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Herbert Lui

When you hear the term “side hustle”, how does it make you feel? Maybe you get excited and think of that one thing you’re passionate about. Or maybe it sends a cringe-filled chill down your spine.We ask because this episode’s guest, Herbert Lui, really hates that phrase. And he’s not alone.

Why Quantity Leads to Quality
Why Quantity Leads to Quality

Why Quantity Leads to Quality

Ep
127
Mar
31
With
Herbert Lui
Or Listen On:

The nuance of language.

When you hear the term “side hustle”, how does it make you feel?

Maybe you get excited and think of that one thing you’re passionate about. Or maybe it sends a cringe-filled chill down your spine.

We ask because this episode’s guest, Herbert Lui, really hates that phrase. And he’s not alone.

You may recall our conversation with Austin Kleon where he shared his own contempt for that same term.

When it comes to words and language, nuance is everything. Two people can say the exact same thing, yet each mean something quite different. That important nuance is often amplified in writing.

One person’s hustle, is another person’s cringe.

Herbert Lui is a writer and the editorial director at Wonder Shuttle.

If you’re an avid reader—and a Kanye West fan—then you may have already read some of his work.

He is the author of the unique ebook, The World According to Kanye. It’s really interesting and also free to read, so check it out when you get a chance.

What we enjoyed most about the conversation you’re going to hear is how much it challenged the way we think about creativity. And how important it is to make room for (and be receptive to) other perspectives.

That’s what creativity is, right? Finding unexpected and alternative ways to see things.

Episode Transcript

Herbert:
Creativity is shooting at a moving target. That's what makes it different from sports. But the analogy still works out. You fine tune your understanding of other people, but more importantly, you also fine tune your understanding of yourself and meeting those two things in the middle is what someone might define as quality.

Greg:
Welcome to the Futur podcast. The show that explores the interesting overlap between design marketing and business. I'm Greg Gunn. Okay. I've got a question for you. When you hear the term side hustle, how does it make you feel? Maybe you get excited and think of that one thing you feel really passionate about, or maybe it sends a cringey chill down your spine. I ask because our guest today really hates that phrase and he's not alone. You may recall our conversation with Austin Kleon, where he shared his own contempt for that same term. Now, when it comes to words and language, nuance is everything. Two people can say the exact same thing, yet, each means something very different and that important nuance is often amplified in writing, one person's hustle is another person's cringe. Today's guest is a writer and the editorial director at Wonder Shuttle.

Greg:
If you're an avid reader and a Kanye West fan, then you may have already read some of his work. He's the author of the unique ebook, The World According to Kanye. It's really interesting and also free to read. So check it out if you get a chance. Now, the thing I enjoyed most about the conversation you're going to hear is how much it challenged the way I think about creativity, and how important it is to make room for and be receptive to other perspectives. That's what creativity is, right? Finding unexpected and alternative ways to see things. Please enjoy our conversation with Herbert Lui.

Chris:
Herbert, can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?

Herbert:
Yeah, for sure. My name is Herbert. I am an author and I also am an editorial director. I run a company called Wonder Shuttle. We're an editorial studio that's worked with companies Shopify, Twilio, and even the City of Toronto. That's pretty much what I do.

Chris:
Now, I've never come across anybody. That's described themselves as an editorial director and an editor editorial studio. In my line of work an editorial studio is one who cuts commercials and films. And so this is wild. You are very unique person in the world in which I run in. Can you help us simpletons understand a little bit better about what an editorial studio does?

Herbert:
Yeah, for sure. It's probably not too different from what Ryan Robinson was talking about with you. He calls it content marketing and I called it that too, where even up until a couple of years ago, I think that's a really good way of describing it. But the reason I changed the wording and the direction of the business as well, is because most people in content marketing focused on the marketing. I think that businesses, organizations, teams, and most importantly the readers, are all better served with the focus on the content. That's where the idea for the editorial studio came from, was okay, let's really focus on the stories we're telling and defining ourselves with that at the core. For example, I read that in David Chang's memoir, he had this restaurant where the people running it were serving a chicken dish, right?

Herbert:
They parade out a fresh chicken in front of everyone and then take it to the back and then they're supposed to cook it obviously and to make a soup out of it as well. But what ended up happening was it wasn't very efficient. What ended up happening is, they would start taking a couple of chickens, just keep those fresh and then use different ones and start preparing them ahead of time. And so basically they had these stunt chickens, right? He calls them. He was like, I don't the way that this effect is going to have on the servers, potentially, just them parading this chicken that they know isn't going to be cooked around. I think it's going to mess with the mentality. For me, that's what I thought about when defining our business as well. I really think that if we focused on the content a lot of the more tangible and less tangible results will show up as well.

Chris:
Okay. I think I understand what you just said. Sounded really interesting. Okay. Well, I was following along like, I think I understand, and then I dip in and out of the fog a little bit, ut content marketing I do understand. I don't want our conversation to focus on client service work because I think some of the other things that you shared with me are more interesting to myself and to our audience, I think. But just so I understand, when you say you have clients, Shopify, is it Wattpad?

Herbert:
Yeah.

Chris:
Just take me through it. What did they hire you to do and what do you do for them? Just so I understand the business model a little bit better.

Herbert:
For sure. They hire us to out their blogs. For example, with Shopify, for example, we worked with their product team to start a publication of medium and then to document their process and their journey. The goal there was for them to be able to hire more people at the end of the day. To get more of the product community interested in Shopify as a brand, through telling the stories of how they go about making their products. With Wattpad, it was about building a publication that talked to brand marketers, right? They're trying to get into the branding space. So to talk to companies that do that and marketers or VPs of marketing or directors of marketing and sharing insights from Wattpad or from what's just happening in the gen Z demographic.

Chris:
Okay. In the example of Shopify and they asked you to help them out with their blog and you start writing, how do you write for somebody else? It's hard enough for me to write for myself when I know what I want to say, and I know what content matters to me and my audience. How are you able to do this for clients?

Herbert:
Yeah. Let's zoom in on a single blog post, right? Or a single article. In cases like that, we offer either a coaching service. So we'll coach you through the writing process or we'll offer a ghost writing service or a co-writing service. With the co-writing service, we'll basically interview you for 60 minutes, and then we'll make an outline out of the stuff we talked about, obviously we recorded, but while we're talking, we'll make a set of notes and outline. And then from there, we'll get into the actual writing. So someone on my team was a trained journalist will write out the piece. It'll probably be around, with Shopify in particular, it was around a thousand words.

Herbert:
And then we'll take that draft, take it to the person who we talked to and then they'll edit it. And then we take it through a bunch of stakeholders, whether it's, probably a leader on the team or PR for a public company and then we ship it.

Chris:
I see. That makes a lot of sense now. You're interviewing them, you know how to interview and talk to people to draw the story out of them. And then you go through the normal creative process of writing and getting it approved. Right?

Herbert:
Yeah, exactly. And we'll write it from their perspective as well, so more first person.

Chris:
I see, this is actually then very interesting because I'm interviewing the interviewer normally. Yeah?

Herbert:
Yeah. I'm on the other side of the table.

Chris:
Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Hopefully I'll make you feel, you can give me some tips and pointers and criticism later as how well I'm doing, because I just do this as an amateur, not as professional. Okay. Let's shift the focus then. Let's move on to your side projects. Now it's obvious you've listened to some of our content because you were referencing Austin Kleon, when I had said it's side hustle, because that's the normal way that we describe this in our creative communities. He found it distasteful. You have an opinion on that. And I'm like, whoa, everybody's so particular about the words here. What is it about the word side hustle that bothers you? And then I want to get into your side projects.

Herbert:
Yeah. I hate it-

Chris:
Why?

Herbert:
... I hate the phrase. I think. I talked about why we call ourselves an editorial studio and I think this is a similar thing. The side hustle idea, it generally doesn't do much to bolster your sense of what you're about to do. Maybe it's just a me and Austin and people that think similarly, we all define it a certain way, but I think it really takes away from what you're trying to do. Especially if you're trying to do something with like, expression or art, it becomes very hustley, very businessfied or something like that. I think even side projects, I call them side projects too, but in my mind I should just call them projects. Because the side project thing already defines it as, hey, this is going to be a part-time thing. It's not even going to be a focus.

Herbert:
But I think whatever you're doing, it really helps while you're doing it to focus on it like it's a very serious thing. And so that's why I just don't like side hustle as well, because I'm like, you might be inadvertently limiting what you think of the activity that you're doing already. You could say, hey, I'm building a business. Hey, I'm freelancing. Hey, I'm trying to explore a self employment opportunity. But instead it's like, oh, it's just a side hustle. I don't think you do yourself a service, it doesn't communicate the message with conviction to other people.

Chris:
Okay. This is like, we're getting very nuanced into words and language and coding, and I'm a big proponent for, the words you use to describe how you see the world and how you ultimately feel about it, so it's really important. Now, here's where we may differ, is that, I don't have the same energy around that word side or hustle or projects. I can know what I'm doing, I'm doing this thing until I could do this other thing that I love more full time. Right? And so sometimes the word hustle it has multiple meanings. Like, hey, go after that ball, Jimmy, hustle a little bit more. It's just work a little harder and just focus and give that energy.

Chris:
Also people who hustle people are con people. Right? And that's problematic, and so it has some negative baggage to it. I think most people, and this is a broad statement, but just on a philosophical level, this is just a thing that I do to make money and provide for my family and myself and paint rent. This is the other thing I feel is much more important. It's your passion, your energy, how you feel about that. I guess those two words didn't connote anything negative to me, that's why, but here we are. Okay. Now let's talk about your project. You do this thing called Prologue where you talk to people that you're fascinated by and they tend to be in the music world. Right. How did that happen?

Herbert:
Yeah, so Prologue, the first one happened when a friend of mine, Vino, got in touch with Ryan Lewis during the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis run. We just got an interview opportunity. He just pitched him and Ryan was nice enough to say yes. We drove from Toronto to Montreal in the middle of the night and we shot it and it was super fun. And ever since then, that's what we really wanted to do. The name Prologue comes from wanting to tell the story before the story. Right now we saw, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at the time were winning awards and stuff. We wanted to explore what happened before that and to show people what they could learn from the process, and also to learn more about the artists, for sure. Especially if we're fans, it's just interesting to be able to ask fan kind of questions too sometimes.

Chris:
Okay. It's very interesting, because I didn't realize that the Prologue part was actually the theme and the concept too. It's the story before they were famous. The stuff that a lot of people don't know about. So you're going in, digging into the history and that's why in one of the interviews I saw, you're like, let's go straight to the beginning, who are your parents and what did they do? Right.

Herbert:
Yeah, exactly.

Chris:
Okay. That makes a lot of sense. Now there's this book that you put out called, The World According to Kanye. It's very interesting because he's such a polarizing, interesting human being, very creative too. How did this come about and tell us a little bit more about that project.

Herbert:
Yeah, for sure. My friends and I, I think I just actually met up with them once. There are these graphic designers that I knew, Sean, Warren and crystal, and they're really good at what they do. I wanted to make a book about something. I decided, hey, I'm pretty interested by Kanye West. Ever since Facebook asked me who my favorite musician was, and I didn't know, I went into my iTunes most played and it was just Kanye all over. It's Kanye West. I just been following his interviews at the time and I really got something out of them. I grew up in church, and I felt it was almost a sermon in a way, not literally of course. But I felt he had a lot to offer and I felt the headlines weren't always doing him justice.

Herbert:
That being said, he also doesn't do himself any favors in his interviews a lot of times. I was like, okay, cool, let's make an ebook about this and see what happens. We all worked together. I compiled a bunch of quotes. I went into the archives and dug up his old blog and then we put together an ebook and we shipped it. It did, I had just written some posts for Hypebeast at the time. I had a friend, Eugene, who worked there and he connected me with someone and then we published it there and it started making the rounds. As with anything Kanye related, it did really well on the internet. Fast forward a little bit, I was doing a different interview series now, it was with other authors and I was talking to this author I really like, his name is Ryan holiday.

Herbert:
He was just saying a lot of writers and authors don't have enough experience actually making a book. I took that advice really literally, I was like, I've never made a book before so let me try doing that. Well I have the InDesign files for this, and I have this book, so let's try to make a coffee table book out of it. That's what we did. We bumped up some of the images, and then I took it to Chicago and New York to try to get it to Kanye West, but that's a whole different story. That's where the curiosity for it came from, for sure.

Chris:
What did you learn about taking it from digital publication to physical book?

Herbert:
The biggest thing was that physical books still really make an impression and an impact on people. I think that's one of the most overlooked things, and people are just like, no, you're just like books as you can see from the shelves behind me. But I really do think when I handed it to people, you could see it in their face, or just, they couldn't stop staring at it even before opening it, which was really interesting. Definitely it's also much more challenging the process of printing and stuff, finding someone to independently print. It's financially consuming, but it's also, it's tough. It's really hard work. So big respect to the printers and the designers who have to go through all of that too.

Chris:
Were there any issues about, because this is always scary, you do something digital, you need to fix it. You need to amend it. You got to remove something, no problem. Once you to have physical copies, maybe just the idea that a tree gave its life for this book. That if you were to redo it, you'd be destroying trees and paper for no reason. Right? It becomes very permanent in a weird way. We feel a connection to the pages and the things that we hold in front of us. Did you have to go through legal process of clearing it? Because this is kind of an unauthorized, you going through reading archives and blog posts, right? And transcribing that and laying it out and doing your own way. Were there things that you were concerned about there?

Herbert:
I wasn't concerned about it from a legal perspective, because I never had the intention of selling it. When I talked about going to New York and Chicago, I would just give it to people. I would leave two copies on someone's desk or at someone's door or hand it over to them. I never really exchanged money for it. It was very much just a project to go through the process. I wanted to learn how to do it.

Chris:
So you were going to give it away. How many copies of the book did you print?

Herbert:
I printed 50 copies.

Chris:
Okay. Fairly small run. That means the cost per book is actually quite high.

Herbert:
Yes. And my fault. I totally remember what you said now, which is, making something physical is very permanent. Perhaps I was misguided at the time, but I always thought that I was going to make a second version of it. The reason I was so eager to get it in people's hands, I felt really confident that I was going to figure out what I didn't like or liked about it and then take a second run. And that's why it was also a very small run as well. I wanted to iterate and do a new one.

Chris:
It was a prototype for you, to have something in your hands, to give it away and then see, and like, okay, I would change these pages or the way it's bound is funny or whatever it is. There's things that you have to experience for the first time to realize you like that or you don't like it. Right? I'm curious though, if you don't mind sharing with us, so what happened? You're trying to get it to Kanye's hands. This is a fan service thing. We've heard a fan films and fan music, but this is a fan book, which I haven't heard of many times before. So you put a book together. You're trying to get it to him. What happens?

Herbert:
What happened was I found out my strategy of doing it was not a great approach. My plan was, hey, I'm going to get it to one of the people he works with, or I know he's worked with in the past. And then I'll give them two copies and then they'll keep one for themselves and give one to him. From a first principles perspective, it works out, what I didn't anticipate and what I learned in the process, is there's a gajillion people like me, who's trying to do the same thing. It gets really annoying when you're the person in the middle and you're getting all of this stuff, and you're just getting known as the guy or the girl who gives Kanye stuff.

Herbert:
I don't think people really want to be known like that. Case in point, I had tried to give Virgil two different copies on two different occasions. A friend would leave them at a hotel he's staying at. And then I knew he was a Warby Parker once. I was like, I'll go to that meeting or whatever. Virgil Abloh, he's no longer the guy who gives Kanye stuff. It just didn't work. A, it wouldn't have worked because of the person's identity. They're like, hey, I'm my own person. And B, there's just a lot of people trying to do the thing as you. I would have been better off flying to wherever Kanye was and just trying to give it to him directly, or paying for backstage tickets or something like that.

Chris:
Wow. The extent in which you would go through to just give somebody something that you made, it sounds pretty incredible that you would do that, this is a passion thing for sure. I could feel that. I'm just curious if you thought about doing it via social media, because if somebody is active on a platform and you took pictures of it or you made a video and it spread organically, that he then would say, you know what, send me a copy of the book.

Herbert:
I had thought of that. He wasn't very active on social at the time. I thought that by going viral, if he had liked it, the digital version, then he probably would have reached out. In my mind, I was like, maybe it's a digital versus physical thing. Maybe he didn't see it, but I get the feeling he probably did. I know that him and his team read Hypebeast all the time and Fader and Complex. I think it made its way there virtually. I'm not sure if it did physically though. But the other thing that was fun about it was, I got to take it to some book agents I was connected with. I took it to some recording artists that we talked to for Prologue. I got to give it to some friends. It ended up being a pretty interesting thing. It's floating around in some people's shelves right now, and who knows, I think time will work in my favor.

Chris:
Yeah, I think so. I'm curious, these projects, Prologue, has this become your main thing now? Is this what you do?

Herbert:
No, not yet. I still consult with companies through Wonder Shuttle, which is my editorial studio and I'm still writing. Whether it's books or articles, I'm still doing that too.

Chris:
Today, I don't like to use the term, since it seems to bother you, but it's still a project that you do for love, for fun, not your main source of income, right?

Herbert:
Yeah. For sure. It's very much a side project.

Chris:
It's like referring to the artist formerly known as. Okay. Is it ever your ambition or aspiration to make that the thing that you're known for and the thing that, how you sustain yourself?

Herbert:
I definitely want to make, I want to spend more time writing. I think at the end of the day, that's what I would like to sustain me as for, like Twyla Tharp had this quote in the creative habit where she's like, "With this dance that I'm making, I want to make the dancing pay for itself rather than sponsorships or whatever." That's what I want to do. I want to make the writing pay for itself. I think that's a long term goal, because I know speaking subsidizes a lot of things and stuff and so does consulting. But definitely I would say I'm on a mission for that for sure.

Greg:
Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back with more from Herbert.

Speaker 4:
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Greg:
Thank you to Build For Tomorrow for sponsoring this episode. Does change make you uncomfortable? Are you worried about the future? I'd like to tell you about a podcast that will change the way you think. Build For Tomorrow is a show about the crazy curious things from history that shaped us and how we can shape the future. Each episode is deeply researched, but also fast paced and funny, aiming to answer big questions about our history and ourselves. Questions like, why are we so obsessed with the good old days? And was any time in history, actually a golden age? Does technology really cause us to lose skills? Why do people hate being told what to do and how can we change their behavior anyway? Also, why does every older generation always think the younger generation sucks?

Greg:
Build For Tomorrow also digs into the surprisingly controversial history of things that we love today, like teddy bears, which are the most subversive toy in history or forks, which were banned for centuries, and actually say a lot about us as individuals. Or even umbrellas, which the British once refused to use. When you listen to Build For Tomorrow, you learn that today's worries are often just echoes of yesterday worries and that the future is really full of opportunity. That's why listeners say the show helps them feel more optimistic. The host is Jason Feifer. He's also editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine. So go check it out. You can find Build For Tomorrow, wherever you get your podcasts. Welcome back to our conversation with Herbert Lui.

Chris:
Now there's something else that you shared with me that I really am curious about. I want to get you to explain this idea where quantity leads to quality, because that's the inverse of how most creative people think. It's this pursuit of perfection of trying to make something great. Your masterpiece, your piece de resistance, that's what people want to do. Well, this goes counter to that, and I'd love for you to talk about that.

Herbert:
Generally people think it's a trade-off. We think, hey, either you can have quantity or you can have quality, and it's for a good reason. There's a lot of times when people just give you five things and they're all garbage. I would rather have had one good thing. I understand where it comes from. I think from a creative perspective, it's good to focus on quality, and I think quality does pay higher returns, because there's so little stuff of good quality now. But when you're actually in the process of creating, quality is tied in with a lot of different ideas and aiming for quality might mean different things to different people. For example, someone might say, hey, I want quality, so I'm aiming for perfect. Perfectionism is, for some people it actually really works out when they're aiming that way, because they're like, hey, I have all the resources and the time and the money to make perfect.

Herbert:
I have another attempt anyway, so I don't even need to release this. But for the vast majority of people working in creative work, time is a precious resource. More importantly, morale is a very precious resource. And so aiming for quantity from that perspective means making a lot of acceptable things and then seeing what happens once you release it. Quantity also prevents this thing called, well, Derek Sivers calls it, the failure mindset. What he noticed was, with a lot of songwriters, the only people who really got discouraged were people who bet everything on one song. It's like, this is the song that I'm writing, that's going to break through and it has to work. What happens is, people get blocked at that point.

Herbert:
The expectation is just so high for what this thing is going to do, and you don't know whether it's going to happen or not, that you don't want to release it, because what if you fail? That's where I think the quantity idea comes in really handy, is, hey, if, for example, you're making one thing a day. I'm making one article a day or one article a week. That's okay, because next week I know that I got another shot at doing it. I can experiment. I can really free up myself to write what I want to write and not get too worried about what happens with the results. Now, that being said, I had a job where I had to write three articles a day and I could not decide on the topics. I didn't get the final word on it. So I had to pitch 12 or 15 a day and it was brutal.

Herbert:
That quantity did not work in the favor of quality. It was just way too much stuff to do in too little time. It is a fine tuning process and different people will define quality differently. I think the most important thing to do is to set the criteria for it.

Chris:
I like that. There is a sweet spot, it's individual and it's also based on the task that having the pressure of creating one thing and one thing only, that leads to this kind of, I'm not going to release anything because I can't bear the thought of failing. Right?

Herbert:
Yeah. Exactly.

Chris:
And then where on the opposite end of the spectrum, assembly line, you're not even a human, you're just a robot and a machine. We need X number of widgets from you and we don't even care what it looks like. That's probably the reaction that most creative people have, which is they assume when you say quality or quantity, then that's all about volume and you don't care. I love that. I love this idea that if you set in your mind that every week you're going to do something or every day, whatever makes sense for you, that you have a fresh start every single time that cycle begins again. It's nice and it's freeing, it's liberating in that way. But the problem here, is that, if you write a blog post every day or every week, you're opening yourself up to eyes and opinions.

Chris:
How do you balance the criticism that inevitably is going to come? It's like, that wasn't really that well thought out, or you didn't do your research or whatever it is. It's because you're like, okay, I did the best I can in that timeframe. I release that. How do you not let that cripple you?

Herbert:
For sure. I would say, in a situation like the one you mentioned specifically, if someone saying, hey, you didn't do enough research on this. Well, the thing there would probably be either scope down the weekly topic you're trying to cover. So to make it easier and more feasible for you to actually do the research and you feel comfortable shipping it. Or you increase the amount of time, and instead of every week, you do it every two weeks or every month. For example, I've been writing these way longer, 4,000 to 6,000 word pieces recently. They take me 20 hours easily. Six months ago, I would never have considered doing that. I would say, hey, break it down into 20 different blog posts. It's just more agile that way. But now, I'm like, well, I really want to go deep on these.

Herbert:
I have a different set of criteria than it did six months ago. And for me personally, it was just a feeling before and after releasing the work. You have an idea of how you feel about it. And a lot of times that's one of the most important indicators. Are you proud of it or not? And if you find constantly that after you ship it, I'm really not proud of this and everyone else has giving me evidence that this is not something to be proud of, then something needs to change there in that process. But if you're finding, hey, I'm really uncomfortable after shipping it, but other people are clapping for it or recommending it or sharing it and giving you good emails, then you you might realize, hey, I just wasn't a good judge of my own work, which happens a lot.

Herbert:
And to your point, if it's the opposite where, hey, I feel good after this, but then people are giving me feedback. Then listen to the feedback, because that's the best possible thing that could have happened. Otherwise you would have spent, if you didn't really sit, you would've spent a month or two months or a year, working on this thing in a way that nobody wanted you to work on it. And then you've lost a year and it just feels terrible. And you're, I give up, I don't want to do this anymore.

Chris:
There's a lot of internal bias going on. Right? You said it, I was about to say, but you said it really, we're terrible judges of good or bad. We really are. And especially as it pertains to us. We just don't know. There's so many times, and this is no lie or exaggeration where I write a carousel for Instagram, I'm like, I shame post. I post at midnight thinking nobody is going to look at this and if it's horrible and the feedback's terrible, I'll get up early in the morning and I'll just delete it and that'll be that. And then more often than not, I'm shocked that this is the post that people care about. It's like, I barely put effort into that and it doesn't seem it warrants this kind of reaction. What the heck happened?

Chris:
Conversely, I'll put a lot of work into something, thinking this is it. This is everything I know, squeeze into 10 frames, here you guys, go and then nothing. Being able to put your work out there to get feedback, I think is the purpose of why you do something as a creative person. I want to see if that feeling, that idea that I have in my brain, in my heart is what you feel when you read or see this thing. It's an alignment then, that's all it is. It's like, oh, you felt angry. Okay. That's not the emotion I was looking for. I'm looking for a different one. I need to then change the input, so the output matches.

Herbert:
For sure. Creativity is shooting at a moving target and that's what makes it different from sports. But the analogy still works out. You fine tune your understanding of other people, but more importantly you also fine tune your understanding of yourself and meeting those two things in the middle is what someone might define as quality. But for other people, they might just be more interested in communicating the thing that they want to say, or even just knowing and learning what it is that they want to say. People might say, hey, I want to write. I have no idea what I'm going to write. Well, you figure it out by writing. The same goes with every other creative activity as well.

Chris:
I think in the article or the book, I'm sorry, you wrote a book called, There Is No Right Way to Do This. Right?

Herbert:
Yes.

Chris:
Are these some of the ideas that you wrote about?

Herbert:
Yeah, exactly. The quantity versus quality started off as an article, and it did really well with readers. I wasn't expecting it to either, funny enough. I ended up expanding it into a book. I talked to a bunch of different people with different perspectives on it. For example, I talked to this recording artist, DJ Dohtey, who has a completely different perspective. He's like, quantity without inspiration, it just doesn't work. You end up making stuff that sounds the same. He's very much a quality guy, but he does have much more nuances in that perspective. It was really great learning about that, because then I could cover, I think quantity is the beginning and it's really good and really useful at the beginning. And then at some point, you're going through the motions, you're making a lot of stuff and you're like, it's not quite there anymore.

Herbert:
What happened was, you raised your own bar, you just didn't know it yet at the time. And that's when defining quality and defining the criteria for what makes something good and something not so good to you really matters. It's acceptability, right? Is it acceptable to me or not. And then from there, I feel it almost oscillates, it goes back into quantity and you're experimenting and trying new stuff, and then you commit to a definition of quality and you go back and forth and back and forth. That's the creative process.

Chris:
This is not a new phenomenon, because you talk about it in terms of you going back into history and looking at artists like van Gogh, Picasso, and Mozart, and how prolific they were. They're known as some of the greatest artists who've ever lived. And so what can we glean from their process? Can you share a little bit about that?

Herbert:
For sure. I don't think it's coincidence they're all prolific. I think it really worked out for them. Now that being said, there are a lot of outliers to that rule as well. Right? There are one hit wonders who aim to be one hit wonders. They just made one of one and then they're like, I'm done. But there's this researcher, his name is Dean Keith Simonton. He's the pioneer of this field called, Historiometrics, which goes into the quantitative, statistical analysis behind exceptional creative work. What he found is that, quality is a probabilistic function of quantity. If you make a lot of stuff, you improve the probability that some of it is going to be good.

Herbert:
Now he found out at the master's level, right? People who have done their 10,000 deliberate practice at that point. But I really do think, well, first of all, even with masters, they are better served by aiming at quantity, which is I think a really interesting point. But I really think that applies to early work too, if you're going through the 10,000 hours right now, it really helps to still release a lot of work and then to work on the next one, but also to understand what happened with the earlier one and to continue to improve on it.

Chris:
It's interesting. I'm going to try and dumb this down a little bit. In terms of pop culture stuff. I watched reality shows like Project Runway, and I think it was shortly about work of art. Something I noticed in the contestants, when they get down to the final three or so people, their work had been really great on the show and have very little time to work on these things, maybe two days at most. It was very inspired, interesting. When they went away, because the finale would go, you'd go away and you'd have months or weeks to work on your final show. What they came back with was almost always super disappointing. It's because I think at least the way I saw it was, they were pursuing this highly pressured thing, to go and make the greatest thing that they can make with more resources and time.

Chris:
They overthink things, they don't make clear decisions. It's just usually a mess at the end. I think if we all can learn something from this, the creative people, you were talking about this, is that quality is a by-product of quantity. That the more you do, the better you get, the more feedback that you get, the more you learn about your own process of articulating your ideas. And then in that you would step back like, wow, four of these 12 or 25 projects actually are really good, but the pursuit of setting out with the intention of I'm going to make one really good thing, that is so crippling for so many people. I'd love to spend a couple of more minutes talking about this, because I think people who are listening to this right now really need to hear this. Is there another angle in which you can attack this, so that finally we have some breakthroughs and some minds pop a little bit?

Herbert:
Yeah, for sure. I think a really good example is improvisational comedy. Improv class, right? Improv, you're not allowed to think, or so you think, right? You're supposed to go and then just show up and say yes to practically everything that happens in the class. If we look at it from a writing perspective, let's say, you're basically writing a lot of jokes in a really short amount of time, but the rules that they have in the class really unlock the spontaneous side of your brain. After an hour of improv, I remembered there was a time when I stopped drinking for a few months, and going to an hour of improv class made me feel I had three beers. I felt the inhibition, perhaps it's just my overthinking brain or the critical side of my brain, was a lot more quiet. I could let the things I wanted to say, come out a lot more clearly.

Herbert:
If I was going to dinner after class, I was a lot funnier for some reason or whatever. I think that part of your brain gets activated with a really tight timeline too. Like you said, you have two days to make this thing. Okay. How do we do it? Whereas if you expand the time, it's really tough, especially if you're just focused on one thing. I know for example, we'll go back to Kanye West, and if you look at his body of work, he's made some really bad songs, and he claims that he's the greatest artists alive. Right? He's in the running for sure, but he's made songs where, he says, I called this club Titanic, why? Because it's going down.

Herbert:
I'm like, how is this coming from the same guy who made the best album of the 2010s? It's really much the same thing. He makes a ton of songs, works with a ton of different producers and goes through a lot of trial and error in the process. A lot of it doesn't see the public, but that's only because he keeps the testing internally. We were talking about releasing work earlier, and what if, hey, a lot of people are really critical of it. One way to release your work could be more privately, right? So send it to a friend for feedback or trying out a different group of people to test the idea with and in a much smaller way first. That's why he does. He has, people come in to listen. He puts different vocals on different tracks and he mixes and rearranges everything. Right? And now his team does all of that for him. It's the trial and error that also really helps the process as well.

Chris:
Now, it does seem that the themes that are running along here have a lot to do with your connection with artists, people who sing, write music and perform. Are you interested in other things besides this? Because I'm looking through your list here of things, projects you've worked on, it all seems music related. Is that the case, or am I only seeing a small selection of the things that are of interest to you?

Herbert:
Yeah, I think that's definitely one of the pillars for sure. But I would say I'm interested in zooming out of that. I'm a writer, so I'm definitely interested in the craft of writing, let's say. I think just creative work as a whole is very interesting to me. I think, what you know what you're doing for example, in helping a billion people make a living doing what they love doing, is really important, because that's going to be the way of the future. There's going to be a lot more people who have a choice to do what they want to do. That's what we use the words, creative work to describe that right now. It's like, I making sculptures of birds, so I'm going to go sell them on Shopify or whatever. And so that, we call it creative work. There's different jargon coming out, the creator economy and stuff. That's really interesting to me.

Herbert:
I think the theme that ties everything together is growth in general. Whether it's individual personal growth or corporate organizational growth, from a macroscopic level.

Chris:
You had mentioned this earlier for everybody who's listening to us, because you can't see what I see. Right behind Herbert is a full bookshelf. I noticed also, the designer in me is very happy because the books are organized by color, not necessarily by subject, which will make finding books hard, but it's very aesthetic. But I saw an article that you wrote, that you're not as a prolific reader as one might think for being a writer. You mentioned Ryan Holiday, right? He's on the other end of the spectrum. But you say, you try to read a book every few weeks. I'm just curious, how's that going for you? And then I want to ask more questions about reading books and how you process reading

Herbert:
For sure. I'm generally a pretty fast reader, so I used to read a lot more. But yeah, now I'll order three books a month and I'll probably get through all of them. But I'm a lot pickier with the ones I buy. I think that, yeah, reading is just one of the most, I think it's one of the fastest ways to learn, because you have someone who's done a bunch of their own research and reading, and been able to distill everything to a structure where they think other people will be able to learn. So you save a lot of time doing that. And so I still try to do it as much as possible. It's tough for now. There's different things I'll try. I'll try binge reading. I always binge read, so I would just let the book pull me through.

Herbert:
But sometimes when a book is really slow or boring, but it's still really important, then I'll just take an hour a day, or sometimes even I'll just read 10 pages a day and slog through it. And from there I'll end up... What I started doing recently is, I'd start taking notes on each one. I always wrote things down or highlighted certain things in books and wrote in the sides, the marginalia. But recently I started putting everything into index cards and actually using a system to organize it. And it's completely changed the way that my brain can access and organize information.

Herbert:
There's this book called, How to Take Smart Notes. That's where I got the system from, and the analogy in it is really interesting. It talks about notes, almost a container for your ideas. We all have boxes now, right? We put stuff in the box and then we move it around, but we could also just take the stuff by hand and carry it. But the box makes moving things around, storing them, a lot more convenient. That's how it is with a note system as well, is the ideas become a lot more accessible. You need a lot less time to access it and you can also connect different ideas together. I'll spend quite a bit more time doing that and taking ideas from old books that I'd already read and forgotten about, and putting them in my notes, so that I don't forget about them.

Chris:
Okay. I want to geek out with you here, because obviously I'm not as prolific of a reader as you, for sure. You seem to have developed multiple ways of reading books and you found something that's working really well for you. This is, I think going to be a great interest to a lot of people listening. Because I was listening to, I think it's Jim Kwik. He's like, if you get a magic lamp and you rub on it, and the genie grants you three wishes, the answer's going to be, I wish for more wishes. He says, learning how to read and learn is the equivalent of you getting more wishes. I think there's something crazy and I'm probably romanticizing this or just looking at this in a strange way.

Chris:
But whenever I read a book, I feel I'm having a conversation with that person without them speaking. We're connected via telepathy or something. It's just, my skin feels alive, it's electric. And sometimes like, you're just reading a book dude, just chill out. I take notes. I underline, I write in the margins. I highlight and I read very slowly, because my main function in reading, is what can I pull from this book that it can use in my life? Right? The pressure of trying to finish one quickly, is gone, it's just, I want to extract. I'm curious about this note taking system. Let's put this into application instead of talking about it abstractly. Pick out a book that you've read recently that you can recall. Tell me about the book and tell me how you put these containers together on your index cards, because I'm curious how you do it.

Herbert:
Yeah, for sure. I could run off and get the actual whole note system so I could show you, but I'll do my best to verbally walk through it.

Chris:
Okay. And if not, we'll get the cards. We'll do whatever we got to do here.

Herbert:
Yeah. Exactly. The most recent one that I'm taking notes on right now is a book called, A Knock at Midnight, by Brittany K Barnett. She covers, it's a bit of a memoir, but it really is also a look at the war on drugs in the US. It's a really important topic, because there's a lot of, I think we understand prison reform as an abstract topic, but what she does really well, is she goes in and she tells her own personal story about it. Her near brushes with potentially getting arrested because this happened or that happened. For example, I was going to say, hey, read the book to find out. But she was dating someone who was involved with dealing drugs and she would drive with him to pick up or whatever. Just by being in the car she could have gotten arrested and put in jail for decades.

Herbert:
It's things like that, another situation where there was a woman who got arrested, Sharanda Jones. She was granted clemency in, I forget the year, but she got arrested because her friend was wearing a wire and persistently asking, hey, do you know someone? Do you know someone? Do you know someone who can give me drugs? All she said was, no, no, no, no, I'll see what I can do. By saying, I'll see what I can do that opened her up to, we're going to get a case against her, she's going to go to jail. She ended up going to jail for like 15 years.

Chris:
Wow.

Herbert:
Yeah. Stop me if I'm getting way too specific right now, but there's one of the big things that I've been, I just wrote this down this week, so I'll remember. There's the 100-to-1 ration, where the legal system ways crack as a hundred times worse than powdered cocaine. If you have a really small amount of crack, that's equivalent to having a hundred times as much coke. There was no scientific evidence of that being the case, and what she discovered when she looked into it, was a lot of propaganda and a lot of cover stories and magazines about how crack was really a public safety problem, and how this was going to ruin everything that America stood for and things like that.

Herbert:
And obviously there's a lot of racial stereotypes being invoked in those stories as well at the time. That's what A Knock at Midnight covered. And that's the book that I'm writing about right now. I would say, we could talk for two hours about that book and still not be done, but it was a really great book. She tells a really important story.

Chris:
I have a question before my real question. The question is, just for clarification, 100-to-1, is that true or not true? Because you said it's not true. There's no data. Is that an idea that's not true? Or the demonization of crack isn't warranted?

Herbert:
It's the latter. The legal system measures it out as 100-to-1.

Chris:
I see.

Herbert:
But the scientific evidence is not there to support that legal point.

Chris:
Right. There's probably some, a lot of bias and pre-baked racism put into that, in terms of one type of person using one kind of drug versus another. I'll just leave it at that. Right? But the question I had for you really is, okay, you just told us some of the key ideas and stories in the book. I wanted to know what you wrote on those three by five cards that helped you to process, and remember what you felt was important. Because if I read that book, what would be on my three by five card, I'm just trying to help everyone who's listening to this map it out. What do you write?

Herbert:
You know what's funny, is a lot of what I just said were things that I remembered writing, but the best way to use the cards is to actually have it right beside me, and to be pulling it out and matching ideas together. I have them all in notion as well, so there's a digital copy. I would write, I won't directly quote something usually, I'll paraphrase the idea as much as I can. I'll source it to, usually the things that are right are things that are highlighted before, and those things are really different for everyone. There's this idea of comparative reading, where I think you can read two different books at the same time, or another version of the idea is multiple people can read the same book and then share it together, kind of like a book club.

Herbert:
Those are really good for that reason. As you said, is, your brain only has, my brain and everyone's brain only has that perspective and it's really good to get other perspectives in, to open up and say, this is how I interpreted this idea. And to get different people's knowledge as well, their background knowledge can really help. Two people saying the same thing could mean two different things, right? So Brittany K Barnett, for example, she was going to visit her mom in prison, because her mom was incarcerated for drug use. She was super successful at work and she thought, she had this belief that exempted her from suffering. But as she pulled up to the parking lot, she saw other people getting dressed to go inside.

Herbert:
She's like, well, what makes me different from all these other people? Why not me? Right? So there's that phrase. Why not me? I thought that was so interesting, because that was, usually people think, why me, right? And why not me was an example of, what makes me different from everyone else? Donny Deutsch, used the same phrase in his book, Often Wrong, Never in Doubt. It's one of the first things in chapter one, which is like, he uses it as a confidence or a self entitlement boosting thing. He's like, "Hey, why shouldn't I be creative director, if I'm a copywriter right now?" His idea is, hey, you don't get something until you think you deserve it. And you have to feel you deserve it by asking yourself, not why you, but why not you?

Herbert:
There are two very different people, very different ideas, saying the same phrase. I just thought that was so interesting. I combined those ideas in my notes for that reason. I thought, hey, I think I wrote this somewhere before and I could make that connection. That's where I think part of the magic with the notes is as well. You talked about having a conversation with the author. Well, what happens when those authors start having conversations with each other and you're the moderator? That's where the notes thing really comes in handy, I think.

Chris:
I'm glad you gave that example of why not me, in terms of, well, two people saying the same thing can have two totally different meanings. Because it was like, really? That was a great example. In the first case, why not me, was like, she lived, maybe if I understood this correctly, a pretty privileged life. And then she's like, well, that could be me, suffering or whatever. Donny's version is, well, why not me? Why am I excluding myself? It's a similar idea, but one's looking at it from a darker place, one's looking in a positive place, right? One is to ground. One is to empower and to motivate. It's very interesting that one phrase could have very different meaning based on context and who's saying it.

Herbert:
Yeah, definitely. I think, it's funny too, I actually think both of them are pretty positive. The context of it was probably a little darker because of prison is involved. I totally agree. It's just interesting seeing what other people think as well, we could have a whole other conversation about this. What's positive, what's negative and why? But we understand each other better through that too. Right? I definitely think two people saying the same thing is a really interesting idea.

Chris:
Yeah. For example, and maybe this is the way to bookend the whole episode here, is side hustle. It has one meaning to me, has another meaning to you and to Austin and to other people. Right? To me I'm excited about my side hustle. It's exciting. This is what I want to do with my life. And for you, it's like, you're discrediting it. It's like, this is never going to be my real thing, it's not going to be my focus.

Herbert:
I think so. I think the most important thing is to understand what you want to do with it. Right? Your side hustle became your business.

Chris:
Yes.

Herbert:
At some point it stopped becoming that. In the description of, hey, these are the things I do on the side, and it became, hey, this is the main thing. That clearly didn't stop you from succeeding with it. Right? I think it works out. I think at the end of the day, it's just being cognizant of, hey, am I taking this thing seriously enough or not? That's why I titled my book, There Is No Right Way to Do This, is because there's no right way or wrong way of calling it, whether it's a side hustle or not. Even arguing about verbiage, right? You've just got to do the thing that really works for you, and the whole point is to find the process that works for you.

Chris:
Well, not to beat a dead horse here, but I always looked at it like this, about side hustle, in that, this is what I was always going to do. It just, people didn't know about it yet. To me, the side hustle is just what stays in the light and what's in the dark. What people knew of me at that point in time was I ran a design agency called Blind and I do commercial projects. But in fact, 99% of my time was focused on the side hustle. It just wasn't in the light. It wasn't in the light because it hadn't made a difference in the world and not enough impact yet, but this is all I was going to do. And all my attention was focused on it, until I got it to be a thing that would step into the light. And then at some point overshadow and completely obliterate the other thing I was doing.

Chris:
I was so determined, this is going to be the thing. Perhaps how you're looking at Prologue, this is going to be the thing, just not yet. You'll see, because I'm going to make it happen. I'm going to manifest it. Right?

Herbert:
Yeah, exactly. I love that. I love what you said about, it's just how you have to describe it to other people, I guess, for now, but you and your heart know that this is going to be the main thing. I think that's a perfect way of describing it. We're talking about the same thing, we're just using different words to do it. I love that idea and I completely agree with it.

Chris:
And so at the heart of it is fundamentally how you feel about yourself and how you package that information in your brain. What you say to other people is important, but not as important as to truly how you feel about it, right?

Herbert:
Yeah, exactly. That's where communication comes into and things like that, but I totally agree.

Chris:
Okay. I think that's a perfect way to end this episode. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us and some of the thoughts and observations you've had. I have scanned through, The World According to Kanye, I'm going to recommend people if they can find us on the internet and I found it, you can download it. It's a fascinating piece. I'm happy for you, but on the other side, I want Kanye to celebrate this thing, because it's so cool. If anybody ever made something like that for me, I'm going to put all my support behind it because, you're right. Probably a thousand people are trying to reach them all the time, but there's differences in quality and depth in terms of those thousand pieces. It's too bad, but that chapter is not closed. It's still ongoing. Right? Your other book, There Is No Right Way to Do This. How can people get that book?

Herbert:
They could go to my website herbertlui.net. So herbertlui.net/reps. It's available there. It's funny, the chapter is definitely not closed. I just started, those 4,000 and 6,000 word pieces are looking at Kanye West as a religion. This isn't to work with him anymore, this is just for interest and I think it's just, what is it about this guy that people still follow him for? It doesn't make sense. That's kind of it.

Chris:
Where else can people find you on social media?

Herbert:
I'm on Medium, medium.com/@herbertlui. Twitter, at Twitter.com/herbertlui.

Chris:
Is that where you're most prolific Twitter and Medium?

Herbert:
Yeah. Those are the two I focus on.

Chris:
Of course, I'm not surprised. That's the writer's paradise. Right? I get it.

Herbert:
Yeah. Exactly.

Chris:
That's where you have an unfair, competitive advantage against us visual people, words they fail me. Okay. Thank you very much for doing this and I truly appreciate it. Thank you.

Herbert:
Thanks for making the time, Chris. Thanks for having me. My name is Herbert and you're listening to The Futur.

Greg:
Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barro for editing and mixing this episode. And thank you to Adam Sanborne for our intro music. If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by rating and reviewing our show on Apple podcasts, it'll help us grow the show and make future episodes that much better. Have a question for Chris or me, head over to thefutur.com/heychris, and ask away. We read every submission and we just might answer yours in a later episode.

Greg:
If you'd like to support the show and invest in yourself while you're at it, visit thefutur.com. You'll find video courses, digital products, and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening and we'll see you next time.

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