Cover image for Show Your Work!


Show Your Work!

Even if you're really good at what you do, you still have to be discovered by those interested in your work. Austin Kleon provides a how-to in this short, inspirational book.


Quickly summarised, Austin Kleon's book Show Your Work! is a simple guide to inbound marketing for creatives, which means attracting people by creating valuable content for them.

Value, in Kleon's mind, comes from the intrigue people have for creative work in progress.

The first step is to scoop up the scraps and the residue of your process and shape them into some interesting bit of media that you can share. You have to turn the invisible into something other people can see.

A behind-the-scenes look might seem mundane to creatives, but to others it may be useful, or fascinating, and you don't know which until you share it. This is Expert Blindness in action: an inability to self-assess our work for relevance to others.

The trouble is, we don’t always know what’s good and what sucks. That’s why it’s important to get things in front of others and see how they react.

Software engineers may recognise a familiar framing here, as getting feedback from customers on recently developed functionality is considered one of the highest value actions you can do. In Kleon's case, your readers or viewers are potential customers, and they're opting in or out depending on what you highlight.

A common reaction to this might be "I have nothing to share!", for which Kleon's advice is clear: start very small, focus on learning in the open, and find a community of like-minded folk.

Be on the lookout for voids that you can fill with your own efforts, no matter how bad they are at first. Don’t worry, for now, about how you’ll make money or a career off it. Forget about being an expert or a professional, and wear your amateurism (your heart, your love) on your sleeve. Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you.

Getting your work out there is the key to solving the "Trapped Equity" problem, where valuable ideas, thoughts, and rough drafts can't become useful to others because they're hidden away. To get the best return, it's vital to let all your efforts work for you.

Imagine if your next boss didn’t have to read your résumé because he already reads your blog. Imagine being a student and getting your first gig based on a school project you posted online. Imagine losing your job but having a social network of people familiar with your work and ready to help you find a new one. Imagine turning a side project or a hobby into your profession because you had a following that could support you.

Kleon's advice has similar tones to Cal Newport's thoughts in So Good They Can't Ignore You, particularly when it comes to honing a craft. For example, Newport argues that a "relentless focus on what you produce" is key to developing Career Capital: those rare and valuable skills that form the building blocks of career success.

Overlaps like these are to be expected in a fairly crowded career advice space, but Kleon's book finds a nice niche among creatives, rather than Newport's knowledge workers.

Ultimately Show Your Work! is an inspirational, enjoyable, short read, with plenty of pithy quotes to keep it interesting.

I like the tagline at 'What are you working on?' Stick to that question and you’ll be good. Don’t show your lunch or your latte; show your work.

You can pick it up on Amazon, here.

Cover image courtesy of Austin Kleon, with no modifications. Source.

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