I have been a fan of Hugh MacLeod and his Gaping Void "cartoons drawn on the back of business cards" for over a half decade, ever since I read his manifesto entitled "How to Be Creative." (The manifesto has held the No. 1 spot on ChangeThis.com for years.)
MacLeod is one of those rare individuals that works out on the edge of the lunatic fringe, as I call it, and makes both a living and a loving at it. His blogs and books prove it. His first book, Ignore Everybody & 39 Other Keys to Creativity, was a bestseller, and completely fun. So I was pleased when I received his new book to review, Evil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination. It's even better.
Allow me to back up. I should explain what I mean by "lunatic fringe." It's simply where the weird and wacky, out of the box, crazy ideas are found. They are rarely found inside large organizations. At least not the center...perhaps on the outer rings among the young and newly-hired, not-yet-part-of-the-system crowd. They are mostly found, though, inside the minds of entrepreneurs and freelancers with mad skills who spend their days cooking up, and often successfully executing, plans to rule the world.
You can think of Evil Plans as a journey through that territory, with Hugh MacLeod as your tour guide. In fact, the bulk of the book, outside the wonderfully insane cartoons, is a "travels with Hugh" narrative chock full of chuckle-evoking stories and anecdotes.
MacLeod cuts right to the chase in the opening lines of Evil Plans. “Everybody needs an EVIL PLAN. Everybody needs that crazy, out-there idea that allows them to ACTUALLY start doing something they love, doing something that matters. Everybody needs an EVIL PLAN that gets them the hell out of the Rat Race, away from lousy bosses, away from boring, dead-end jobs that they hate. Life is short.”
MacLeod was an advertising copywriter who had a rough time of it during the early years of the new millennium--"chasing gigs" endlessly on what seemed to be a meaningless "hamster wheel," as he puts it. At the nadir of his dark days, he cooked up an evil plan: get 10,000 people a year to give him money. Needless to say, he succeeded. "And then some," he writes.
There are roughly 40 five-page chapters, the content of which is not earth-shatteringly new. What's new, though, and what's so enjoyable and provocative, is the delivery of those messages, and the entertaining stories and cartoons that accompany them. In other words, it's not so much what MacLeod says, it's how how he says it. It's like music: there are about a half dozen recurring themes in songs, but it's the choice of words and style of delivery that makes us listen.
Here's a baker's dozen of my favorites for sampling:
1. In the Internet era, if people on the other side of the planet aren't loving what you do, you're doing something wrong.
2. Avoid "complicated" like the plague.
3. Mediocrity has had its day. That day is so over.
4. Make art every day.
5. Have a story. Make sure it's a good one. A damn good one.
6. If you can't get excited by your Evil Plan, why should anyone else?
7. Fortune rarely favors those with a sense of entitlement.
8. Find your "moment." The things that define us and our business can be surprisingly instantaneous.
9. The biggest problem of the Western world is oversupply. Don't let it be yours.
10. The "creative life" is no longer one of many economic options; it's now the only option we've got.
11. No, you can't have it all, especially if you want to do something that matters.
12. Create expressive capital. Remember, we're all here to find meaning, including your customers.
13. It's easy to tell somebody to get into "the Zone"--that place where work and love are unified. Much harder to live it. But fight like hell to get there, regardless, every friggin' day, or else you'll never make it.
What I found most appealing and resonant about Evil Plans is the simple fact that Hugh MacLeod led the life of quiet desperation that so many still do for quite some time, stuck in a meaningless line of work, and has the battle scars and stories to prove it. Not only did he escape, but he created truly transformational, meaningful change in his life. If he can do it, everyone can. That's the point of having an Evil Plan: it's something universal inside each of us. We just need to find it, feed it, and follow it. Evil Plans is the perfect inspiration for doing just that, and MacLeod is a fantastic guide.
The world at work. Period. Now, go change that world!
What Others Are Saying:
"Don't just buy this book. Reading it helps, but you really should eat it, digest it, engage with it, fight with it, argue about it, spread it around, and relentlessly tussle with it until it changes you. Hurry. Later is too late." --Seth Godin