When I interviewed Annie Duke, we discussed the writing process for her first book, Thinking In Bets. Duke had made writing a team sport, firstly by recruiting a friend with a Juris Doctor degree, who was also a writer, to be her editor—outside of her editor at her publisher. This friend helped serve as a source of market feedback.
Duke advised me, “Take every opportunity that you can to try your material out… Every time that I would be at a party, people would be like, ‘Well, what do you do?’ And for a while, my answer was, ‘I do keynotes and consulting on decision making and critical thinking skills.’”
This idea planted a seed in my mind. Up to that point, I’d treated writing largely as a singleplayer game: I write stuff, you read it. While I wasn’t a keynote speaker yet, I started opening up my eyes for opportunities to test my ideas.
The seed of writing as a team sport was nurtured by David Perell’s idea that writing in public improves the quality of ideas (writing to think!), and Ryan Holiday’s advice that every book should start as a conversation.
While I still make a lot of time to write (e.g., to work on my notes, to read, to research), building relationships with other people (sometimes through platforms like Medium), having conversations with them, and asking for their feedback, has infused my writing with vitality, purpose, and focus.
Looking back, I realized I treated my creative work with an avoidant perspective (“I don’t need anyone. All I need is myself,” a sample line from Marisa G. Franco PhD, in Platonic, summed up my fundamental attitude to writing at the time). I enjoyed the writing process, so much so that I didn’t appreciate how much more fruitful the process would be if I included the people who would be reading it.
A philosophy of independence needs to be balanced out with the practice of interdependence. The reality is, there’s no such thing as self-made. The more independent of a system you are (say, you started your own business), the more you actually are interdependent on the people you know.
A friend of a friend may be your first reader or customer. A cousin may talk to their class about your business. An aunt might know a potential investor. These are the people you actually need to rely on more when you’re doing something on your own, outside of an institutional or formal system.
“It must in truth be said, though it may not accord well with self-conscious individuality and self-conceit, that no possible native force of character, and no depth of wealth and originality, can lift a man into absolute independence of his fellowmen,” Frederick Douglass writes (via Franco, again, in Platonic).
“I’m constantly inspired by my friends and the people I surround myself with and the cities that I’m traveling to,” Virgil Abloh says to Esquire. “All the movements are made up by my brain trust. None of us sip the Kool-Aid. We’re all individuals; we’re all critics; we all look at things from a discerning eye, and I synthesize those things.” (Cody Delistraty elaborates in the article, “The strategy is simple: Pass around influence, burnish everyone’s careers, and increase your own influential power and career while doing it.”)
Life is a team sport. This involves learning to be vulnerable, to develop a secure attachment style, and appreciating the craft and rewards of building and maintaining relationships. While other people create the persona and perception that they’re responsible for all of their own triumphs, remember the truth: everything happened with other people.