It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be

The title of this post is ripped directly from the title of a short must-read book, written by Saatchi & Saatchi Creative Director legend, Paul Arden.

Here’s three pieces of advice from this book:

1. Do not seek praise, seek criticism.
“It is quite easy to get approval if we ask enough people, or those who are likely to to say what we want to hear. The likelihood is that they will say nice things rather than be too critical. Also, we tend to edit out the bad so that we hear only what we want to hear. So if you have produced a pleasantly acceptable piece of work, you will have proved to yourself that it’s good simply because others have said so. It’s probably ok. But then it’s probably not great either. If, instead of seeking approval, you ask, ‘What’s wrong with it? How can I make it better?’, you are more likely to get a truthful, critical answer. You may even get an improvement on your idea. And you are still in a position to reject criticism if you think it is wrong. Can you find fault with that?”

2. Energy. “It’s 75% of the job. If you haven’t got it, be nice.”

Number 3 plus a link to buy this sucker after the jump [click continue reading link below].

3. Do not covet your ideas. Give away everything you know and more will come back to you. “You will remember from school other students preventing you from seeing their answers by placing their arm around their exercise book or exam paper. It is the same at work, people are secretive with ideas. ‘Don’t tell them that, they’ll take credit for it.’ The problem with hoarding is that you end up living off your reserves. Eventually you’ll become stale. If you give away everything you have, you’re left with nothing. This forces you to look, to be aware, to replenish. Somehow, the more you give away, the more comes back to you. Ideas are open knowledge. Don’t claim ownership. They’re not your ideas anyway, they’re someone else’s. They are out there floating in the ether. You just have to put yourself in a frame of mind to pick them up.

Nine bucks here at

If you’re a creative person, you should own this book, even if you just read it on the toilet.

Thanks David Airey for a reminder about Paul’s books…

43 Responses to It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be

  1. Phil April 13, 2009 at 12:27 pm #

    Have the book and love it. Actually, I got it as a thank your for a little photosession with a friend

  2. Timothy Lusk April 13, 2009 at 12:31 pm #

    I agree with Jesse. I had a professor in college that always referenced “Fail often, fail fast”. It’s probably the one thing I keep telling myself with the career development.

    And sharing ideas and tricks of the trade do come back to you ten-fold if you really do believe it. ;-)

    Thanks, Chase.

  3. Jeff April 13, 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    high five to you Chase for posting this. Just reading those three points has me re-evaluating how i think!
    I’ve got the book on my Amazon wish list!

  4. ... April 13, 2009 at 1:05 pm #

    R.I.P. Paul, truly an innovative and brilliant mind.

  5. Kevin Halliburton April 13, 2009 at 1:09 pm #

    The ideas in the ether comment is so dead on. I take far too much credit for catching the creative pop flies that land in my glove when I’m looking the other way trying to figure out who to pass the last one to.

  6. RVDS April 13, 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    Just ordered my copy!

  7. Shelby White April 13, 2009 at 1:28 pm #

    Point Number 1 – Seeking Criticism is necessary whether its knowingly or not. I believe its a stepping stone to effectively succeeding.

    I believe that seeking criticism vs seeking the things that someone else likes about your piece is the way to get proper critique. In another way to look at it, wouldn’t you want to hear the things that people have to say that wouldn’t normally just tell you?

    Because I feel that people shy away from saying what they don’t like something about a piece–instead of asking what they like about the piece–I’ve started asking them what they don’t like about it. This works for me in finding out what people don’t like–my theory for this may not work for everyone though.

    Also I feel like people in general are somewhat more comfortable telling you what they don’t like about something, if you ask them to, rather than just telling you in a normal critique.

    Thanks for posting this! I can definitely see some good lessons being drawn from this book.

  8. Chase Jarvis April 13, 2009 at 1:28 pm #

    pals: for the record this book is not some heavy, deep read. it’s a book of one to three page anecdotes about being creative and kicking arse. readable in a sitting, or lovely to have it just sitting around for reference when you’re lacking… a lovely little book.

  9. Charles Verghese April 13, 2009 at 1:30 pm #

    Gr8 post Chase. Hope 2 change my way of looking at things cuz of this!

  10. Alessandro Guerani April 13, 2009 at 2:06 pm #

    What is really very true is about giving away what you know, for free.

    And don’t be afraid other people would use it against you. It’s a stupid mindset.

    If they are good they could find that tecnique or idea by themselves sooner or later.

    But they would have not known you and spread the word “Hey I found this cool idea on John Doe website, you should visit it, it’s a great photographer!”

    If they ain’t good there’s no trick or idea or tecnique you can give away that could help them. It’s simply not their work.

  11. Ian April 13, 2009 at 2:16 pm #

    The book is small enough for you carry with you everywhere. Read as often as needed.

  12. Charmaine Otto Photography April 13, 2009 at 2:39 pm #

    Thanks so much Chase…puts alot of things into perspective doesn’t it. A great read!!

  13. Forest April 13, 2009 at 2:45 pm #

    Yes, I like this.

    The 3rd point especially. I find when I’ve shot a lot of work that I like I end up sitting back, feeling real self satisfied for a bit. After awhile I’m still sitting on the stuff, but not feeling so satisfied anymore. The old stuff gets stale, and yet it’s presence leaves me with little incentive to “replenish”. This post is a great reminder to me that it’s crucial to enjoy your successes, and ideas, but also not to get hung up on them and move on to creating new work!

  14. jimmyd April 13, 2009 at 2:53 pm #

    At the risk of sounding overly jaded (which I probly am) another title, one that reflects the work of (sadly) too many, might be, “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good you Convince Others You are.

    I 100% agree with sharing with others. I do that on my blog and I regularly receive much appreciation from readers.

    Having said that, I also agree the book sounds like a good read and I’m gonna buy one and attempt to absorb it with an open and non-jaded mind.

  15. Steve Newman April 13, 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    You have got it so right – love following your insight/work.

  16. Joe Photo & Design April 13, 2009 at 5:40 pm #

    I love the recommended reads. I think this one will make it to my bathroom.

  17. Joe Photo & Design April 13, 2009 at 5:40 pm #

    I love the recommended reads. I think this one will make it to my bathroom.

  18. Anton April 13, 2009 at 7:29 pm #

    Have had the book for a few years, a joy to read. It should be mentioned that the book is fantastic from a design perspective as well. Simple. Clean. Beautiful.

    Even the subtitle is clever:
    “The world’s best selling book
    by Paul Arden.”

  19. Behind the Shot April 13, 2009 at 8:48 pm #

    Thanks for the advise and for sharing a lot on your blog, I really hope it all comes back to you!

    Sam Robles

  20. Anonymous April 13, 2009 at 8:51 pm #

    Some of the most pathetic people are those who claim ‘ownership’ of information which has been in the public domain for ages. In a military environment, its OK to be “Top Secret”. But not with something thats been out there since the 1950’s for example..!

  21. Glyn Dewis April 13, 2009 at 10:01 pm #

    Ordered! … Thanks for the recommendation Chase ;o)

  22. Ed Verosky April 13, 2009 at 10:40 pm #

    In a commercial context, seeking criticism (or improvement on an idea) makes complete sense. This is because the goal is usually to appeal to a wider group.

    But, a competent artist doing his own work, shouldn’t care about what other people would change.

  23. jerseystylephotography April 14, 2009 at 5:38 am #

    Thanks for the recommendation, Chase. Love what you bring to the table with your blog!

  24. David April 14, 2009 at 7:21 am #

    Chase – One good rec deserves another – if you haven’r read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, it’s inbelievably good. Suspect it’s right up your alley.

  25. fas April 14, 2009 at 10:36 am #

    I need to get the book. Seems to be worth the read.

  26. Matt Lange April 14, 2009 at 2:06 pm #

    This is a great post and it really strikes a chord with me. One of my ‘idols’ I guess you could say, here in Louisiana, seems to think the exact opposite. I love sharing information. But he is so about not sharing, and coming up with your own ideas without looking at other work or answering questions. It’s cool that you just, put this out there. I know you preach community, but to show others saying the same thing…pretty neat. Good post.

  27. Anonymous April 14, 2009 at 5:49 pm #

    thanks for that. very evocative.

  28. April 14, 2009 at 10:21 pm #

    I had Paul Arden’s “Whatever you think, think the opposite” and found it to be very inspiring. It is one of many factors that led me to move to Hong Kong. However, I can’t help but think that Paul is capitalizing off his past success. Though the book I read was extremely helpful, he could write five more similar books of cute inspiration and people would eat it up. All that being said, he has made great books and let’s hope he doesn’t assume he’s a Midas’ touch (though he’s close!)
    Sharing ideas and information is (often) a beautiful thing. The analogy of kids not letting you see their test answers is almost fitting except that there’s a big difference between kids/people actively stealing your answers and you freely giving them to unselfish people. Hopefully, if you are giving enough, even those with ulterior motives will not need to steal because they already have what they set out to steal. yay! A modern digital age is born.

    Comparison of Paul Arden and his wisdom:
    People’s creativity doesn’t expire, but sometimes even great creatives produce crap. If you need proof, listen to Miles Davis in the 80s. There’s some good music (especially stylistically), and a whole bunch of crap that people eat up as if it was divine inspiration.
    Moral: Stay level headed, and be receptive to good information/inspiration.

    Thanks for the post chase.

  29. Adam April 15, 2009 at 8:06 am #

    The book is on its way to my dorm now.

  30. A.P. April 15, 2009 at 11:58 am #

    I’m not a photographer (recently stumbled onto your site) but love the creative juices that flow from your blog!

  31. Jamie M. April 15, 2009 at 3:26 pm #

    By the way, I wholeheartedly agree with the “do not covet” thing. I seriously doubt most photographers will come up with a perfectly new technique, and if they do, it won’t stay that way long.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Benon August 7, 2011 at 9:30 am #

      Woot, I will ceiratnly put this to good use!

  32. triggersnappy April 17, 2009 at 2:36 am #

    great article mister! i’m a huge fan of your work and especially dug point 3 of this blog.

    so true. and on that note, thank you for sharing. ordered the book for a friend…. ;’)

  33. David Airey April 17, 2009 at 5:13 am #

    Hi Chase,

    You’re more than welcome for the reminder. I have this little book sitting next to me on the desk — an excellent purchase.

    I hope everything’s going great with you.

  34. Mathieu April 17, 2009 at 8:45 am #

    Chase, this post reminds me af another one from you, giving reference to a blog on creativity. I just cant find it anymore. Please help refresh my memories.

  35. Anonymous April 26, 2009 at 11:22 am #


    thanks for the recommendation. I think I will give it a read.


  36. PAUL TREACY April 27, 2009 at 1:42 pm #

    I’m needing a little creative boost at the moment in terms of re-railing my career. I’ll fetch myself a copy.

  37. theukphotographer April 29, 2009 at 4:36 am #

    Hippy Nonsense ;-)
    I’m sure that Microsoft and Apple would disagree with giving away their intellectual property

  38. Jason Bell May 3, 2009 at 4:29 am #

    I’ve had my copy of the book for years and I still read it from cover to cover when I pick it up.

  39. Ed Buller September 22, 2010 at 5:33 am #

    ‘It’s Not How Bad You Are, It’s How Bad You’re Born To Be’ is a slimline pamphlet of slop psychology perfect for those with neither the time nor patience to acquire an informed opinion. Specifically designed for the cash rich/time poor, if your head has already been softened by the radiation of the pseudoscientific traveliterature section, rejoice – you can inhale this book in one trip to the WC:

    Share And Enjoy :)

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