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  • 💥 Leaving No Doubt, Living With The Noise, and Winning Bar Fights

💥 Leaving No Doubt, Living With The Noise, and Winning Bar Fights

Welcome to the 21st edition of the Action Digest, where you’ll find decisions that altered the course of history, revenge-fueled origin stories, and bar fights.

Well, it’s not called the Action Digest for nothin’!

Coming up:

  • 📜 A twelve year old’s history-changing response to criticism reveals a lesson on using critique as fuel for growth.

  • 🏫 Michelle Obama reveals what all of the “extraordinary and accomplished people” she’s met have in common.

  • 🤠 We learn what happened after a cowboy insulted president Theodore Roosevelt at a bar, along with an underlying principle for handling haters.

  • And more!!

P.s., you can check out editions 1-20 here in case you missed them, including insights such as the mindset that helped an entrepreneur build seven different billion-dollar companies, how Steve Jobs cultivated great creative taste, and why success might be much closer than we thought possible.

Seriously, there are some gems you’ll appreciate in these earlier editions.

1. Dig deep, understand the issue, and refine your work

When Founding Father Ben Franklin was twelve, he wrote letters back and forth with “another bookish lad in the town” to practice his ability to make arguments. 

But when Ben’s father discovered the letters, he had some critiques, “he took occasion to talk to me about the manner of my writing,” Ben recalled, “[he] observed that, though I had the advantage of my antagonist in correct spelling and pointing, I fell far short in elegance of expression, in method and perspicuity, of which he convinced me by several instances.” 

Ben admired his father and the criticism could have shaken his confidence in his writing or discouraged him from the craft altogether. But that’s not what happened. “I saw the justice of his remark,” Ben admits, “and thence grew more attentive to the manner in writing, and determined to endeavor at improvement.” 

Ben started by finding an example of great writing that he admired. He bought a copy of the Spectator, a publication that featured daily essays and commentary, and “read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it.”

Next, he designed an exercise whereby he would note down an argument that was made in the article, set aside the note for a few days, and then try to express the argument in his own words, before finally comparing his version with the Spectators. 

“With this view I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, try'd to compleat the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them.”

Eventually, Ben found he preferred some of his own writing to that of the Spectator, “I sometimes had the pleasure of fancying that, in certain particulars of small import, I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language, and this encouraged me to think I might possibly in time come to be a tolerable English writer, of which I was extremely ambitious.” 

Ben’s dedication, of course, paid off—culminating in his pivotal role in drafting the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, forever shaping the course of American history. When someone gives you valid criticism, it’s time to dig deep, understand the issue, and refine your work until the error is eliminated.

2. The noise doesn’t go away, you learn to live with it

When Michelle Obama told her college counselor that she was applying to Princeton University, she received some disappointing feedback. “I’m not sure,” Michelle remembers her counselor saying, “that you’re Princeton material.”

“Her judgment was as swift as it was dismissive,” Michelle writes, and it almost killed her hopes. “As I’ve said, failure is a feeling long before it’s an actual result. And for me, it felt like that’s exactly what she was planting—a suggestion of failure long before I’d even tried to succeed. She was telling me to lower my sights.” 

Fortunately, Michelle didn’t listen. “Instead, I switched my method without changing my goal. I would apply to Princeton and a scattershot selection of other schools, but without any more input from the college counselor. Instead, I sought help from someone who actually knew me. Mr. Smith, my assistant principal and neighbor, had seen my strengths as a student and furthermore trusted me with his own kids. He agreed to write me a recommendation letter.”

From there, Michelle doubled down on her studies. “That day I left the college counselor’s office at Whitney Young, I was fuming, my ego bruised more than anything. My only thought, in the moment, was I’ll show you. But then I settled down and got back to work.” “I was beginning to understand that if I put in extra hours of studying, I could often close the gap. I wasn’t a straight-A student, but I was always trying, and there were semesters when I got close.”

Six months later, an offer letter from Princeton arrived in Michelle’s mailbox.

“I’ve been lucky enough now in my life to meet all sorts of extraordinary and accomplished people,” Michelle concludes, “What I’ve learned is this: All of them have had doubters. Some continue to have roaring, stadium-sized collections of critics and naysayers who will shout I told you so at every little misstep or mistake. The noise doesn’t go away, but the most successful people I know have figured out how to live with it, to lean on the people who believe in them, and to push onward with their goals.”

3. Leave no doubt that you are there to accomplish something

When future president Theodore Roosevelt first arrived in congress as a young man, “we almost shouted with laughter,” recalled one politician of the day. 

“The new gold-rimmed spectacles and their fluttering black ribbon, his gold watch fob, the part in his hair, the narrow cut of his clothes, made him known at once,” writes David McCullough, one of Theodore’s biographers. “For reporters for the Sun, the World, and other Democratic papers, he was the fairest kind of game and they went right after him. He was called a ‘Jane-Dandy,’ ‘his Lordship,’ ‘weakling,’ ‘silly,’ ‘Oscar Wilde,’ ‘the exquisite Mr. Roosevelt,’ ‘little man,’ the fun always at his expense. The World reported that his trousers were cut so tight that when making his ‘gyrations’ before an audience ‘he only bent the joints above the belt.’”

Yet despite all this,” McCullough continues, “he left no doubt that he was there to accomplish something—’to do the right thing.’” 

Theodore learned to respond to criticism, both personal and professional, with a range of tactics. With self-deprecating humor, by acknowledging valid criticism, by ignoring baseless accusations, by doubling down on his efforts, and sometimes by literally hitting back. 

“There came a moment one night in a bar across the Montana line in what was then known as Mingusville (present-day Wibaux) when he stood up and in quiet, businesslike fashion—flattened an unknown drunken cowboy who, a gun in each hand, had decided to make a laughingstock of him because of his glasses. Theodore knocked him cold with one punch. As Theodore later explained, the man had made the mistake of standing too close to him and with his heels close together.”

The takeaway? Leave the haters with no doubt that you are here to accomplish something.

Oh, and don’t start saloon fights. But if you do: be sure to adopt a suitably wide stance ;-)

4. The path ahead is always the same: action

The pattern of today’s edition is that the most successful people all respond to criticism in the same way. Sometimes it’s implementing a new approach, sometimes it’s studying great work, and sometimes it’s doubling down on a current strategy.

But the path ahead always eventually has the same thing in common: action.  

The research that informed the design behind the Action Method product line is based on this core premise: working with a bias towards action is the ultimate competitive advantage among the world’s most prolific creators.

Each page has a dedicated space for action steps—the action column.

It acts as a constant reminder to convert your ideas into action steps.

This ensures that you always know what your next move is, offering the most action-oriented note-taking system available.

You can pick up or replenish your supply here

“Gone are the days where I walk out of a meeting with long notes and no clear understanding what I need to do. These notebooks keep me on track.”

Tina Roth Eisenberg, founder and designer

5. Rejection is just your cue to…

Saxophonist Kenny G spearheaded the genre of smooth jazz and is one of the wealthiest wind players of all time. But he couldn’t even get into his high school’s band….


🔐 This insight, that reveals a method for responding to rejection that allowed Kenny G to finally make the cut, is for premium subscribers (yep, this weekly digest is reader supported). For the price of one fancy coffee per month our research team will agonize over the lessons learned from world class creative leaders and teams who make ideas happen, and send their tightly summarized conclusions directly to your inbox on a weekly basis. What a proposition, huh?!

☕️ Join us and help make this weekly action catalyst for creative minds a sustainable project.  

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We’ll leave you with this…

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” 

Theodore Roosevelt

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