February 23, 2011

'The Evilest Plans: my review of Evil Plans'

This is my review of Evil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination, by Hugh McLeod Warning: very long blog post!

I’ve finished reading “Evil Plans”, by Hugh McLeod. Bought in Singapore last Sunday for** 30.10 USD** (38.47 SGD), twice as much as you pay in the US, which says a lot about my love for Hugh and my impelling desire to read this book. Yes, interesting book, I should say! So interesting that I decided to spend some hours to write a detailed, hopefully-not-so-boring review of it.

(this is me, thinking about many Evil Plans at the Bookstore)

The first part is a summary of what Hugh says. The second part is my opinion on what Hugh discusses in the book. You need some time to read through it. Make sure you have it, then sit, relax, and enjoy the read :)

First Part: An ugly summary of “Evil Plans” in seven minutes

Thanks to the internet, it has never been easier to have an Evil Plan, a plan to escape the rat race and unify work and love. In year 2000, Hugh had tough times, searching for “islands of security”. However, gigs never lasted. He just wanted “10,000 people giving me money every year”, thinking that it would be a solution for his problems. He wasn’t satisfied by his corporate jobs. Instead, “As long as you feel inspired your life is being well spent”. That’s “the Hunger” to do something creative, amazing, to change the world. He then wrote the Hughtrain Manifesto: “The market for something to believe in is infinite”. He wanted to “Make a dent in the universe”, or to know “why you are totally frickin’ amazing”. It’s not what you make, that counts. It’s what you believe in. In short, he was ready to leave the corporate world and enter into a new dimension of work. Page 16, a nice cartoon: “I don’t need religion. I’ve got an iPhone.“ Hugh went on to create his own “global microbrand”, which is easier with the Internet. Everyone in the big city seems really stressed out. Alcohol as a temporary fix, high prices for everything. “Urban threadmill”. It’s better to keep it simple, like the “Chappel Hill Meat Market & Cafè”, silently and simply selling superb meat in a small little village to passbyers that are aware of it, 3.5 tons of meat per week. It’s time to join the overextended class, where you can have even TEN different jobs at the same time. That’s when “Cartoons drawn on the back of business cards” was born. For a great evil plan, you also need a world class product: that’s the story of Thomas Mahon, tailor, one of the best tailors in the world. Hugh convinced him to write a blog about his activity, and thanks to englishcut.com he drastically improved sales. It’s important to “Make art every day”.

(Dear Lisa: Make Art Every Day)

You need to fill in the narrative gaps: have a story, a damn good one. Like Andrew, bartender, who then went into personalized porn to make a hit in the film industry. But that’s not true, he made up the story, because he needed an interesting story to tell. “Human beings need to tell stories”. Remember who you really are: focus on what you want to be, not just money. They call it “The white pebble” with your name, the person that God thinks you are. Always think about who you really are. Treat your passion, your activity like an adventure worth sharing, an act of futility. Success is more complex than failure. Sleep rough: the story of the band “We should be dead” and how they did it the hard way, bar after bar, pub after pub, sleeping rough on their musical tour, until they reached some good success at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas. “What people say they want, and what they’re willing to work their ass off to get, are two different things.” Create “social”, see how Boingboing.com offers “sociality” opportunities to its readers. Create snowballs: evil plans require “random acts of traction”, or RAOT. Doc Searls says that you should create snowballs, some of them will have a snowball effect and become huge, but you don’t know which one. Avoid Dinosaurspeak. Talk like a human being, not like one of Stalin’s apparatchiks. Have you hugged your client today? Brilliant cartoon: “this cartoon was “co-created” by a useless committee of third-rate, political hacks. This explains the dumb cat (there is a dumb cat on the bottom right). Find your moment: Simon Thornhill, owner of Troubadour in Earl’s court, London, former army official; “The moment”, for example, is when a young official starts to “lead”, even in front of older and more veteran soldiers. The moment for Hugh: the Chinese girl bartender, she did a mistake and Hugh decided to take the hit, because otherwise it would have been deducted from her pay. Embrace “crofting”: doing different things every day. “Entrepreneurs are aspiring entrepreneurs”. The TAO of undersupply: if something is scarce, people would compete to get it. (Simone’s note: I should tell Hugh about Enzo Ferrari: at Ferrari, they always make one car less than the market size. The cartoon on page 87 seems Enzo Ferrari indeed). Don’t be “middle seat guy”. Middle seats are very uncomfortable. Don’t offer middle seats to your customers. Jetblue doesn’t have middle seats. There is now cheap, easy global media: the revolution is already here, and it’s permanent. “The twenty”: control the conversation by improving the conversation. The twenty people that matter the most in your space. Markets are conversations. The “creative life” is now the only option we’ve got. What entrepreneurs can learn from artists, and vice versa: it’s wrong. Entrepreneur = artist. No, you can’t have it all. Example of Michelob Lite beer, trying to be too many things. Brilliant cartoon: “Mediocrity loves slavery”. If your boss won’t let you articulate your evil plan during company hours, quit. “I once had a boss who didn’t like the fact that I had a blog”. Monsieur Bovary “offended no more than he pleased”, therefore he was uninspiring. Instead, get other people to hate you: the haters are a sign that you’re doing something right. Steal time, every day. Napoleon: I can always regain lost territory. A single second, never. The pressure to “not be shit” is there forever. Even if you already proved yourself. This is what David Mackenzie says about his job. A good customer base is the best marketing plan there is. A good example is the band** Grateful Dead **and the “deadheads” fans. Continuity is key. Hazel Dooney, young female australian artist, says so. Woody Allen: “90% of success is just showing up”. Create expressive capital, a tool to express meaning, purpose. Not all products can have expressive capital. Good news! You don’t die. Instead, people love to imagine worst-case scenario. The story of Cindi, she went on a “mission” to get the job she wanted, and she did get it, while her friends were just focused on going out and having fun. Brilliant cartoon: Whining is NOT an exit strategy. “This is it”. Mark Morris, dancer in NY, calls it “The zone”, when you’re at the top, and there’s nothing else better. You want to see a specific attitude on people dancing with you at the top dancing school. Take the cream off the top, leave the rest behind. Jerry Colonna, former VC, now business coach because that’s what he liked the most about being a VC: coaching people. Cartoon: The secret sauce is: there is no secret sauce.

(Hugh McLeod)

Live in the market, not in the spreadsheet, to really understand your customers. That’s what Cheryl McKinnon says. When Starbucks was faced with the decision, raise prices or reduce coffee quality, they raised the prices but informed their customers why they did it. Great move. Don’t worry if you don’t know absolutely everything before starting out. Don’t postpone your evil plan. Google didn’t. That’s what you need to focus on for your Evil Plan: **a. **You might be an outsider with too much insider knowledge, therefore you do common mistakes. Don’t try to get too much insider knowledge. **b. **Events, dear boy, events, that’s what can disrupt a government. It means that you should try to manage what you can control, not what you can’t control. **c. **Interesting destinies rarely come from just reading the instructions. **d. **Sometimes paranoia is just having all the facts. The world will ALWAYS conspire to make you less than you are. Forget about Paranoia, and start working on your Evil Plan. Bill Gates: “Don’t do what I did. That money’s already been made by me.” Death by stuff. Fancy cars, nice houses in suburbs, all this “stuff” doesn’t help you live a better life. People say they have no choice. Is that true? Everything begins with the act of gift-giving, therefore: a. Figure out what your gift is, give it to people. b. Make sure it’s a gift, not an ad. c. Where does your trail of breadcrumbs lead back to? That’s how your gift is going to pay you back. Be a Waker: you let others feel that they’re alive. Human beings don’t scale. Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, doesn’t have more time than I do. Evil plans are not products. Evil plans are gifts. I hated a job because it never allowed me to give ENOUGH to the world.

Second Part: My opinion of “Evil Plans”

I already told you, this is a great book. And its purpose is not to teach you anything, but** to start a conversation**. Not everything that Hugh says is right, or applicable to everyone and everywhere. What about a 50-years-old white collar, on the same job since childhood? Would he be able to drop it and execute his Evil Plan? I doubt so. What about these people that work in sectors where Internet is not important, and therefore its benefits are not easy to grasp? Same thing. Or, what about people that don’t live in the US, but somewhere else where it’s not easy to change, to “unify work and love”. And again: what about my mom Sandra, she’s sixty, she works for the city hall in a small town in Italy, and she looks after her two old and sick grandparents. What can she do? As of now, nothing. Perhaps, when her parents will say goodbye to this world and she will retire, she might have enough time to follow her passions. Perhaps. My point here is: very few people will be able to plan and execute their Evil Plans. Period.** This book is not for everybody**.

(Reading Evil Plans, and taking notes, at the Botanic Garden in Singapore, after a long day of work)

What almost everybody can learn from this book, however, is that we should always be awake, trying to understand the world and how it works. We should not passively accept the corporate world, but instead try to minimize its negative effects as much as we can. We should love having a conversation on Evil Plans with our colleagues and friends, even if we’re not going to execute them. And, there should be BIG Evil Plans, and SMALL Evil Plans. Perhaps I can’t change everything, or I simply don’t have the guts to do it, or the “white pebble” says that I’m just an ordinary guy, with average skill set and nowhere else to go other than my cubicle. Well, at least I can save some money, buy a motorbike, and explore the world on weekends. Or take two weeks off and embark on an adventurous trip by myself, something like The Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (great book, by the way). Why not? Maybe you dream of a real adventure, like the Long Way Round, but if you can’t afford two months away from your job, or a great BMW motorbike like Ewan McGregor (one of my favourite actors, who does a lot of Charity work) does, you should settle for something smaller, but still valuable. Which brings us to the negative side of Evil Plans or similar books. Yes, this is something that I literally HATE about most American writers, and Hugh is no exception: these people preach the BIG change, so big that almost nobody is going to do it. And they don’t mention this. They’re bold, they’re optimistic, but they don’t face the fact that they live in close contact with an elite of cultured Americans or Westerners. And even them, the elite, they’re not quite ready to go for it. Only a few do, only a few really need and are capable of making their Evil Plans real. Take J P Rangaswami, a brilliant technologist at BT, based in London, originally from Calcutta, India. He says “I wish Hugh did work here!”, but I’m sure he will not quit his corporate job and move back to Calcutta. At least, not now. We, as human beings, get used to things, to the company we work for, and it’s more and more difficult to embrace change, especially a disruptive one. I would have preferred a more humble, gentle approach to these things. Anyway, Hugh doesn’t pretend to teach you how to be rich, or that you can work only 4 hours per week and be happy and rich. Yes, I hate that book by Tim Ferriss, it’s simply a pile of bullshit, but it’s good for the fact that starts a conversation on the topic, at least. Back to Evil Plans. I like Hugh’s cartoons. Sometimes he’s able to compress a concept in just a sigle sketch, with a few words. That’s great. Let me give you an example: “I don’t need religion. I’ve got an iPhone”. With this one, in a single sentence, Hugh says many things: that Apple has been insanely great at creating a “cult” for its products; that people’s need for religion is not limited to religions, but it can be extended to objects or companies or brands as well. And then, it let your brain depart from the cartoon and think about many other things. It stimulates you. That’s good. I also like that Hugh brings few, simple and powerful concepts on stage, and brings them together. He gives you a recipe, but it’s not the usual, dumb, point by point list of things to do in order to get rich or whatever. It’s a simpler approach, one that works. I literally, literally LOVE that he uses a lot of stories. He’s a storyteller. The book is never boring. Never. He’s right: we humans need to tell, or listen to, stories.

However, I still think that few people can be lucky and bold and successful as Hugh. And I’m a natural optimistic. Just look around you: the power of Consumerism is stronger and stronger, and there is no clear alternative that seems to get traction. As much as I love Tara Hunt’s work, there is no Whuffie factor strong enough to change the world. At least, not yet. Therefore, most of us, I’d even say more and more of us, are being trapped in the rat race, with no hopes to escape without serious damage. That’s the sad part. And, despite the great conversation that can sparkle from Evil Plans, I didn’t see anybody really able to change this. We’re stuck.

Third Part: My own Evil Plans!

Oh yes, I have a lot of Evil Plans. Since I was a little kid, I should say!

(some of my many Evil Plans)

Examples? 1) Living for a few months on Jose Ignacio Beach, in Uruguay. That might happen. 2) Being part of the Long Way Up with Ewan and Charley, riding a motorcycle through South America, all the way up. Difficult, because I don’t even know them, and I don’t know why they should be interested. I’m not attracted by them as famous people, I just love THAT type of adventure, mixed with charity work, and I think they are interesting people to know. 3) Study and graduate at the MAPP, Master of Applied Positive Psychology with Martin Seligman, and gain a better understanding of Happiness. 4) Do something good with Acumen Fund. 5) Buy a luxury apartment in Manila, Philippines, and rent it out while I go for a long trip around the world… And possibly, discovering that it doubled its value while I was away :) 6) Change the world, at least a little. And many others. Yes, these are Evil Plans. Some are small, some are bigger. In reality, most of these plans will never happen. Why? Because changing things is difficult. And don’t forget, I’m the one that was able to go for a BIG change. I’m optimistic, I believe in our ability to do wonders… But I’m also realistic. I look around me, that’s what I see. Because we’re stuck, somehow. We are afraid of letting go. However, I’m still optimistic, and I agree that the Internet has brought some interesting changes. We’ll see what happens.

I hope you liked my “review” and my opinions. I want to thank Hugh for writing this book, and for inspiring me (not just with the book). I also want to thank you, reader, for the patience of going through my rants, and investing (or wasting?) at least twenty minutes of your time. I appreciate that. Like Hugh said, I want to start the conversation. Well, what do you have to say about the above? :)