Smart people are dumb. Failure is awesome.

Been thinking about this lately and felt like committing it to paper… so to speak.

Smart people are dumb. Failure is awesome.

Let me explain.

I’ve given a lot of thought over the years to woefully inept people that end up rich, having great jobs, are in positions of power, get all the girls, etc. I wonder how they do it, even though they clearly lack much. By all rights, given what they’re working with, they should fail miserably. But they don’t.

People complain all the time about how the most mediocre people imaginable achieve things that we can’t reach. They can’t understand how. I mean, come on, I have everything that guy doesn’t, but why does he get what he wants and I don’t?

Why? He tries and you don’t.

I said before in my Marketing for Artists article that 90% of success is showing up. And that’s what these crappy people have that “smart” people don’t. The will to keep showing up.

If you’re running a race and everyone else gives up before it’s over, you win by default.

Let’s abstract that for a second: If they’re the ONLY person that keeps trying, who’s there to compete against? Who’s to stop him from winning by default, by being the only player?

It’s like a curve over time. At practically any endeavor, as time passes, people will start dropping out and giving up, slowly at first but then faster and faster. They’re only willing to go so far before throwing in the towel. The playing field narrows itself. Keep showing up. Keep trying. Be patient, give it time, and you’ll win because you were willing to do what they weren’t to succeed.

Sure. You’ll fail a lot on the way. You’ll make mistakes. Mistakes are when weak people give up and hand the trophy over to someone else. Persisting through the mistakes, embracing failure, and determining to keep moving forward is how you win. Every failure is an opportunity to learn, and improve future performance.

The end of the race, with the only other determined contender, is where quality, skill and intelligence come into play. Just doggedly ‘tard your way through the rest up until that point.

It’s all a game. Beyond quality, beyond intelligence, beyond any other factor, all you have to do most of the time is keep showing up, no matter what, and you’ll go places. Opportunities will start coming to you in ways you’d never imagined.

Here’s one real-world application for you: Applying for a job. Most people SUCK at this, and that’s why they don’t get jobs. Most people I know have given up after ONE EMAIL sent to a company they’re applying for. They quit before the race even starts.

After working in sales at Liquid Development, I learned that the follow-up call after initial solicitation is the most important communication you can make. Most people I would email, whether currently clients or people I was soliciting to, would never respond to the first email. Ever. It’s as if they never received it at all. I’d say I got one reply out of a hundred to the first email, if that.

After that, I’d sit on it a week, and send a follow-up to make sure they got the first one. At this point, usually within the next business day, I’d have a reply almost every single time. The response rate here was perhaps one in four. Whether or not it was a positive or negative response, it still got responses, and opportunities were either created or dismissed.

This fascinated me. Most people give up after only one communication, when the second one works almost every single time. You’d think that it would annoy people, but mostly, people are cool about it. They know they’re terrible about responding to email, and as long as you’re polite, everything is fine.

When I was applying for a job on my own, I sent out my resume and portfolio to probably 30 or 40 companies. I kept track of what I sent to who and what date, and followed up like clockwork after one week. The second email was always a quoted copy of the first, starting with a “Hi, my name is Jon Jones and I applied for such-and-such position at your company a week ago. I hadn’t heard back yet and I wanted to make sure that you received my email. I’ve quoted it below. Thanks!”

Then the floodgates opened.

Week one: 40 emails. Zero responses.

Week two: 40 follow-up emails. 35 responses within three days.

And you know what the best part was? The really, really funny thing? Every single response began with an apology for not responding sooner. Every single one, without ONE exception.

See, I was scared that I would annoy these companies by emailing more than once. Not so. Quite the contrary, in fact. It showed that I was serious about working with them. Giving them seven to ten days to respond is about right, in my opinion. Then comes the follow-up, which is the clincher.

Just keep trying politely, in an appropriate timeframe, until you get a solid YES or NO answer. In the game industry, most people will never even THINK of doing this! They’ll send out one feeble email and give up. Just one more email could have gotten them a job. Isn’t that tragic?

All it takes is showing up, again and again, until you get someone’s attention. THEN, and only then, do your skills come into play. They see your work, decide they like you, and it just gets better from there.

Some companies I had to follow up with three times or more. When I was applying at Ready At Dawn I sent something like ten or fifteen follow-ups because I’d caught our poor art director in the middle of a crunch. I kept trying. And it resulted in a job so fantastic I still can’t believe I have it.

Yeah. I got a lot of rejections. Almost everything I got back was a rejection. Oh, we’re not hiring right now. Oh, we’re just wrapping up this project. Oh, we’re not a game company and would you please quit emailing us. Blah, blah, blah. But I also got a handful of interviews out of that, and one of those interviews got me a fantastic job.

Why? I didn’t let failure bother me. I kept trying anyway. Failure is a part of life. The more you try, the more potential chances to succeed you have. If I apply to 100 companies and you apply to 5, who’s more likely to succeed? If ONE of your companies says no, they’ve reduced your chances of getting a job by 20%! But if one of mine says no, my chances are only reduced by 1%. Who’s trying smarter?

Let’s make the playing field bigger. If ten people are applying for companies and I’m the only one that applied at 100, my chances of contacting a company that has received NO other job applications is pretty high. See what I mean? Most people won’t even try that hard, and they make me win.

If I’m firing a shotgun at a guy, most of the shotgun pellets will miss. But all I really need is one to hit. The more pellets there are, the better my chances of succeeding. It just comes down to that, really.

Yeah, it’s messy, and a lot of failure is involved. But every failure is a chance to learn. Every time I fail and keep moving forward,

And again, it all comes down to showing up. The more you try, the longer you persist, the better your chances of winning get. It’s so simple that people overlook it. It’s so obvious that it’s instantly dismissed.

This is the way the world works, and this is why seemingly unfit people succeed. They just don’t give up and eventually they get what you want. And it probably annoys you because for some reason or another, you never even started. No gold star for you. :)

And that’s why I say smart people are dumb. “But I’m BETTER than him.” “But I want this MORE than him.” “But he’s so STUPID.” “But he’s ugly!”

But he still wins. Because you create excuses for yourself not to try. Because you’re “too smart” to bother trying, because of X, Y or Z reason.

If you were really smart, wouldn’t you be winning? :)

16 thoughts on “Smart people are dumb. Failure is awesome.

  1. More great advice. Really helps me because I am just about to start looking for a new position across the country. I have many friends they barily try to get jobs, and all I hear about is them complaining about not having a good job. About not being able to get interviews or never being called back. It’s all about persistance. Oh, and don’t forget that thank you email.

  2. Right on, the thank-you email is key.

    It’s amazing what you can accomplish by merely directing your attention at something and being persistent. It’s equally amazing to me how retardedly difficult it is to make a habit of it!

  3. Hello JOn,

    Dang, it seems like you wrote this article for me. I’m an Art student and I’m about to get my bachelor’s degree. So I applied to the Guildhall for my master’s degree. Now, I haven’t even been admitted yet, but I’m already doubting myself. Here’s the situation: I am a beginner to Intermediate user of maya. At the Guildhall (the Guildhall by the way is a graduate program within Southern Methodist University, focused entirely on making games) they use 3dStudio Max.
    Problem is that I’m a slow learner. And they function pretty darn fast from what I gather. Since they’re going to be using a package that I’m totally not as intimate with, I feel as if I will be “starting over”. It won’t be exactly starting over since I am familiar with 3d modeling concepts and the fundamentals of cg in general. What are your thoughts on the matter? Is true that if I learn Maya and Max I’ll be doubling my chances of finding a job?

  4. Switching packages isn’t as hard as you’d think. Take what you already know of the package you’re familiar with, and try and operate exactly the same way in the new package. There will be about five basic major things you’ll need to know to be able to operate as you do. It sounds like a small number, but honestly, how many people use EVERY part of MAX or Maya?

    Learn those five things and stick to them. Instinct and habit will take over from there. And then you’ll keep learning little things over time to make you more familiar with the package. But the fundamentals are very very few, and if you can nail those early, you’ll have an extremely easy time of it. That’s how I went from years of using Lightwave to a complete switch to Maya in three hours. :)

    As for doubling your chances, I’d hesitate to put a number to it, but knowing both packages DOES definitely increase your chances of getting a job somewhere. You don’t necessarily need to be 100% skilled in both packages, just one, and good enough at the other. :)

    It’s really not as bad, or as hard as you think.

    And I don’t tell many people this, but frankly, an education isn’t really necessary to get into the game industry as an artist. I barely finished high school, never even set foot in a college, and now I’m leading a team of fourteen artists on my own project at a major game developer. :)

    With as fast as the industry moves, dedicating however many more years it’ll take to get a master’s might put you treacherously far behind your peers that focus 100% on getting a job than completing coursework.

    If I met an 18-year-old kid with a hot portfolio and no school, and a 24-year-old kid with a so-so portfolio and a degree, I’d take the 18-year-old every time.

    Depending on where you are now artistically, you could be as little as six months away from your first full-on industry art job if you sit down and bust your ass at it. You’ll make as much in your first year of employment as you will spend on four years of school.

    Then again, that’s just me. If you learn better in a school environment, more power to ya. Just don’t let ANYONE tell you that school is the only way. :)

  5. Jon,
    Great articles here, but I do have a question on the follow ups.

    If you’re applying to a company that uses an automated job board, how would you recommend going about following up? Would finding a general contact email address for the specific company be out of line, or recommended?

  6. Recommended. :) Anytime I encountered an automated job application thinger that said not to email it back, I’d keep emailing it back. I’ve gotten favorable responses from people that way.

    If they’re going to turn down a candidate that so obviously wants to work for them because they sent more than one email to the automated job board address, would you really want to work for them anyway?

  7. Im a 22 year old amateur game designer with some college education. What I excel in is brainstorming and catalyzing others ideas. In several mod communities when people enter stagnation in their project, others point to me and say “Tell him what you had in mind, he will make it good again”. I have a passionate love for games and particularly first person shooters. However these are the sort of things I specifically do not know how to put on a resume or make a portfolio of.

    Reading the Get Hired section of a rather prominent though physically small company, it speaks of having a good filter for bad ideas, knowing what makes things fun, and how to make lackluster concepts more entertaining and quickly. These things are exactly what I can do. How can I articulate this to the employer?

    Thank you for your article, it has done a lot for me and honestly changed the outlook I had regarding my own future prior to reading it.

  8. Hey dude! :)

    That’s a tough position to be in. It may be that brainstorming and catalyzing is your most valuable skill, but not your most marketable one.

    At the portfolio screening phase of a candidate search, your best gift may be at best an incidental value add, but not something they’d base a hiring decision on.

    I’d suggest making as many professional designer friends as you can, and examine their portfolios and find the common thread of what the most marketable and hireable skillsets are.

    Take that information, and start building on those more marketable skills. Focus on landing a job on those merits. Then, once you’re at a studio, start letting your true gift show through and start adding value that way. You’ll begin to diversify your skillset and become increasingly irreplaceable, and you’ll be happy because you’ll be getting to do what you love to do. :)

    As for putting together a portfolio that shows those skills, one idea is to take a series of design snapshots to show the iterations of your process of taking a bad idea and developing it into a good one, with some brief commentary on the decisions you made and why. If they can see the refining process, that’ll do a better job of communicating your skill than saying “I’m skilled at X.” :)

    No one ever believes anything you say about yourself. What people believe is what other people say, or what your work says about you. Make it say a lot.

  9. I have to agree with this; when it comes down to it, be a jack, a polite jack, but still a jack. Even from my minuscule experience of working on an indie project (www.bd.razedentertainment.com if you want a look) one of the points that was driven home to me what that you need to keep at it, you need to bludgeon them with text. If you have your own server, and a handy bit of programing knowledge, you can even make it automatic.

    And you need to keep at it with more than just applications, you need to be tenacious with everything you do. For example, so far I have two plugs for my project, (www.forum.razedentertainment.com), and now I have three! But it doesn’t stop there; applications, recruiting, advertising, design, descriptions, and so on. If you make sure that the person who you are dealing with knows the subject at hand as well as you do, you’ve won half the battle.

  10. Jon,

    Not sure where this site of your has been all my life, haha. I just discovered all these articles on my latest search for a real job and I can’t tell you how much of an amazing service it is that you choose to write these things for those who care to read.

    I’m 24 and am only now free to try shooting for studio jobs but it seems Pure conceptual illustration jobs are few and far between. Aside from it being ridiculously competitive, more and more require that you know Maya/3DSM/Zbrush and out of naivete I just focused on drawing.

    Would it be wise to stop what I’m doing and learn a 3d program to add to my resume or stick to my guns? I’m a decent character artist I believe and I can even sculpt maquettes and busts very well. I just want the best shot at a studio job because that is and will always be my lifelong dream.

    If you have a single molecule of time, I’d love some feedback. Either way, I’m so pleased to have found your articles. Continue posting!
    You’ve got a new fan.

  11. Craig, dude, thank you so much! I’m glad you’re finding my articles helpful. That is my aim, and it’s great getting comments like this. :)

    Don’t get too discouraged — drawing is an incredibly important foundational skill that will ultimately make everything else you do easier. Start playing with Mudbox, ZBrush, and MAX. Play around, tinker and have fun with it. And keep drawing, too.

    What’s important is to focus on the fact that art is really fun to do, but if you go apeshit careerist, you can make learning something cool a really miserable experience for yourself. Cling to the joy of it and just have fun learning something new in 3D. :)

  12. Some smart people are just too arrogant to admit that they’re the reason for their own failures.

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