How to Win the Lottery
October 27, 2014 8:25 AM   Subscribe

 


This is so unbelievably on point. I'm half laughing, half crying.
posted by tocts at 8:54 AM on October 27, 2014 [7 favorites]


I feel like I can laugh at this joke without even seeing the talk. Nice! (Not a knock at it! I will probably look later. It just seems like such a good premise, like an Onion headline.)
posted by grobstein at 8:56 AM on October 27, 2014


I was in the audience for the talk. He played it straight, I think most of the audience was wondering where he was going for most of it.
posted by Nelson at 9:07 AM on October 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


perfect.
posted by The Whelk at 9:12 AM on October 27, 2014


Yeah, in person I was disappointed at first that he went for the coda, but the sincerity of it was more in spirit with XOXO and, I think, makes it a stronger talk.
posted by nev at 9:13 AM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


This was terrific. Just perfect.

Unrelated: it looks like his pants were unexpectedly turned into shorts
posted by lattiboy at 9:14 AM on October 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, watching it live, there was this wonderful tension to it where everybody knew it was some sort of joke but he was so thoroughly deadpanning it that no one was really sure what the joke was going to be. Nervous expectation, not something that was there in most of the talks so it was a nice twist.

In totality it's also just a really good, sane-making deconstruction of the huge practical and emotional dangers of the lottery-chasing idea, which for all worthwhile positivity in the the You Can Do It, Follow Your Dream boosterism that can come with creative pep talks is something I feel people lose track of a little sometimes in a way that sets them up for unnecessary knock-on emotional damage on top of the inevitable disappointment that comes with a failed project.
posted by cortex at 9:21 AM on October 27, 2014 [23 favorites]


One of my friends got his entire art career started when he was struggling by a high-profile editor who hired him cause he liked Bob Dylan - not his specific rendering of Bob Dylan but he liked that he drew him a lot.
posted by The Whelk at 9:26 AM on October 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh man, this is exactly what has been inspiring me to create. Why is some art more popular than other art? Matt Farley is a creative machine, 14k lottery tickets (i.e. songs). The cost for a lottery ticket, at least for music, is getting smaller and smaller, an album can get up on CDBaby (and iTunes, Spotify, etc) for about $100. And you can squeeze 100 songs on an album! So that's about $1 per ticket.

Of course, there are those who bemoan this turn of events. And I believe there is even a meme-title for this wave of lottery-ticket purchasers, I can't remember what it's called... something that starts with an 'F'...
posted by joecacti at 9:29 AM on October 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


I feel people lose track of a little sometimes in a way that sets them up for unnecessary knock-on emotional damage on top of the inevitable disappointment that comes with a failed project.

I spent literally two years and hundreds of hours of work on a project that dried up and blew away so I resolved to not put in too much time on anything else for a while cause my mental health is more important than some stupid story no one needs to read.
posted by The Whelk at 9:32 AM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


(also hard work doesn't lead to success and the universe is random and uncaring!)
posted by The Whelk at 9:33 AM on October 27, 2014 [14 favorites]


That attitude is how the Soviets won Second East Turkestan!
posted by Malory Archer at 9:46 AM on October 27, 2014


Matt Farley is a creative machine, 14k lottery tickets (i.e. songs).

Wow, that reads like an article about a spam algorithm.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:48 AM on October 27, 2014


(also I can draw a direct line from my current position to a silly Metafilter post I made. It set off a chain of events.)
posted by The Whelk at 9:49 AM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


As a briefly almost-successful creative who fell back to earth with a wet thud and is only now (timidly) starting to show his work again, this felt like a warm hug from someone who gets it.
posted by ducky l'orange at 9:52 AM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't even have to look to know that this is a subtle take down of TED talks. The only thing throwing me off the scent is that it isn't eighteen minutes long.
posted by Yowser at 9:52 AM on October 27, 2014


"What is the biggest rock?"
posted by Yowser at 9:55 AM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


I watched it, and like it, though I think it is a bit disingenuous.

Being successful at artistic endeavors requires a huge amount of luck, but the factors on the margins matter quite a bit. He blithely dismisses the value of iterating and getting better at your craft; of being connected in an industry; of getting feedback; of marketing yourself; of working hard; of being realistic about your chances; and of persistence. None of these things will let you succeed, but they all help, and they help you develop backup plans if your art doesn't work.

He doesn't believe that the success of the Coolest Cooler the second time around was anything but luck, but I think there was clearly learning involved. In fact, my research on Kickstarter shows that second attempts are much more likely to succeed, especially if the creator adjusts their project characteristics to match feedback from the market.

So, fun presentation, but I think the analysis is wrong.
posted by blahblahblah at 10:00 AM on October 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


He blithely dismisses the value of iterating and getting better at your craft; of being connected in an industry; of getting feedback; of marketing yourself; of working hard

Sure, but you can get that from literally every other talk by a successful creative person. They tend to skip over the lottery aspect.

If marbles could talk and I grabbed a random handful out of a bucket, I bet they'd each have their own story about how they worked hard to rise to the top.
posted by echo target at 10:09 AM on October 27, 2014 [44 favorites]


If marbles could talk and I grabbed a random handful out of a bucket, I bet they'd each have their own story about how they worked hard to rise to the top.

See? That's brilliant right there, and imma write a song about it.
posted by joecacti at 10:14 AM on October 27, 2014 [14 favorites]


How long does it take him to write his bots? How long does it take Matt Farley to write a song?

How long does it take to write a novel?

Not all lottery tickets cost the same.

(Then too, striving for quantity can put a big dent into quality.)
posted by IndigoJones at 10:27 AM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Not all lottery tickets cost the same.

I was rambling about this general idea the other day and ended up reframing steady creative output as, specifically, scratch-it tickets, because that feels a lot more at the level of what most of the stuff people I know work on—the stakes and the payoffs are both way lower and more representative of what the "hmm, I have an idea, let's see what happens" workflow feels like than, say, the startup gamble.

And the "how much does this cost me?" angle there is an important one, but also a pretty personal one. Like, how long does it take me to record a song idea vs. the next guy? How much longer does it take me to add an extra layer of polish to a song idea vs. just sketching it and shipping it? How much do I value being done with it and moving on to the next thing vs. spending that could-be-doing-something-else time on polishing? How much do the emotional stakes go up when I do make this the thing I work harder than normal on? How much do the scratch-it stakes actually improve for me when I take on that extra time and emotional weight?

And, ultimately: how good am I at doing predictive accounting on that on a project-to-project basis? How much do I want to meta-gamble on my ability to predict the emotional cost of trying to make that predictive gamble?

Maybe not for everyone, but for a lot of people who deal with some of this creative anxiety shit there's even kind of a baseline cost for worrying too much about the idea of how much each lottery ticket costs. For me I tend to just try and get done what I can on the natural enthusiasm behind it and defer any kind of "how much harder should I work on this" thought until that enthusiasm has already sort of run its course and it's a question of doing effortful work on purpose instead of just messing around with a thing. Which on the one hand is lazy and non-striving; on the other hand, it's part of staying sane and just moving onto the next scratch-it, the next itch to scratch, instead of getting bogged down in the Why Didn't People Love This As Much As I Wanted Them To doldrums about any given little thing.

Because sometimes you make your dollar back, sometimes you make a fiver, a lot of the time all you have to show for it is a dollar less and some weird grey crumbs all over you. If you don't actually get some joy out of the scratching, every time, then banking on a lottery win is a setup for some really crushing letdown.
posted by cortex at 10:42 AM on October 27, 2014 [17 favorites]


He blithely dismisses the value of iterating and getting better at your craft; of being connected in an industry; of getting feedback; of marketing yourself; of working hard; of being realistic about your chances; and of persistence.

Does he?

I might be mistaken, but I don't think he dismissed those things at all; I just think he files them under "buying more lottery tickets."

And at least for me, that's an encouraging message; far more than the "successful stuff is successful because it's awesome and if you're still not successful you're obviously doing something wrong because otherwise you'd be successful" tautology that so many successful people implicitly affirm when they get up to tell their story about how their talent and hard work and persistence won out in the end.

Sorry, but I feel passionate about this.
posted by ducky l'orange at 10:48 AM on October 27, 2014 [11 favorites]


You know, I totally concur with the assessment that Kazemi has glossed over the question of skill. However, I think that for most craft-focused artists, the development of skill is pursued for its own sake and not for the promise of greater commercial success. You work toward your masterpiece for posterity, not because it's going to be the most popular thing around.

If anything, I think this talk is taking the air out of the idea of marketing more than skill. That's why he talks about "community" so much. A lot of modern Internet mythology revolves around the notion that leveraging a fanbase of a certain size will catapult you to success. It's kind of a 100th Monkey fallacy for the twitter generation.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 10:50 AM on October 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


One of my friends got his entire art career started when he was struggling by a high-profile editor who hired him cause he liked Bob Dylan - not his specific rendering of Bob Dylan but he liked that he drew him a lot.

Oh god THIS. So much of success seems to be whether you get the right powerful person to back you (back here meaning to invest somehow, which most often means getting hired by), entirely up to their whim. And so many people ridiculously see money as being an objective measure of success, and that, coupled with its gigantic importance in our culture, warps people's perceptions as to personal worth.

On top of this, there's the natural tendency of the media, of all kinds, to chase the notable. And what makes something notable, above all else, is sheer financial success. Take Minecraft as an example. Notch rolls the ol' 01 on D%, creates an amazing success in Minecraft, and ultimately sells off to Microsoft for $3 Giga-large. The industry news is filled with amazed gawking. A thousand others will be inspired to follow his example, and few of those will make a profit -- despite the fact that, before Notch, a thousand others did the same thing. And the thing is, Notch himself was one of those thousand, until he struck the diamond vein.

Failures are mostly invisible, while successes are hyper-prominent, and that causes people to greatly overestimate their chances in creative endeavor. The world is filled with unacknowledged geniuses, and on the whole success comes much more as a result of who you know (and for that matter, where you are) than what you can do. In my more cynical moments, I even come to think that there's only so much success, of all types, to go around, and it's hard not to resent those who stumble upon it easily. (And don't even get me started when they Trump it up and flaunt it in everyone's faces. UGH.)

cortex, you have described my mental state when working on software projects, and why I keep doing 'em, very well.

He blithely dismisses the value of --

Well, yes, because he's trying to make a point strongly, which means not letting your message bogged down with petty exceptions. You don't have forever to make your point when you're giving an oral presentation. I'm sure he'd agree with you on your points, but even with all those things, there's a shocking amount of unrecognized talent in the world, a ton of people who could make the world a much brighter place if they weren't forced to spend their days selling life insurance to survive.
posted by JHarris at 10:55 AM on October 27, 2014 [11 favorites]


He shrugs and admits that this is somewhat fatalistic advice, but I also see some reassurance. If you convince yourself we live in a “meritocratic” world where the best stuff always rises to the top, then it means you’ve got no one to blame but yourself when the things you send into the world end up going unnoticed. And that’s clearly wrong.

The creators of this world who meet with the most success are the ones that we most often ask to get up on stage and Share Their Stories™. To use a slightly different metaphor than the lottery, this is a bit like taking people who won at Plinko and asking them to share how they landed their chips in the $10,000 space.

The public, as a unit, is a chaotic id with a short-attention-span and little self-awareness of its tastes. The quality of the work matters, in the same way that if you’re playing Plinko it’s probably better to drop the chip near the middle instead of at either end. But if you’re using public response as the main judge of the merit of your work, you’re in for a rough time. You’d land in the $0 slot and think “shit, I need to change how I’m dropping these things,” when you’d be better off just dropping it the same way again because the $0 slot is like right next to the $10,000 slot.
posted by savetheclocktower at 10:58 AM on October 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


"First fame, then hamburgers, then fortune, Toby."

"Just keep on working and something's bound to turn up."
-- Harvey Pekar
 
posted by Herodios at 11:04 AM on October 27, 2014


Darius Kazemi wrote a blog post, Thoughts on small projects, earlier this year. On Twitter, he characterized the talk as a sequel to the blog post.
Creating can be a lot like gambling. If you’re playing roulette and you’re $100 ahead, JUST WALK AWAY, OMG. Don’t try to “ride your streak”. Streaks don’t exist. The appearance of a streak is a trick that your brain plays on you, like looking at the night sky and seeing patterns.
posted by ddbeck at 11:05 AM on October 27, 2014 [6 favorites]


This was excellent.

I don't consider myself a creative or artistic person so this really struck me as an analogy for life and success in general than for just creative projects.
posted by VTX at 11:06 AM on October 27, 2014


See? That's brilliant right there, and imma write a song about it.

Oh please, please include something clever about "losing all my marbles" in the final verse ...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:07 AM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


So many successful creative people come off as super judgmental of people who are not successful because, obviously, they don't ~live and breathe their art~ enough to Make It, because if they did, they would have.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:24 AM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream, JHarris.
posted by Diablevert at 11:25 AM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


This was not only funny, but really really important and good for me to hear right now. (As I have several lottery tickets coming into play and a few more I'm struggling to purchase, so to speak)
posted by naju at 11:35 AM on October 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


And so many people ridiculously see money as being an objective measure of success, and that, coupled with its gigantic importance in our culture, warps people's perceptions as to personal worth.

I think "its gigantic importance in our culture" actually causes people to "see money as being an objective measure of success," and I assume by "success" you mean, "the quality of being worthwhile," and not, as that word is commonly meant in America, "the quality of having money".

On the other hand, there aren't many supposedly objective measures to be had. It's a number. People want things to make sense, so they grab whatever is to hand, the "truth" be damned.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:37 AM on October 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


Two things mixed up here: whether it's worth doing something risky for the end, not the means, and whether a person can influence what happens to them.
posted by michaelh at 11:45 AM on October 27, 2014


I was in the audience for this and it was so deadpan that even after the 20-25min of it, I was still waiting for a punchline and can't believe he held it off that long. It was pretty great, though I admit I've probably given a few "just work hard at your thing and good things will come" talk that could fall prey to the lazy "follow your bliss" advice at lots of conferences. Those talks obviously undercut the luck, sacrifice, and suffering involved along the way.
posted by mathowie at 11:46 AM on October 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've been looking on with interest as various friends and colleagues get involved in the XOXO community (I hadn't expected Darius was one!), and I really hope he's not so dead-on in this caricature of the patter that it means some sort of shark has been jumped there... I missed out on Burning Man, SXSW... :P
posted by gusandrews at 12:39 PM on October 27, 2014


His projects page is amazing:


Extension

Let Me Moogle That For You: Appends ", kupo!" to the end of your Google search results.

posted by Panjandrum at 12:47 PM on October 27, 2014 [7 favorites]


In other words, God opens doors no man can shut and shuts doors no man can open.

(And there are similar talks given by real estate guru types trying to tell you how to be THAT agent raking in dough. More lottery tickets it is, then. It's a numbers game.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:50 PM on October 27, 2014


Meh. I really wanted to like this, because I'm as irritated by faux motivational speak as the next struggling creative entrepreneur. True, luck's an important component of success in any field, but can we agree that to some extent we make our own luck, and luck on its own is pretty worthless without the hard work that goes along with it? I didn't buy his lottery analogy.

Then I took a look at his project page (linked above) and he's nothing if not prolific. Not much attention to detail, precious little attempt to contextualise, and an awful lot of auto-generated non-sequiturs. Maybe somebody can put me right on this, but to me it felt like a banal collection of unoriginal mash-ups. I can imagine how it might look cool to someone who doesn't know how these things work, but I was chatting with far more sophisticated and rewarding pieces of bot-art hacked together by friends on IRC channels fifteen years ago. The major difference now is that there's such a wealth of material to draw on that more or less anything can be generated from anywhere with the right script talking to the right API.

It's not surprising that he likens artistic success to winning the lottery. He clearly did. Lord knows he's bought enough tickets. And before anybody mentions Duchamp, yes, readymades mostly piss me off too.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 1:31 PM on October 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


"Making your own luck" is analogous to buying more tickets or maybe buying that ticket from the right lottery. Same with hard work.

I mean, if you buy enough lottery tickets you're going to win something. There might not be a lot of jackpots (IE: Minecraft) but there are plenty of lesser prizes. If you buy enough tickets, odds are good that you'll get more in prizes than bought in tickets but there is no guarantee.

Lord knows he's bought enough tickets.

That's kind of his point though. He knows that he has put together a bunch of weird little internet things. Some of them he worked really hard on, some of them took an hour or two of not very difficult work. But the amount of effort he put into any given project has nothing at all to do with how successful it was. Nor does it appear to have much to do with the quality of the idea. All you can do is buy a lot of tickets and hope.
posted by VTX at 2:03 PM on October 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


True, luck's an important component of success in any field, but can we agree that to some extent we make our own luck, and luck on its own is pretty worthless without the hard work that goes along with it? I didn't buy his lottery analogy.

Depends what you think of the case for the negative. Tolstoy is one of the greatest novelists the world has ever produced. Inasmuch as his work survives, I believe it to be in large part because of its manifest superiority to that of most of his contemporaries and influence on succeeding generations. Now, what are the chances there was a writer out there as good as Tolstoy who never made it? What are the chances there were a lot of writers out there as good as Tolstoy, who never made it?

It would certainly be comforting, believing that the answer is "very little." That writers of his quality are rare jewels which are pounced upon and polished wherever found. But a million carets lie undiscovered beneath the crust, some of them as big as the Ritz, no? For there are requirements, as Virginia pointed out all those years ago. World enough and time. Space to think, ears willing to listen. A room of one's own. If Shakespeare had a sister, she'd have been Elanor Rigby. So maybe quality tells. But maybe that's not enough. Nabokov was a genius, too, and were it not for a French pornographer's whim and a success du scandal, his name would be known to about 30 dull professors who study the work of the White Russian émigrés.

Tisn't pretty to think so, of course. We don't like. We see that much of what is rewarded is good, and so we think, good is rewarded. And we like that, because the world would be fair that way, and we can work at being good. But these are not at all the same thing. Of course, you can't prove a negative.

It's a tough thing. I'm trying to convert myself to Beckett's motto --- try, fail, fail again, fail better --- but I need Dante's spur ("midway through my life's journey, I found myself in a dark wood...").
posted by Diablevert at 2:09 PM on October 27, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'm trying to convert myself to Beckett's motto --- try, fail, fail again, fail better --- but I need Dante's spur.

I realize some people find meritocratic, boot-strappy messages energizing. I just don't. "Fail better" is a much more empowering directive for me than "This is what awesome looks like and everyone else is a player-hater."
posted by ducky l'orange at 2:29 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


also in America we "see money as being an objective measure of success," cause without it you die in the streets like an animal.
posted by The Whelk at 2:49 PM on October 27, 2014 [6 favorites]


"We make our own luck" just sounds like more of the same crap to me. How is that in any way different from "hard work is rewarded"? It's not. It's an attempt to grab the framing back.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:57 PM on October 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


I totally concur with the assessment that Kazemi has glossed over the question of skill

No, the message is that there is no deterministic function that relates skill, hard work and "success." Skill and hard work are necessary but not sufficient. The sufficiency of skill and (especially) hard work is the great lie -- one that appears to be especially pernicious, judging by some of the comments here.
posted by klanawa at 4:49 PM on October 27, 2014 [9 favorites]


In my more cynical moments, I even come to think that there's only so much success, of all types, to go around...

...

...there's a shocking amount of unrecognized talent in the world, a ton of people who could make the world a much brighter place if they weren't forced to spend their days selling life insurance to survive.

Those two quotes kind of contradict each other, right? It's probably the case that we only need so many creative people, because no one has more than 16 hours a day to consume content, and what with telecommunications it's easier and easier to copy and send a piece of art anywhere. So creative people who don't make it wouldn't actually be making the world any brighter if they did, because the demand for creative products is already as satisfied as it can be.

What we do need is people to sell insurance and the equivalent. But people continue to try and do creative things because they want to, not because it will make the world better. As you say, the market for creative people is zero-sum, so the only reason to try to enter it yourself is selfishness. Which of course is your right.
posted by officer_fred at 5:32 PM on October 27, 2014


As you say, the market for creative people is zero-sum

Alternatively, you could use that math to argue that a hit-driven entertainment industry is not just detrimental to culture but outright unethical, consolidating audiences analogous to robber barons consolidating wealth.
posted by nobody at 6:12 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Alternatively, you could use that math to argue that a hit-driven entertainment industry is not just detrimental to culture but outright unethical, consolidating audiences analogous to robber barons consolidating wealth.

I don't think you can even go that far, really. One of the things we love most about a story is having someone else to love it with. Myths form a culture because of their universiality; thus Shakespeare and Neil Gaiman can reference the same Greek gods and in each case have their readers grasp the metaphor, 500 years apart. If I only have time for 10 books a year, say, why should I not want at least 3 or 4 or 5 of them to be the ones my friends are reading, which have touched their hearts as well?

Power laws. Insidious bastards, power laws. A thing becomes a thing you know because it is the thing other people you know know. First past the post is the winner and the devil take the hindmost. The devil and his long tail...
posted by Diablevert at 6:50 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


Great, all encompassing talk

Makes me think of how I got my job. Final year of University (a lottery ticket in its own right), near the end I had one job offer from a marketing analytics company, while I had a part time teetering on full time gig at some other place.

That place, I was previously known from a scholarship program to which, ballparking it here, 2000+ applied, ~1000 were qualified, and about 100 were picked. Better yet, I only discovered the program online, and there were clusters of students that came from the same school. Lucky even more that the lab next door took me in (but then again, the funding was from somewhere else, they didn't have to flip the bill).

So... while I do have the opportunities and take them to breathe occasionally, I work my butt off at this place. Mainly because I know, at the end of the day, and all the arguments about networking aside, I am lucky to be where I am at.

Little bits of luck here or there can support sanity and consequentially productivity which can get noticed. Identifying where the luck comes from (privilege, etc.) tends to be quite difficult; is the challenge of the day.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 7:00 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you buy enough tickets, odds are good that you'll get more in prizes than bought in tickets but there is no guarantee.

What? No. This is the exact opposite of how lottery tickets work.
posted by the bricabrac man at 7:31 PM on October 27, 2014 [7 favorites]


Re: him leaving skill out, the creative fields I have worked/dabbled in, writing non fiction and a tiny bit of creative writing, skill has no relationship to success that I've seen. If there is one it's abstruse and non linear, and off the top of my head I can think of a host of things that make as much or more difference.

This is not a rag on the successful people; plenty of them are talented and nice. But plenty of them are not, and there's an abundance of both categories that don't cut through, either way.
posted by smoke at 8:30 PM on October 27, 2014


if hard work lead to success strawberry pickers would live like kings.
posted by The Whelk at 8:44 PM on October 27, 2014 [6 favorites]


If you plot (creative) success versus (creative) effort, you will get a linear trend for a small amount of effort. Past a point, however, the graph would explode into a scattered, random mess. The point of the talk is that putting the high-achievers up on stage to "tell their story," as if it's somehow instructive, really is like asking lottery winners to explain how they won.
posted by anifinder at 8:53 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


I am going to write a bot that refreshes the Metafilter RSS headline at ~1Hz. It will randomly select an FPP out of the stream with a maximum interval of 10.

It will then find the most popular tag associated with that post. The top-favorited comments from the three most recent posts under that tag will be cached. It will then run a markov processes to construct a sentence using a blend of thier syntactic patterns and the subject, object, and verbs from those three comments. It will then post this as either the first, second, or third comment: again, randomly selected.

I don't need a MeFi API to do this. The system will all be client-side using postgres, python, and network-friendly spidering to keep its popularity stats up to date. I'll run it off an RPi taped to the back of my router.

My favorited-to-post-count ratio will approach 10000:1 within six months.

This is not a lottery ticket. This is a treasury bond.
posted by clarknova at 10:02 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Alternatively, you could use that math to argue that a hit-driven entertainment industry is not just detrimental to culture but outright unethical, consolidating audiences analogous to robber barons consolidating wealth.

Yes, I agree. Do you want to tell Metafilter that government agents will be arriving shortly to confiscate their Terry Pratchett and Beyonce, or should I?
posted by officer_fred at 3:38 AM on October 28, 2014


Depends what you think of the case for the negative. Tolstoy is one of the greatest novelists the world has ever produced. Inasmuch as his work survives, I believe it to be in large part because of its manifest superiority to that of most of his contemporaries and influence on succeeding generations. Now, what are the chances there was a writer out there as good as Tolstoy who never made it? What are the chances there were a lot of writers out there as good as Tolstoy, who never made it?

I sincerely hope you're not comparing the purveying of silly bots to War and Peace. But I'll let that pass, because I've lost count of the number of brilliant bands I've stood in front of in tiny halls, wondering why they aren't superstars while the charts are full of garbage from the X-Factor.

What I find the most heinous about his message is the way he reduces artistic endeavour to a search for fame and fortune, and that the only desirable outcome of your efforts is a million page views. Because the reality is that there are any number of people out there engaged in rewarding creative work whose audience numbers in the thousands, or even in the hundreds, they're making a reasonable living and their success depends on marketable skills and hard work the same as in any other profession. It is indeed competitive, but there is a living to be made even if you don't achieve stratospheric success. And guess what, it can be fun and rewarding to spend your working life making things you love.

Look around you. Look at the beautiful things you value, the decor in your favourite cafe, or that lovely piece of furniture you're so fond of. Whoever made those things weren't thinking about winning any kind of lottery when they were working. They were probably just delighted by the prospect of making something beautiful and getting paid for it.

Everyone needs a break, an accident of fortune that will lead to the next opportunity, and you do whatever you can to make that situation happen. But that is not the same as playing the lottery, and presenting it as such is a great way to discourage aspiring creatives from developing their skills and hopefully finding some kind of fulfilment in their working lives.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 5:47 AM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


What? No. This is the exact opposite of how lottery tickets work.

No, buying more tickets increases your chances of winning. If you buy all of the number combinations and the prize values are high enough you will win more than the cost of the tickets. Though most lotteries have rules to prevent that sort of thing since someone actually figured this out and put together a group of investors to buy all of the tickets (they spent $5 million on tickets and won $27 million in 1992).

Every additional ticket you buy increases your odds of winning something and eventually you'll have good odds of winning more than you put in. It just depends on how many numbers you have to pick, the prize levels, and your own definition of "good odds".

If you're the type of person who makes “weird internet stuff” to buy your "tickets" I think we can assume that your threshold for what you consider "good odds" to be lower than a person who does it by having an office job.
posted by VTX at 6:19 AM on October 28, 2014


What I find the most heinous about his message is the way he reduces artistic endeavour to a search for fame and fortune, and that the only desirable outcome of your efforts is a million page views.

If you think that's what he's saying, then I think you missed the point of the speech that talked about creating his blog and running a collective. There is a rather pernicious myth out there among the web-people that cultivating a small but dedicated audience for your stuff is will be enough for anyone to enable them to make a living off their art, that that is the basic building block you need. I don't think it's so simple. As he slyly suggests in the piece, it's often a lot easier to build such a thing if you have other sources of income to fall back on and the fact of successfully building a small audience doesn't guarantee that you'll garner a larger one. For Internet-based endeavours, that matters a lot; you get nickels a view a lot of the time, and that means you need tens of thousands of views just to scrape together the rent. If you have actual stuff you're selling, it can be a bit more lucrative, but no, not everybody gets to be Jonathan Coulton if they want.


What I find the most heinous about his message is the way he reduces artistic endeavour to a search for fame and fortune, and that the only desirable outcome of your efforts is a million page views. Because the reality is that there are any number of people out there engaged in rewarding creative work whose audience numbers in the thousands, or even in the hundreds, they're making a reasonable living and their success depends on marketable skills and hard work the same as in any other profession. It is indeed competitive, but there is a living to be made even if you don't achieve stratospheric success. And guess what, it can be fun and rewarding to spend your working life making things you love.

I guess I'd say I think those people got a $10,000 scratch off, and not the mega millions. Your man the presenter probably isn't even one of them; his Twitter absurdities have successfully amused upwards of a thousand people, it seems, and for that he's invited to speak at conferences for people who want to learn how to kill it on Twitter. But he says he has a day job.

And guess what, it can be fun and rewarding to spend your working life making things you love.

Lucky bastards.
posted by Diablevert at 6:53 AM on October 28, 2014


Everyone needs a break, an accident of fortune that will lead to the next opportunity, and you do whatever you can to make that situation happen. But that is not the same as playing the lottery

Why? Your preceding paragraphs didn't prove this point, and this assertion thus seems equivalent to, "I don't want these things to be the same, therefore they are not."
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:36 AM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


There is a rather pernicious myth out there among the web-people that cultivating a small but dedicated audience for your stuff is will be enough for anyone to enable them to make a living off their art, that that is the basic building block you need. I don't think it's so simple.

I agree with you that it's a pernicious myth and certainly worth puncturing. Perhaps that's what he's getting at. But nobody I know who does creative work on the internet has tried that since we all got burned the first time round, circa 2000.

The internet is a gold rush, and the way to profit from a gold rush is not to dig for gold but to sell shovels. And if you have the inclination, you can make a modest but respectable living designing shovels in the form of presentations for the prospectors, who are media corporations, cultural organisations, advertisers, businesses small and large, you name it. They have a real need to attract eyeballs and the means to drive traffic. If you run a blog, you do it mainly to attract clients to commission your work on paid projects. This is how talented creatives make a living. It's probably how he makes a living.

So now I find another reason to be pissed with him, in that he's perpetuating this myth in the guise of calling it out, because his message is still "buy lottery tickets and see if you get lucky" rather than "sell shovels to people who need them and earn actual money". But no, that's not enough of a cheap gag, and cheap gags seem to be what he's all about.

Lucky bastards.

When I talk about making a living, I'm not talking about big bucks. I'm talking about keeping the lights on and food on the table. It's certainly not an easy living and I'm not sure I would recommend it. But it absolutely can be done, it doesn't need to be a lottery, and ultimately it's more rewarding than trying to find a fleeting audience of millennials with the attention span of goldfish.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 7:49 AM on October 28, 2014


Why? Your preceding paragraphs didn't prove this point, and this assertion thus seems equivalent to, "I don't want these things to be the same, therefore they are not."

Because the lottery is a game of chance based on randomly chosen numbers. Real life, on the other hand, is a game of serendipity in which we can influence outcomes through the decisions we make.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 7:50 AM on October 28, 2014


Reminds me of my favourite episode of The Show with Ze Frank from back in the day - Brain Crack.

The 'winning the lottery' fantasy of creative endeavour is basically a classic case of brain crack.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:04 AM on October 28, 2014


And the lottery isn't? If you have enough disposable income to buy more tickets than someone else, you have better odds of winning than they do. Or, if you have the right connections, say working in a large office that creates a pool, again you have better odds than people who don't.

But often enough, the person who wins the jackpot just bought one ticket on their own.

You can buy more tickets and influence the outcomes and I'm sure that, in aggregate, jackpot winners tend to be office pools and people who regularly play buying multiple tickets so yes, that does influence outcomes. But there are still a lot of office pools that never win.

Most of the people who have "won" have done x, y, and z, but not everyone who does x, y, and z is going to win and there is no way to tell which group will win and which one won't.
posted by VTX at 8:05 AM on October 28, 2014


What we do need is people to sell insurance and the equivalent.

Fred, are you sure? It seems like most fields need fewer and fewer people these days and this trend is likely to continue. I bet lot of serious, practical people who accepted market logic and subordinated their interests to their careers are discovering that they weren't as essential to the economy as they thought they were; that in fact their main function was to be a consumer, not a producer, and now that they can't do that, well, maybe they can sell insurance in their free time.
posted by ducky l'orange at 8:27 AM on October 28, 2014


(If that sounded shrill, let me make clear that the target of my frustration is meritocratic fallacy, not insurance salespeople or practical people or successful people, or even the fact that life is often difficult and unfair).
posted by ducky l'orange at 8:34 AM on October 28, 2014


the way to profit from a gold rush is not to dig for gold but to sell shovels. And if you have the inclination, you can make a modest but respectable living designing shovels in the form of presentations for the prospectors, who are media corporations, cultural organisations, advertisers, businesses small and large, you name it.

I kind of figured you might be coming at this from the client-work angle, Elizabeth the Thirteenth, which is definitely a whole lot less lottery-like.

But I can't tell if you're conflating being an artist with doing work-for-hire in a creative field, or if you're talking about doing client-work to pay the bills and afford the space/time to work on other projects, in which case I'm not sure how that's really different from any other advice to get a day job.

But maybe I'm misreading you?
posted by nobody at 8:52 AM on October 28, 2014


My impression from the 2nd half of his talk (after he dropped the Lottery thing and talked about his real work) was that he is measuring success by many people saw his work and/or liked it enough to keep following it rather than any kind of revenue. I'm not even sure that any of the things he's made that he considers successful made him any money at all.
posted by VTX at 8:57 AM on October 28, 2014


What I find the most heinous about his message is the way he reduces artistic endeavour to a search for fame and fortune, and that the only desirable outcome of your efforts is a million page views.

It's confusing to me that that's what you got from his talk. He was responding—and the entire parodic first act of the talk was lasering in on this—to the conflation of shooting for and achieving piles of page views/monetization/book dealery with the idea of creative success, and basically saying, no, being told that that's what works and that's what the goal should be is bad and people should cut it out. That you shouldn't do a thing because you're sure it will lead to fame and success, you should just keep doing a thing because it's a thing you want to do, and don't be surprised when mostly what happens is you get a little or no attention, with the occasional mostly unpredictable spike of oohs and ahs now and then that are mostly impossibly to plan for and which thus shouldn't be your motivation.

Which resonates hugely with me because I do exactly that, both the good thing and the broken thing: I make all kinds of odd stuff because I like making that stuff, or need to make that stuff, because that's how my brain works and I get some joy or satisfaction or catharsis or just a little bit of quieter-brain-time from doing it, which is the creative urge thing, the just do work because its meaningful to you thing; but I also find myself sometimes stupidly agonizing over whether it's going to be A Big Thing, whether people will like this as much as I like it, whether I should even continue to work on a thing if I don't think other people will like it enough to share it and post about it and tell me how goddam keen that thing is. Whether, after I have made a thing and put it out there and people haven't lost their minds about it, it is somehow less valuable and less meaningful than the version in my mind that I hadn't released and hadn't found out what the reaction was.

It's a weird soupy mess my brain gets into, and that I gather his does, and that I'm certain from conversations and reading that a whole lot of other creative people's do too.

His talk is a response to a whole lot of bullshit peddled at talks and conference panels and so on over the last however many years that takes the general form of: I did a thing and I was successful, so the key to success is doing a thing, and doing a thing will make you successful, and if you're doing a thing and not being successful then you just aren't doing and believing hard enough, or you'd be successful, like I am! Which is a horrible tautology that, itself, is far more directly dismissive of the value and meaning of artistic/creative endeavor for its own sake than the talk you're expressing this negative reaction to.

Look around you. Look at the beautiful things you value, the decor in your favourite cafe, or that lovely piece of furniture you're so fond of. Whoever made those things weren't thinking about winning any kind of lottery when they were working. They were probably just delighted by the prospect of making something beautiful and getting paid for it.

This seems like it romanticizing the problem of reality away in a couple of key areas:

1. Most of the people who made most of the things in that cafe were grudging by and not remotely delighted about the low paying manufacturing job that resulted in all the not-remotely-artisinal stuff in question. Those people might have hobbies, they might have creative dreams they pursue on the side. They might have things they do that they wish were what they did for a living, but a jay oh bee is a jay oh bee. Telling those people that they just need to work hard and there's their creative living is going to mostly read as a slap in the face or the setup for a fall.

2. Most of the people who make things of the same kind as the few actually artsy locally-crafted kinds of things in that cafe didn't get their things hung/bought by that cafe. Or any cafe. The painting on the wall is not the thousand other paintings the cafe didn't buy; the chair isn't the dozen others made by local carpenters. There's a very literal lottery angle to any creative market, and a zero-sum aspect that means that even when one person does find the right sort of work-harder, market-better to get their painting on the wall, that's someone else's whose isn't. The cafe industry isn't an arts subsidy organization; that there happens to be a finite amount of space for paintings and furniture doesn't mean that more artists working harder and with their heads out of the clouds is going to cause more cafes to open and more painting and furniture to be bought.

Both of those entirely aside from the fact that I have never, among all my artist and musician and craftsman friends, known one who was both (a) not independently wealthy and (b) not daydreaming very, very specifically about getting that lottery win break where the thing they scrape a hard living out of (or more often half a living along with a dayjob) turns into something they can actually remotely comfortably live off. They do keep doing the thing, because it's important to them, but they don't do it in some high-minded vacuum where the question of putting food on the table or of not being able to afford health insurance is wholly eclipsed by the meaningfulness of doing good work. Those sit side by side, inescapably. The healthiest thing I see them do is actually rationally balance their creative urges against the reality that they are entirely unlikely to win that lottery in a profoundly crowded buyer's market. That reality isn't conveniently tuned to what they want, that there's not a button that if they just push hard enough will eject a success pellet.

Darius's talk was about not buying into a narrative of Just Do The Thing And Then You'll Be Successful Like I Am. It's about doing the weird creative thing that you want to do because you want to do it, and making your peace with the fact that that thing may not, probably won't, be a big thing, and that you mostly can't control that beyond just trying to do a good job of it, and that should be okay. That creative endeavor is, specifically, an end rather than a means.
posted by cortex at 9:28 AM on October 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


Because the lottery is a game of chance based on randomly chosen numbers. Real life, on the other hand, is a game of serendipity in which we can influence outcomes through the decisions we make.

I think you are confusing the boundaries of the game. The decisions you make, etc. are how you gain entrance to the lottery he is talking about. That's not how you win, that's how you play. Not everyone is even in the game. Your "influencing outcomes" is, in fact, what he means by buying tickets. Once you are in, it's random chance that chooses the winners. That's the argument.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:51 AM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


This seems like it romanticizing the problem of reality away in a couple of key areas:

I picked a bad example that doesn't take account of the realities of poorly paid work in manufacturing and/or manual labour. There's definitely the problem of market economics where the price of an artefact doesn't always pay a fair wage for the labour that produces it, which is a major obstacle to producing and selling artisanal goods (atelier fashion, hand-crafted furniture etc) which kind of brings me to my next point.

The most important precondition for creative success is that you live and operate in an economy that can support your work. This is the logical conclusion of Virginia Woolf's argument, and it also explains why things are so hard for painters and musicians. The economics of painting are terrible - so much work for a single piece and no guaranteed sale. Music is hard to live off right now because distribution channels mean that recorded works are essentially given away for free. I suspect some major differences in the economics of the creative sector in the US and in Europe, insofar as there exists here a culture which continues to support the arts in spite of austerity and capitalism.

Among my friends and acquaintances (because I'm not talking out of my hat) are several award-winning writers, a theatre producer, a composer/sound designer, a blogger/illustrator, a documentary filmmaker, a fashion designer, a ceramicist and a glass blower, as well as numerous internet artists, creative programmers, product designers and photographers. As far as I know, everyone is living off their practice and nobody is doing day jobs on the side, unless you count teaching. There are no doubt some very supportive friends and family, but no independent wealth to my knowledge and real hardship in some cases (mental and physical health problems, difficult familial relationships etc). Some have been the recipients of grants and awards, others work from project to project, still more run small businesses selling product. But as I said above, the one precondition for all of our practices is that there is a localised market for what we have to offer. It's not big and the money isn't always very good, but it's there. I think most of us would consider ourselves very fortunate, not to say privileged to do the work that we do, and it's only right to acknowledge the role of active mentors, generous patrons and returning customers. But I don't think anyone would say it's the result of blind luck that brought us here, in fact I'd expect that most of us would be able to point to steps that we took and decisions that we made that put us on our paths. It's a choice.

I wanted to hold off from quoting other speeches by successful creatives, but I'm thinking of two in particular that deserve a mention. One was Neil Gaiman's now legendary commencement speech in which he pointed out that you can make a creative living by making good work, delivering on time and being fun to work with, and that you could get away with two out of three. I suspect this is probably true, and if so, it proves there is a niche if you want to make one for yourself, as long as you accept that you're providing a professional service to paying clients based on your creative skills, and not satisfying your own creative urges. The flip side of this is an observation by Grayson Perry, that making art is a essentially a self-indulgent activity, an act of masturbation, and being paid to make art is the equivalent of being allowed to masturbate in public. In the long run then, a privilege to be earned and a very rare thing indeed. A lottery win earns you fifteen minutes, but for artistic longevity you'll pay your dues. Both of these notions are germane to cortex's comment that we're all striking a balance between our personal creative urges and the demands of our market or audience.

Once you are in, it's random chance that chooses the winners.

See, this is what I don't buy. I don't think there's anything random about the success of good art and design or even good business masquerading as such. Fifteen minutes of the world's undivided attention is random, and if you want to call that success, please be my guest. But turning that into a sustainable career or business? That's talent, skill and hard work.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 2:54 PM on October 28, 2014


But turning that into a sustainable career or business? That's talent, skill and hard work.

And luck. Is the inescapable thing here, I think, because I don't at all disagree with you (and I don't think Darius K does either) that working and working and working at something and getting better at it is core to doing a thing well and improving your chances of turning it into the Thing You Do instead of the Thing You Do On The Side.

But chances are part of it. Something can be luck without being blind luck; you can work hard at something and improve the chances that that will pay off, but you cannot actually remove chance unless you already have lucked into some remarkably supportive circumstances to begin with. There is no power in the universe monitoring hard work and assigning payouts in righteous proportion, no foolproof method to turn hard work into a career. People who believe otherwise are either (a) coming from a position of having pulled it off and so seeing that it must be so or (b) operating on faith that that will be how it works out, possibly in large part because everything they hear from successful cases is in fact "work hard and you'll succeed!" without acknowledging the very real possibility that you might work hard and fail.

But as I said above, the one precondition for all of our practices is that there is a localised market for what we have to offer.

Which implies that any creative endeavor for which there is not a sufficient local/distributed market is either something that is very likely to fail regardless of hard work, or something that should not be bothered with because probable failure means it is valueless. Which leaves folks who have a creative urge not served by such a market in a very problematic place: do they do the thing that will probably fail, just to do it, and get told that their failure is their fault, or do they abandon the thing for which there's no market because if success isn't viable then they've got the wrong idea?

This is why this "work hard and you'll succeed" message becomes poisonous to the creative impulse. Why someone who got lucky—in some capacity, regardless of the goodness and hardness of the work they got lucky with—is doing people no favors by failing to acknowledge how much of a role luck played in the process. It's giving people only half the picture; it's encouraging buying into the lottery without acknowledging that, no matter how much hard work is also involved, there is a lottery.

Successfully targeting a small local market and eking out a living is fine; it's great and I'm happy for anyone who pulls it off. But it is a mistake to imagine that there's no luck involved; the book that solves everyone's creative career problems by explaining the no-luck process would have been printed long ago and solved that problem if such a thing were the case.
posted by cortex at 3:12 PM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Something can be luck without being blind luck; you can work hard at something and improve the chances that that will pay off, but you cannot actually remove chance unless you already have lucked into some remarkably supportive circumstances to begin with. There is no power in the universe monitoring hard work and assigning payouts in righteous proportion, no foolproof method to turn hard work into a career.

You're right, hard work isn't enough. Talent, skill and business acumen are also have a part to play. I'm also making a deliberate distinction between the fortunate (a secure environment, favourable economic conditions) and the random (a lottery win). In the immortal words of Edna Mode, luck favours the prepared.

People who believe otherwise are either (a) coming from a position of having pulled it off and so seeing that it must be so or

I'm talking about it from the perspective of working hard for years to build a sustainable practice, and comparing my experience with that of my immediate social network. So yes, maybe I pulled it off, and so did my friends and neighbours, but it certainly wasn't a lottery win.

(b) operating on faith that that will be how it works out, possibly in large part because everything they hear from successful cases is in fact "work hard and you'll succeed!" without acknowledging the very real possibility that you might work hard and fail.

Totally agree that there's an expectation that all of this will somehow be easy, and that the moment you get that mythical break it will start raining money and all your dreams will come true. This simply isn't the case - even when you're making a living and serving your community, there is risk involved and you have to deal with it. But crucially, when conditions change, you adapt.

Many people who've been successful in art or business will have stories of the all the hundreds of things they've gotten wrong for every one thing they got right. Failure is one of the best teachers, and fear of failure a huge obstacle to achievement. There are all sorts of reasons why some ventures succeed and some fail, but the best thing to do on failure is not to give up on yourself, but learn from the experience and move on to the next project. It's why we talk about "failing forward".

So I don't think we're going to convince each other here. I agree that people who are so inclined will always find an outlet which enriches their lives, at work or at play. But I absolutely think that anyone with the personal potential to follow a creative career should always have something to aspire to, and know that it's possible to do under the right conditions, and for that reason I hates this lottery analogy. Hates it, hates it, hates it.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 4:26 PM on October 28, 2014


I think that's the core of it, really. You have an extremely strong emotional aversion to the idea (as very many do), so you reject it. The simple fact is, there are many more people who work hard than are rewarded for doing so. Why does one person get rewarded for working hard and another doesn't? You (and almost everyone else) prefer a just-so story about talent and refinement of process and learning from failure and so on. Meanwhile we have folks like Rob Liefeld. Luck is the deciding factor between folks working equally hard, failing equally forward and bringing their craft to an equal level of refinement. Hell, you can't tell me there aren't better comic artists than ol' Rob laboring in obscurity. The lottery, no matter how much you hate it.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 4:54 PM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Both Madonna and Lady Gaga knew from a very young age that they would be famous one day.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:46 PM on November 11, 2014


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