“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
–Thomas Edison

Last week I had the privilege of attending the 99U Pop Up School in New York City.

Attending this event accomplished exactly what I imagined it would: the speakers inspired me, the topics reinvigorated me in my pursuits, and the fellow attendees reminded me how important it is stay connected with a tribe of like minds.

99U is the media & events arm of Behance, a popular online platform where creatives from all over the world (think graphic designers, photographers, illustrators) can showcase their work. Sigga Rún, our award-winning illustrator from Tales of Iceland, even has a profile.

From Tales of Iceland illustrator Sigga Run’s collection on Behance.

The name 99U is a hat tip to Thomas Edison’s memorable mantra “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

Basically, 99U wants you to perspire.

Creative types are at risk of getting lost in ideas, so 99U was born to provide “insights on making ideas happen.” As 99U states clearly on their website: we don’t want to give you more ideas—we want to empower you to make good on the ones you’ve got.

Through their blog, bestselling books, and conferences, 99U has developed into a well-respected name.

Last week, I attended their experimental 3-day conference-like event called the 99U Pop Up School. The event was part conference (inspiring speakers), part interactive learning (group break-out discussions), plus recess (mingling with other “students”) and beer. Each day had a theme: Wednesday = Career Development, Thursday = Entrepreneurship, Friday = Branding & Digital Strategy.

As I page through my notes from the event, there are a few quotes, pictures (mostly courtesy of Mackler Studios), and lessons worth sharing:

1. Figure out what you want to be the best at.

"What do you want to be the best at?"
--Scott Belsky, Founder and CEO of Behance

Mackler Studios: 99U Pop-Up School — Day 1 — Career Development &emdash; 99U_POPUP-D1-0629

Scott talked about tapping into your competitive advantage — whether you’re a business or an individual. Your competitive advantage sits at the intersection and sweet spot of your: 1) Interests, 2) Skills, and 3) Opportunities.

As I begin to seriously market myself and my publishing services to more authors and aspiring self-publishers, I’m trying to hone in on my competitive advantage  — understanding, defining, and communicating what I want to be the best at.

2. Embrace a Get Better mindset (rather than a Be Good mindset).

"Are you trying to prove, or improve?"
--Heidi Grant Halvorson, Associate Director of the Motivation Science Center at the Columbia Business School & author of 9 Things Successful People Do Differently. 

Mackler Studios: 99U Pop-Up School — Day 1 — Career Development &emdash; 99U_POPUP-D1-0702

Heidi proved that we accomplish more (and remain happier through the process) if we approach everything we do with a growth mindset — or what she calls a Get Better mindset. A Get Better mindset is intrinsically derived, the purpose being to improve oneself. The opposite approach, a Do Good mindset, is one where our achievements and self-worth are based on external measuring sticks — the achievements and acceptance of others.

So instead of trying to Prove, we should aim to Improve.

Rather than Demonstrating Skills for others, we should work on Developing Skills for our own purposes.

Performing Better Than Others shouldn’t be our metric. Performing Better Than I Did in the Past is a better approach.

3. Let the boogie-woogie come out!

"Mama, you gotta let that boy boogie-woogie, 'cuz it's in him, and it's gotta come out!"
--James Victore, art director, designer, and author.

Mackler Studios: 99U Pop-Up School — Day 1 — Career Development &emdash; 99U_POPUP-D1-0440

During an interview session, James Victore muttered the quote above, kind of in a throw-away manner, but it stuck with me. James couldn’t remember the origins or the deeper context of the quote, but after a quick Google search I found its source is a John Lee Hooker song, “Boogie Chillun’.”

One night I was layin’ down.
I heard my Mama and Papa talkin’.
I heard Papa tell Mama,
‘Let that boy boogie-woogie.
It’s in him, and it’s got to come out.’
And I felt so good,
Went on boogeyin’ anyhow.

And while I don’t remember the context of James mentioning the quote, the message is clear. What’s your boogie-woogie? Is it still lying dormant, deep within you? Or are you letting it out? Don’t cheat the world of whatever gift you have, whatever boogie-woogie is aching to get out. Don’t die with your best music left to be sung. Share it with us. Let the boogie-woogie out!

4. Embrace a give-first mentality.

"I show up to give, not to get."
--Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why.

Mackler Studios: 99U Pop-Up School — Day 1 — Career Development &emdash; 99U_POPUP-D1-1279

Simon Sinek delivered one of the best talks I’ve ever seen in person. He spoke mostly about the science of happiness, yet the quote that resonated the most for me was during his Q&A.

Someone asked the question all of us were wondering — how did you become such a powerful speaker?

Simon’s answer was simply: “I show up to give, not to get.”

As I prepare for a talk at the , I’ll try to embrace this mantra.

5. There are leaders, and there are those who lead.

"Leaders are those who give us their time and energy."
--Simon Sinek

Simon made a distinction between leaders and those who lead. Sometimes our leaders lead us. Often times, people become “leaders” by status, authority, or appointment, but fail to actually lead people. True leadership, Simon argues, is a choice, not a title.

Simon has a fantastic TED talk that I suggest watching immediately. One of my favorite quotes: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

6. Perfect is the enemy of progress.

"An ugly baby is better than no baby at all."
--Kathryn Minshew, founder of TheMuse.com

Mackler Studios: 99U Pop-Up School — Day 2 — Entrepreneurship &emdash; 99U_POPUP-D2-0805

In the middle of one of the “recess” periods, I found myself in conversation with the incredibly confident, charming, and beautiful woman you see above. The problem is, it took me a few minutes to realize who I was talking to: entrepreneur and forthcoming afternoon speaker Kathryn Minshew of TheMuse.com. When I finally realized it, I admit I was a little starstruck and humbled. But on the surface I kept my cool. I think.

Mackler Studios: 99U Pop-Up School — Day 2 — Entrepreneurship &emdash; 99U_POPUP-D2-0638In her talk, Kathryn made the distinction between Perfect and Done. Whether it’s start-up, a book, or the decision to take a trip around the world, Perfect is the enemy. There will never be a perfect product, a perfect book, or a perfect time to take a trip.

Kathryn suggests launching the ugly site, warts and all. Publish the book you could tweak until the end of time. Book the trip. Act first, learn, and adjust course if necessary. An ugly baby is better than no baby at all. Just get the baby out and let it start growing.

7. If you feel like you have things all figured out, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.

"I have no idea what I'm doing, and that's awesome."
--Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit.com

Mackler Studios: 99U Pop-Up School — Day 2 — Entrepreneurship &emdash; 99U_POPUP-D2-0991

This photo sums up Alexis Ohanian’s talk perfectly. He walked us through the story of him starting and running a top-100 global site on internet, Reddit.com, claiming he didn’t really know exactly what he was doing along the way. And he still doesn’t know what he’s doing. He just keeps doing things that excite him and has faith things will work out.

8. Storytelling always wins.

"Everyone thinks it's in the content. It's not; it's in the context. Storytelling always wins."
--Gary Vaynerchuk, author of Thank You Economy and founder of Vaynermedia.

99u GaryVsmall

Gary Varynerchuk is basically the reason I went to this conference. I’ve been following him for a couple years and always wanted to see him speak live.

Gary has developed into a well-respected social media expert. The odd thing is, Gary’s not a “tech guy.” He’s a business guy. He owned and operated a large wine store in New Jersey. But when he saw the potential to sell wine to customers online, he made it his mission to learn how to reach to those customers. And if those customers happen to be hanging out on Facebook, Twitter, TumbInstaChat, or whatever, he would learn how to be present on those social media platforms.

To watch a talk similar to the one I saw Gary deliver, check this out:

9. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.

"Give, Give, Give. Then Ask."
--Gary Vaynerchuk.

This is similar to Simon Sinek’s sentiments on honoring a give-first mentality. In his forthcoming book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social WorldGary takes the position that first we need to give, give, give. And then ask. Too many of us (mostly sellers and marketers, but I’d broaden it to humans general) tend to ask without any inclination of giving or providing real value first.

You wouldn’t go to a cocktail party and immediately start selling your product/services to everyone you met. You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and say “Like Me!” would you? So why do we do this on social media?

Gary’s point hits home when I relate it to my own journey.

I’m guessing that the reason many of you have purchased a copy of Tales of Iceland, and continue to support me in my pursuits, is because I’ve been “jabbing” for over a year — trying to provide entertainment, education, and inspiration through this blog. My intent was always to share my journey, wherever it took me, with whoever cared. I wanted to open up the curtain and take you along for the ride. So I shared my experiences and my thoughts as I journeyed through Europe last year (Jab). Now I’m taking you with me as I learn how to start a publishing business (Jab). Sometimes I give things away like postcards (Jab) and books (Jab).

Then occasionally I’ll ask for something, like Please join me in doing a Comfort Challenge. Or Please buy Tales of Iceland (Right Hook).

But you can count on me to keep jabbing. At least until the next right hook.

OK, I guess those are only 9 lessons. So here’s a 10th:

10. Remember to Practice Gratitude.

Almost all of the speakers expressed gratitude before or after their talks — a simple, but powerful lesson that’s easy to forget.

So, Thank You. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you reading, supporting, and encouraging me.

Do you like Matthew's articles? Follow on social!