Book review: “Show your work”, by Austin Kleon

  • Wisdom
  • Book review

I ordered both “Steal like an artist” and “Show your work”, and thoroughly enjoyed reading them both. Especially “Show your work” resonated with me.

Both books are mostly directed at creatives, whether visual artists, musicians, writers, etc. I come from an artistic background myself, yet I always found programming to be a highly creative craft. I also find it no surprise that our field has many highly creative and passionate people.

Especially in his book “Show your work”, author Austin Kleon shares some great insights on why you should share what you do, how you do it, and the reasons why you care.

The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."

—Annie Dillard (p.112)

The author then goes on to talk about the benefits of teaching what you know. The tech community is a great example of this. Developers seem to be fond of sharing knowledge, blogging, tweeting links to articles and resources… In fact, that's how I got started; not from books or CS courses, but from blogs and online tutorials.

We're all paying it forward, in a sense. We might fear we have nothing to say, or have no knowledge of interest. But no one ever knows everything, and there will always be people that are one step behind us, that don't have our knowledge yet, and would love to learn from us.

A lot of people are so used to just seeing the outcome of work. They never see the side of the work you go through to produce the outcome.

—Michael Jackson (p.32)

I love it when successful people share their process. I's such a great way to teach, but also to attract like minded developer, and even clients.

In REWORK, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson wrote a chapter entitled “Out-teach the competition”. Basically, it comes down to this: companies with zero money for marketing or ads are flourishing because they teach. Starting a blog or a YouTube channel is cheap. It doesn't have to be perfect. Just get that knowledge out, and if it's interesting enough, people will listen. We all have knowledge we can share, tips we can give to newcomers. Let's not waste that knowledge.

Share something small every day.

—Austin Kleon (p.44)

It's the best way to attract the attention of people who think like you. Are you looking for a new person to join your team? Are you sick of attracting the wrong type of clients? Being open and honest about who you are, and shouting it from the rooftops, is a great way to attract people you want to attract—professionally, and even personally.

To sum up, I really enjoyed this book. It's incredibly easy and enjoyable to read (seriously, you can read it in an afternoon). But it's the kind of book that beckons to be read several times. The book may be “short”, but remember:

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

—Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry

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