Common Stacks Episode 012: Jeff Goins at our Launch Event


Jeff Goins Image for Common Stacks Episode Art

Episode 012: Jeff Goins at our Launch Event

We were thrilled to welcome my mentor, New York Times Bestselling Author Jeff Goins at our Library Lever Launch Event on June 15!
Learn more about Jeff at his website: where you can also get links to buy his books and participate in his many online events and courses.

Have a comment or show idea? Want to leave some kudos for a friend or colleague? Leave us a voicemail and we'll feature your shoutout in a future episode!

Rough Transcript for Episode 012: Jeff Goins

On to Jeff Goins. Jeff is a writer, speaker, and entrepreneur. He is the best-selling author of five books, including The Art of Work and Real Artists Don't Starve. His award-winning blog is visited by millions of people every year. Through his online courses, events and coaching programs, he helps thousands of writers succeed every year. I was actually one of those writers, which is how I met Jeff back in 2015. I took his Tribe Writers course, and it really helped me build my podcast on Tudor England into a thriving community, which supported me for several years while I was living abroad. I also published several books thanks to Jeff. So it was a real treat to have him at our launch event. Jeff claims to make the world's best guacamole, so he started off by sharing that recipe with us.


I guess we should start with what matters most, which is the guacamole recipe. So two avocados, half a red onion, one roma tomato, little bit of olive oil, a bunch of freshly squeezed lime, fresh cilantro, pepper, salt to taste. And here's the secret ingredient - pomegranate seeds. You're welcome. Have a good night, everybody! Drive safely. Tip your waiter. We'll see you next time. Great to be with you, kind of weird to do this thing. Even after two years of zoom, there's nothing like being in a room together with real people. We'll try to make this as interesting and as entertaining as we possibly can. 


First thing I want you guys to do, if you're open to it, is actually post any questions or challenges, struggles that you're having right now with adapting to change.

Because that was the topic I was given and we can't really talk about anything other than that, except guacamole, intelligently. I'd love to just kind of see where people are at and see if I can help in the next 15 or 20 minutes. While you're doing that, I'll share a little bit about myself. So, my name is Jeff. I am a writer and I've always done creative things going back to when I was in maybe third or fourth grade. I started drawing pictures with one of my good friends where I would illustrate. I would draw a little Garfield comics and I would draw Garfield and my friend would draw Odie. And that led to writing poetry and performing in plays and basically doing anything that a young man growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, who couldn't get girls to date him would do. I mean, that's how I became an artist or a creative or whatever you wanna call it. It was a coping mechanism for not being able to get a date on a Saturday night. And that led all the way through college and afterwards. Recently, I mean, I think like a lot of us over the past few years, change has been the most constant thing in my life. I've undergone a number of personal and professional changes that we don't have time to go into. But trust me when I say they were pretty substantial. I don't know what it's like to be a librarian or be in the world of librarianship, but I do love books. As an author who writes books under my own name and as a ghost writer, I write books for other people, that's kind of what I do now. I do know that I, and we, I imagine, are in an industry where everything is changing. We're in the industry of getting books in front of people in a variety of ways. I don't have to tell you how much our world, the world of books has changed over the past several years. Really in the past decade, the number of books that have been published, that are being published per year has more than 10 times and is continually going up every single year. So as an author, that's an interesting thing for me to experience. One, there's more competition. Two, there's just more stuff out in the world. There aren't 10 times as many people out there trying to read books, not to mention Amazon and the ever-changing world of publishing. So, it's a weird thing. Because basically for the past 500 years, the world of publishing has basically been the same. Like printers, print books. They put them in bookstores and people go buy those books, bookstores and libraries and read the books. Over the past 20, 25 years, almost everything about our world has changed. One of the things that I believe about change is that there is no such thing as systemic or organizational change without individual change. That the way you change an organization, a society, a system, a group of people is, it starts and ends with the individual, which is to say with ourselves. And so that's really what I wanna talk about. We have heard that the mother of invention is what? I'm reading lips. I am reading minds. We have heard that the mother of invention is necessity. I wanna argue today that that's not true. What is the mother of invention? You can post it in the chat. You can share your ideas. I'd love to hear what you think the mother of invention is. Maybe a way to think about this is, think about the most creative seasons in your life. I define creativity as anytime you are changing or transforming something for the better, is a definition of creativity. Anytime you're making something, you're interacting with the world, you're solving a problem. You're coming up with a solution. You're finding a new way to discipline your children, or walk your dog, or make guacamole, or whatever you're using creativity. Think of the most creative seasons of your life, the most productive, the most prolific, successful, however you wanna define that, what was true? I'm seeing some comments here. I appreciate those of you who are participating.  Interaction, improvement, inspiration, discomfort, openness, and willingness to change. Heather T says, “When I feel a deep purpose behind what I'm doing,” love that. I think the mother of invention is change. Really one way to think about that is accidents. How do things change for the better? How do things systemically and societally and individually improve? They start with an accident. I think the worst thing that can happen in life is for us to resist the inevitable change of our world, of our society, of our industry. Again, I don't know what it's like to be a librarian, but I know what it's like to be an author. I know what it's like to talk with people every single day. Every day, I work with some of the largest publishers and some of the biggest names in publishing in the world. And in every conversation, there are two things happening. One, there is the acknowledgement that things are not the way they were in our lifetime, in all of our lifetimes. We're all old enough from what I could tell. Not dissing anybody but myself. We're all old enough to remember life before the internet. We're all old enough to remember when books were things that you picked up and flipped through and you could smell and I love that. I love the smell of a bookstore. I love the smell of a library. I love the smell of potential anywhere where there are actual physical books. And so, things are changing and in every conversation I have, I hear two things. One, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Amazon, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Everything is changing.” Then two, there is this resistance, there is this doubling down.

I live in Nashville, so big music city. A friend of mine worked at a record label for many years. Then he quit and I asked him, “Why did you quit?” And he said “I decided to quit the day we were having our end of year company meeting where the CEO–” This is years ago, 5, 6, 7 years ago. The company, this is a music company, a collection of record labels. “And the CEO of the company said “We did 20% of our budget this year.””20% of our budget. If their budget was to make a hundred million dollars that year, that year they made 20 million. There were layoffs. There were entire departments that closed down. This building had three floors and they rented out the top two floors because of all the changes that happened in their company and obviously in the industry. We all know lots of stuff is happening in music. I think the world of books is following closely behind in many ways. And he said this, he said “But we're gonna keep doing what we're doing because people are still buying CDs.” This is what he said, the CEO of a music company less than 10 years ago. Look, I don't know what your life is like, but if I make 20% of what I think I'm going to make for the year, things are problematic. This house goes away. I'm taking all of these boxes, and I'm sending them somewhere else ‘cause I can't afford to live anymore. He said, “We're gonna keep doing what we're doing because people are still buying CDs.” What? Huh? What are you talking about? You're crazy. So my friend quit and went and became a digital marketer and is doing just fine telling all the record labels now what they're doing wrong in resisting the change that is happening. I do believe that we cannot control what happens in life. We cannot navigate all of the circumstances in our life. We cannot even make change happen. What we can do is notice change happening and respond to it. And so things are always changing. But the mother of invention is how we respond to the things that don't go according to plan, which we might call an accident. I wanna do something in the limited time that we have. I wanna share three really quick stories and then maybe answer and address some questions. They're gonna be super quick, but they're really important. We're gonna talk about glass. We're gonna talk about butterflies. We're gonna talk about the Bronte sisters because how could you not with a bunch of librarians. So do you know how glass was invented? Anybody? It was surprise, surprise - an accident. Glass was invented by lightning striking the desert in the middle east. It was such a rarity ‘cause these merchants, we're talking, 11th, 12th, 13th century where Venice is the trade capital of the modern world, Western world, especially. But people from east and west are all going through Venice trading. In Venice, there were these Turkish glass merchants with these beautiful sculptures. If you've ever seen beach art, you're at a beach town or something, you've seen these amazing ornate looking kind of glass pieces of art when lightning strikes sand, beautiful things happen and it's an accident. It's nature. It's just stuff happening. They would take this back to Venice. They would sell these things. It was a rarity. It was like a beautiful gem, like diamonds. It was so rare, so beautiful. It was a highly valuable commodity. Some of these merchants got wise and they realized, “Okay, we kind of know what lightning is. We know what sand is. If we get a really hot oven, we can do this ourselves.” So they started building these huge furnaces that would have to get up over to a thousand degrees Fahrenheit to burn sand, turn it into glass. In Venice at the time, anybody had been to Venice? Beautiful city, cobblestone brick. A beautiful city on a swamp that will not be here unfortunately in a hundred years. In those days, Venice was not a beautiful cobblestone brick city on a swamp. It was a beautiful city made mostly of wood. What happens on a city on top of a swamp made of wood when you've got these huge furnaces burning at a thousand degrees Fahrenheit? You burn the entire city blocks down and that's what happened.

You know what happened to these merchants of Venice is they kicked them all out and they sent them to this island called Murano, which is right off the coast of Venice. Anybody who's ever been there may have spent some time. You can take a little ferry out to Murano and there on the island of Murano is where some of the most beautiful glassware is made in the world to this day. How this happened was a bunch of people noticed some stuff that was happening in the desert. They took it to a city. They got kicked out. And what happened was you created what some researchers call a creative cluster. We have a bunch of people who are all kind of likeminded trying to solve the same problem. And as a result of all of these glass merchants, being in the same place at the same time, they all creatively challenged each other to make better glass and do more interesting things.

It's like studying for finals with a group of your friends in college, or getting together with a bunch of other authors or librarians or people who all want to accomplish the same thing, same place, same time, cool things happen. Started with an accident. Now why is glass important? You could argue that glass is one of, if not the most important innovations of the modern world. What do we not have if we don't have glass? We don't have mirrors. Some would say humanism follows closely the invention of glass because what happens when you now have mirrors, people look at themselves every day. This was not a thing in the middle ages. People were not aware of themselves as individual selves. They were a part of a greater collective. There was the king appointed by God and everybody else. That was the world at the time, in the Western medieval world.

You've got mirrors. You eventually have microscopes. You have telescopes. You have all kinds of technology, fiber optics, not made possible without glass. How did we get it? Lightning striking sand bunch of merchants, trying to reproduce that, getting kicked out of town and then getting sort of forced into a small group of people. Not unlike what's happening here. Then being forced to innovate faster in some interesting and unusual ways. That's the first story. Second story. Do you know how butterfly becomes a butterfly? I didn't. It's gross. It's disgusting. A butterfly becomes a butterfly, not ‘cause they wanna be a butterfly. What happens is you got a caterpillar whose sole job in life is to not get stepped on or eaten. It's a very difficult job when you are furry, kind of ugly, and can't fly. Like lots of birds go “That looks tasty. You're not doing much else, so I'm gonna eat you.” So the life of a caterpillar consists of not trying to die, and often failing, and then eating leaves. Then something happens in the life of a caterpillar where something clicks inside of them and they start eating a lot more food. Then they eventually make this cocoon like thing called a chrysalis and they go hibernate. They go die, basically. They eat enough food. In the Chrysalis, immediately a caterpillar starts producing what are called imaginal cells. This is what they're called imaginal cells. What happens is that the caterpillar produces basically new cells, butterfly cells. Do you know the first thing that happens inside of a caterpillar when the butterfly cells start being produced, when it starts transforming into something else? The caterpillar cells kill the butterfly cells because of course they do. You have something weird growing inside of your body. You know what your body does? It kills it. That's how cancer starts. We're gonna kill that. Eventually the butterfly cells keep multiplying at such a rate that they overtake the caterpillar and become something new. 

Then when the time is right, the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis and becomes something new. Some of you may have seen this happening in your backyard. My children sometimes find chrysalises and bring them inside. You know what happens if you cut into a chrysalis? Have you ever seen this? Like I said, it's disgusting. What happens inside of a chrysalis, inside the container of change in transformation is the butterfly cells eat. I'm not kidding. They actually eat. They consume the caterpillar cells. They destroy the thing that it was to become something else. If you cut into that at the wrong time, before the change has happened, you get goop. You get slush. You get gross stuff that is not a well-formed new thing. Both the caterpillar and the butterfly die. What needs to happen for a caterpillar to emerge from the chrysalis is a little bit of stillness, a little bit of comfort with the unknown, with a willingness to become something other than what you were. I don't know what it's like to be a butterfly or a caterpillar, but I've mused on this. I haven't had a conversation yet with a caterpillar or a butterfly where they've responded. I've had many conversations with them, but it's just, they're just not very responsive. It's like teenagers, it's hard to get through to them sometime. But like if I could, I imagine that to go from caterpillar to butterfly might be a death of sorts. We have no knowledge of what happens inside of there.

If there's anything in the caterpillar consciousness that remains in the butterfly, which is to say that sometimes we both as individuals and as organizations and groups of people change into things that our former selves no longer recognize. Sometimes our country changes into something that we no longer recognize. Our world does. Our society. Our industry. We have no idea if there's anything of the caterpillar left in the butterfly, but we do know that there's something beautiful that emerges, that can fly, and do all kinds of things that the caterpillar cannot do. Second story. We'll tie it all together in a second. So Bronte sisters, anybody heard of those ladies? Pretty, pretty good in the world of literariness. The Bronte sisters became the Bronte sisters, not ‘cause they decided that they wanted to be world class, internationally known bestselling authors for the rest of English literature as we know it. They were kids and they had a very strict father who was a preacher who moved them out to a town called Haworth England, which is Nowheresville England. Many apologies to any Haworthians we have in the house. But it was a small rural town. Their father was a preacher. He was very sort of puritanical in his ideals. He did not want his kids interacting and getting with the world and getting solid by secular culture. So there were three main sisters and a brother that played together and they would write stories to each other. This is one of the ways that they would entertain themselves. They would write in these little tiny books, like these big, they'd write 40,000-word books that they would write in these little tiny books. They would share these stories and these worlds and characters that they were building and creating with each other as a way of entertaining themselves.

It wasn't because they wanted to do anything great in the world necessarily. It's because, ever had a bored kid? I have one upstairs right now, reading a book because it's summer vacation and you've gotta keep these little caterpillars busy or otherwise they're just gonna run amok. So this was a way that they kept themselves busy. By the time these young women were in their teenage years, they had acquired what Malcolm Gladwell has famously called the 10,000-hour rule. They got 10,000 hours of practice accidentally, not on purpose. It was an apprenticeship of sorts that they kind of fell into. As a result, they became these incredibly well known, successful and prolific authors because what? They were bored, they were trying to entertain themselves. They were in a circumstance that they didn't wanna be in.

Dad moved us to some crappy town and we've got big open fields to play in and our minds to work with. That's it. There weren't a lot of other kids around. They didn't get to interact with a lot of people in town. So that's what they had to work with. Let's kind of bring all these together and talk about what this means for us. Necessity in a way is the mother of invention, but we don't always know what we need. So change is often the mother of invention, which is to say, things are always changing and we have an ability to respond, a responsibility. We have an ability to respond to change. We can resist it. We can deny it. We can pretend that it's not happening. Because what? People are still buying CDs? A few years ago, I was sitting at a coffee shop just outside of Nashville here and this dude came up to me. I didn't know him. He thought I worked in the music industry. I did not. I do not. He handed me a CD and he said, “Can you share this with somebody in this city who might be willing to help publish me and turn me into an international rock star?” I said, “Sure, man, whatever. I know some people in the industry I'll pass it on.” I took this CD at this laptop like this one that I have right now, and there was no port for it. I couldn't even play the CD. I was like, oh, this is what we're doing in our ever-changing industries where we have these old pieces, these old relics of technology that we're trying to hold onto, could be a book. A book we should not be precious about. Books are wonderful. I love books. A book is a technology. It is a way to carry stories, ideas, and change. That's it. That's all a book is. I love books. I hope they stay around forever. They will not. Like all things, it will change. But what can happen is we can respond to this ever-changing world. How do we do this? One, we recognize that change is always happening. We start looking for accidents like lightning striking glass. And when we try to capture that accident like mold growing on a piece of bread and we’ve got penicillin and then we've gotta iterate with it. We've gotta take it to the town and get kicked out. We've gotta keep working with the change that's happening. Then we have to allow things to change, to grow, to become. We've gotta let the caterpillar become the butterfly and that requires a little bit of patience and some awareness. We have to watch what's happening around us. Invention is not the process of making anything that you want to happen. It's noticing what's happening in the world and choosing to partner with the change that's already unfolding. Steve jobs didn't decide that “I'm gonna make a personal computer. That's gonna be amazing.” People were making personal computers. And he said, “I can do something with this. I can copy this. I can steal that. I can play with that and I can do it better and more interestingly.” And he did and many other people did. Then like the Bronte sisters, we've gotta look around at who's around us. That's also bored or disenfranchised or frustrated or whatever and go, “Could we do something together? Could we tell each other's stories to pass the time? Could we collaborate?” In a thing like Library Lever, can we do something interesting, unique to respond to this change that's happening in ways that we might not want? You do not want change to happen. I certainly don't. Most of the time I get to a point where I feel pretty good. Like I've got this house, I've got these boxes, I've got this hat. I want things to stay the same and they won't. That is the constant. We can resist the change or we can partner with it and then look around and go, “Who else is noticing this? Who else is interested in being a part of this?” Then maybe if we are patient and persistent enough, something beautiful from the chrysalis will emerge. So those are my thoughts on change. Happy to respond to any questions. I know we're out of time, but thank you.


Thanks to Jeff Goins for sharing this inspiring talk with us. Please check out his books. They are so very special. Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe so you never miss an episode. Leave a rating where you're listening to this. If you like the show, hop in our community so we can chat more. If you're at ALA, remember to see us at booth 1150. Or online in the community, Thanks so much. We will speak with you again soon. Bye!

About the author 

Heather Teysko

Heather Teysko is head of community and engagement for Library Lever, and she loves running the Common Stacks Podcast. She's been in Library Land for close to 20 years, with a career that has focused on technology and ebooks. She is also passionate about history, having built a website on Colonial American history in 1998 that got to #1 on Yahoo (when that was a thing) has been podcasting on Tudor England since 2009, and her podcast The Renaissance English History Podcast has a social following of over 50,000 people. She has published several books including Sideways and Backwards: a Novel of Time Travel and Self Discovery, which was negatively compared to Outlander in several Amazon reviews, despite the fact that it is set in a completely different time period, but the comparison still feels like an honor.
You can follow her on twitter @teysko.

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