art_of_doingThis coming week Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield will be presenting an Illustrated Art of Doing Book Talk at the New York Public Library, Mid-Manhattan Library, 6th floor December 4th, 2013.

So what is it about success? Why do some people succeed? And others don’t? From Dale Carnegie to Malcolm Gladwell authors have tried to answer these questions. Philosophers, economists and neuroscientists have taken their shots at the success conundrum. Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band even offers advice on the subject in their song Express Yourself: “Whatever you do, un-huh, do it good. Whatever you do, do, do, Lord, Lord, do it good, oh yeah.”

We are a writer (Camille) and an artist (Josh) and out of our great (you could say insatiable) curiosity, we got this idea: Why don’t we go to go straight to highly successful people and simply ask them, “How do you do what you do?

And the next idea was to turn the concept into a book, The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well. So then we asked ourselves, “Who do we want to include?” We wanted people who were good, but good wasn’t good enough. We wanted people who not only excelled in his or her field, but transformed it into an art form. We were looking for the Picassos and Warhols of their fields.

We wanted the book to be like a fabulous dinner party. We wanted a mix of people from every sort of human endeavor including someone from business such as Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, elite athletes like Yogi Berra, innovative entertainers like OK Go and funk master George Clinton, scientists like astronomer Jill Tarter, a great actor like Laura Linney, a best-selling author like Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics and dozens more. (A full list of participants can be found here.)

At first our goal was to find out what was unique about each one of the dozens of superachievers we interviewed: What was it that vaulted them above others in their field? But during the hundreds of hours of conversations, we were often surprised to discover how much a tennis champion, for instance, and a rock band think alike, or how a racecar driver and an extraterrestrial hunter share similar traits. Our pattern recognition systems were fully activated. Our participants’ vocations, goals, philosophical perspectives and personalities could not have been more different, but as their responses to our questions accumulated, we realized that these extraordinary people, no matter what they did—whether it was an opera diva, a war photographer or a CEO—shared many core principles and practices that had led to their great successes.

Some of these principles were what you may imagine such as perseverance and focus. But we also found that these superachievers had thought deeply about how to achieve success, inspiring them to employ many counterintuitive practices—listening, patience, managing emotions, and more.

So what is it about success? Of course, talent is required—but it’s just the beginning. We discovered that it’s what you do with your talent that matters. And that’s really a profound idea, because it means success is up to you.

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