting exercise to help you figure out whether the fear is justified or whether it is something you can recover from.

“The cleverest people at school are not those who make it in life”

What we learned in school are facts, and we were rewarded for the ability to memorize and recall those facts on exams. But people that were not successful at school are not necessarily less successful. What determines whether people make it in life is the desire to continually strive to be better than they are. And as long as the goal is there, there is no limit to achievement.

“Do not seek praise. Seek criticism”

This past Friday, I was sitting down with one of my counselees at work (someone that I coach in terms of career management) and I was telling him that I was looking through the feedback providers and noticed that some of the feedback providers were very positive in their praise of the counselee; however, they did not provide any specific feedback on how to improve.

You can always find people that will say nice things about you or your work but you want to find those that can help you make your work better because let’s face it, everything you produce can probably be better.

“Do not covet your ideas”

In school, for exams and different projects, I remember how secretive I was about my answers (and really my ideas). I would deftly avoid people’s probing questions about my research topic or my science fair ideas. Paul argues that it is in fact, better to give away all of your ideas. Why? When you give away all your ideas, then you seek to replenish those ideas with others. You become what James has written about many times – an idea machine. You generate more ideas. You maybe steal others’ ideas.

“When it can’t be done, do it. If you don’t do it, it doesn’t exist”

As some of my friends know, I come up with a lot of crazy ideas. In some cases, the ideas I come up with do not exist and could be good ideas but Paul is saying here that there’s no way to tell whether an idea is good or not unless you actually do it. In other words, come up with lots of ideas and any ideas that seem like they are impossible, do it.

“It’s right to be wrong”

People are very worried about being right. I see this in my line of work but I also see it in others. There’s another quote just on the previous pages that I really like and that’s “If you can’t solve a problem, it’s because you’re playing by the rules”. I never worry abut suggesting stupid ideas – a lot of the times, those stupid ideas lead to great ideas. But you can’t get to the great ideas almost right away in my experience, you have to break whatever rules are in your head first and to do that you have to be okay to look stupid or to be wrong.

“Don’t give a speech. Put on a show”

When we go see a speaker, we often know what the speaker is going to say. We go to see the speaker, not to listen to the speech. Case in point – how many speeches do you remember word for word? Quotes from speeches? Probably very few. However, you probably do remember if the speaker did something absolutely crazy during the speech like take out a brick or do an exercise to uncover your biases. Paint people a picture. In fact, even better, if you are doing a speech, do something memorable.

“Rough layouts sell the idea better than polished ones”

This is something that I have noticed as a trend in management consulting – before, we used to come up with final or close to final work products and deliverables and then present to the client for feedback and review. Nowadays, we involve the client as much as possible in the development and present them with very rough drafts. This means that clients are getting better work products AND since they are more involved in the process, they find that the work products better suit their needs.


Paul’s book inspires me to be better – it’s a small shot of motivation and creativity into producing some of the best and most creative work that you can.

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