Category Archives: Historic

Always Seeking Resistance

Creating art requires moving outside of a comfort zone: insight from Seth Godin about the nature of being an artist.

Peace Fountain next to Cathedral of Saint John the Divine

The resistance is the confused and angry noise in our heads that shows up whenever we put our creativity on the line…The resistance is a symptom that you’re on the right track. The resistance is not something to be avoided; it’s something to seek out.
– Seth Godin [1]

At the end of a book publishing conference in New York, I met a friend for an excellent Thai lunch in Morningside Heights. She then offered to show me a neighborhood landmark and one of the largest churches in the world, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The Gothic church is enormous and its edifice is beautiful, but it was the visually interesting statue within the outdoor Peace Fountain that first caught my interest. The statue demonstrates a collage of imagery including angelic battles, animals with distorted proportions, and a sleepy Man in the Moon, interwoven together as if part of some fantastical dream. A plaque near the fountain states that the “Peace Fountain celebrates the triumph of Good over Evil, and sets before us the world’s opposing forces–violence and harmony, light and darkness, life and death–which God reconciles in his peace.”

The contrasting imagery of good and evil the artist conveys with the Peace Fountain statue pushes the observer into a confusion of perception to challenge the mind. This chaotic representation of “the world’s opposing forces” shown in the statue has become a symbol for me of what Seth Godin describes as the resistance: the anxiety born from the risk of failure when sharing something original with the world. Seth Godin explains in his book The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? that in order to create meaningful art “the artist seeks out the feeling of resistance and then tries to maximize it.” [1]

Jason Freeman is the founder of Work of Start.


1. Seth Godin. The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2012), 133-136.

Protective Armor Against Terror

How meeting one of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing changed my perspective on studying history through art.

mfa_samuari_exhibit

Art studies the world, in all its manifestations, and renders back to us not simply how we see, but how we react to what we see and what we know as a consequence of that seeing.
– Kit White [1]

A few weeks after the Boston Marathon bombing I was, much like the rest of the community in the Boston area, trying to get back to life as normal. This “normal” activity included going to a bakery one Saturday morning for breakfast and a session of drawing. The seating area in the bakery was busy and after purchasing a bagel and cream cheese I began to hunt for a spot to sit down. Upon seeing an open table right next to a gentleman sitting quietly with his coffee, I rushed over to set the food tray down in order to stake out the spot. I noticed the man at the neighboring table had severe injuries to both arms, and I immediately got the impression this person would be open (not always the case in Boston) to a friendly gesture.

For several minutes, while working up the courage to offer half of my breakfast to a stranger, I began to draw in my sketch pad the next in a series of illustrations inspired by a samurai armor exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (please see Contributing to the Conversation). The noise of the busy bakery made the offer to share breakfast hard to hear, but the man at the next table understand my intention and graciously accepted half of the bagel. It was several more minutes before he very politely interrupted my drawing with a wave—I had by that time put in earphones—to share that his injuries had come from the Boston Marathon bombing.

We sat in conversation for ten minutes or so about the extent of the injuries suffered– a nearly detached hand and severe ongoing headaches– as well as discussing the medical treatment received over the prior weeks. He explained that the physical trauma was devastating, but there was also a constant mental anguish about reliving the experience in memory. My heart went out to this man as he shared his struggle to cope with the after effects of such a terrible ordeal. It turns out that on the morning of the attack he was in the very same bakery where we were sitting, and the staff had wished him well before he went off to the marathon festivities.

Once the story was finished we did not speak again until the man got up to leave. As he was collecting his various bags and items, I offered him one of the samurai drawings with the grand hope that the armor depicted could act as some symbolic shield to the mental trauma, or at the very least some small distraction.

Jason Freeman is the founder of Work of Start.


1. Kit White. 101 Things to Learn in Art School (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2011), 6.

Contributing to the Conversation

A lesson from Kit White: how creating art adds to the historic dialogue.

MFA_Boston_Samurai

Art is a continuing dialogue that stretches back through thousands of years.
– Kit White [1]

My favorite spot to visit in Boston is the Museum of Fine Arts. This place has numerous opportunities to get lost in rooms full of spectacular artwork. While wandering through the MFA I have discovered art from around the world, which many times has traveled to this place and time over hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years. The last trip to the museum offered the chance to see a new exhibit, “Samurai! Armor From the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection,” and I acted on some inspiration to draw–this was my first time drawing at the museum–some of the samurai armor on display.

While I was drawing quietly in front of a magnificent suit of armor (shown above) an art student from a local university came over to see the sketch. He seemed very thoughtful and interested, so I offered him a pencil and paper. This offer was eagerly accepted and we both sat quietly working for the next ten minutes or so. After finishing the drawing he gave a sincere thanks and went on to explore the rest of the collection.

There were many objects that caught my attention, and by the end of the exhibit the original sheet of paper was filled with a half-dozen sketches.  I was sitting on a bench in front of the final display when an older gentleman came over to chat. He had trouble talking and hearing, but it was surprisingly easy for us to connect over the beauty of the samurai exhibition. As the conversation gradually came to a close  it  became apparent in my mind that this man should have the drawings. The gift was happily accepted.

The opportunity to connect over artwork with strangers at the MFA reminded me of a lesson from Kit White in the book 101 Things to Learn in Art School. Art is the opportunity to make “…your contribution to that dialogue. Therefore, be conscious of what has come before you and the conversation that surrounds you.” [1]

Jason Freeman is the founder of Work of Start.


1. Kit White. 101 Things to Learn in Art School (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2011), 16.

Building Artisitic Connections

How creating art can give form to the abstract.

Schermerhorn Symphony Center Birth of Apollo

Creating ideas that spread and connecting the disconnected are the two pillars of our new society, and both of them require the posture of an artist.
– Seth Godin [1]

Through drawing, I try to capture readers’ interests by sharing how subject matter in my artwork has inspired some new understanding. A recent trip to Nashville, Tennessee provided an opportunity for “connecting the disconnected” with artwork when I encountered a beautiful fountain in front of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. The fountain is home to a statue depicting the birth of Apollo, and this scene became a symbol in my mind of Nashville’s new development as a city around a long-established passion for country music. In the recent history of Nashville, there have been hundreds of millions of dollars invested in creating new venues to celebrate and share “Music City’s” infatuation with the performing arts. These improvements include building the Schermerhorn Symphony Center (opened in September 2006)[2], adding a museum (opened in May 2001)[3] to The Country Music Hall of Fame, and the massive Music City Center, the soon to be opened 1.2 million square foot convention center.[4] While it is easy to see the connection between country music and Nashville’s efforts to preserve this unique art, it seems remarkable to explore this link through Apollo’s fountain.

Jason Freeman is the founder of Work of Start.


1. Seth Godin. The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2012), 5.
2. Acquired from the Nashville Symphony website – NashvilleSymphony.org
3. Acquired from the Country Music Hall of Fame website – CountryMusicHallofFame.org
4. Acquired from the Nashville Music City Center website – NashvilleMusicCityCenter.com

Time Will Tell

Using technology as a platform—not the reason—for change in the publishing industry.Illustration of the Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village

At the intersection of relevance and obsolescence is the ability to recognize opportunities for change based on shifting consumer behavior and the subtle coalescence between emerging and disruptive technology.
-Brian Solis  [1]

The book publishing industry is in a state of transition, and there appears to be two polar differences in perception about what this change means for the industry. On one side, there are pronouncements that book publishing as it is known today is on a path to obsolescence, the only option being to delay the decline for as long as possible. However, there are others in publishing who state that the industry must be completely remade to survive in the long term. Those advocating for fundamental transformation will often refer to new technology development and application as the reason to disrupt the status quo.

My own opinions about the future of publishing were greatly influenced by a recent trip to New York City. Traveling by foot down Sixth Avenue, I discovered the historic Greenwich Village. While I stood at the stoplight waiting to cross 12th Street, my eyes looked up to see a beautiful building that appeared to be a church.  After doing some research later that week, I was surprised to learn that this building was operating as a public library. Even more unexpected, the structure originally served as a courthouse after the initial construction was completed in 1877. Now called the Jefferson Market Library, the building was almost torn down in the late 1950s after sitting vacant, no longer in use as a courthouse. It took the advocacy and support of some influential and concerned residents to save the historical landmark by converting it to a library. [2]

I believe the evolution of the Jefferson Market Courthouse to the Jefferson Market Library serves as a wonderful example of modernization without sacrificing the historically significant. This example of preserving a historical foundation while embracing progress acts as a powerful metaphor for the book publishing industry. I was again reminded of the future of publishing when reading Brian Solis’ new book, What’s the Future of Business? in which technology is not described as a “catalysts for change, but merely among its agents.” Emerging and disruptive technologies are not the reason to transform book publishing. They are a platform for the industry’s evolution.[1]

1. Solis, Brian. What’s the Future of Business? (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, 2013), 150
2. Acquired from New York Public Library Website – NYPL.org

Burning Your Ships

Removing the option to go back: a key lesson for the innovative leader from Sun-tzu’s The Art of War.Statue of Liberty

[The Skillful Warrior] leads his men into battle
Like a man
Climbing a height
And kicking away the ladder;
He leads them
Deep into the territory
Of the feudal lords
And releases the trigger.
He burns his boats,
He breaks his pots…
– Sun-tzu  [1]

One fall evening in 2010 my wife Melissa and I were sitting around our kitchen table talking about our hopes for the future. At the time we were living in Fresno, California,  the city where we both grew up, moved away from, and then moved back to to get married. This was the place where we began our lives as individuals and it was the place we had decided to start our lives in marriage.

During those first couple of years after our wedding we found ourselves in good jobs, buying our first house, founding my first company (any entrepreneur’s spouse should be considered an honorary cofounder), and completing degrees at the university. We even adopted an american bulldog named Milly from the dog shelter. She was an exceptionally large and brawny dog, but nothing if not exceptionally sweet. It was probably the shock from the unexpected death of Milly that woke us up to the idea that we wanted to chart a different course for our early years in marriage. And charting this new direction was the topic of conversation at the kitchen table that evening.

Melissa had been reading the The Oz Principle, a book about personal accountability, and had recently shared a passage telling a story attributed to Alexander the Great:

When Alexander’s army reached the coast of what is now called India, he ordered his men to burn their ships. When the men hesitated at such a shocking order, Alexander responded, ‘We’re either going home in their ships or we’re not going home at all.’
-Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman  [2]

It was the story of Alexander eliminating any option of retreat that profoundly influenced our decision to pursue our happiness by deliberately burning our own ships. With the belief that happiness for us was to be found exploring and learning about the world together we decided, right there at the table, to move. By renting out our house soon after this talk we took our first step to remove any option to stay put. The next steps were telling our employers that we planned to leave in the near future and to also preemptively commit to impart our cars to family members for after the move. Our final big step and deliberate action was selling our ownership interest in my first startup the spring of 2011. During this time of burning ships there was always uncertainty about the specific destination, but we trusted that things would work out if we continued solidifying our commitment to our growth as a couple.

Declaring our intent was the first step in a series of actions that eventually lead us to our new home in the Boston area. Though, I believe that it was our first trip to New York on Thanksgiving of 2011 that helped me to articulate the power of the story of Alexander burning his ships. Seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time on this trip opened my eyes to the courageous journey that so many immigrants undertook by leaving their homes behind to come to the United States. Standing there, both humbled and inspired, I shared in the view that for many was their first sight of their new country and home.

During a recent trip back to New York I read Sun-tzu’s instruction in The Art of War to burn an army’s boats and break their pots in order to remove any option of retreat. This passage inspired me to share the first time I had learned this lesson here in the Work of Start.

Jason Freeman is the founder of Work of Start.


1. Sun-tzu (Sunzi); translated with an introduction and commentary by John Minford. The Art of War(New York: Penguin Group, 2009), 77-78
2. Connors, Roger, Tom Smith, and Craig R. Hickman. The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability. Rev. ed. (New York: Portfolio, 2010), 37.

The Ground Worth Struggling For

Finding that key competitive position: a great lesson for the innovative leader from Sun-tzu’s The Art of War.City of New York Public Library Lion

When the ground
Offers advantage
To either side,
That is
Strategic ground.
– Sun-tzu  [1]

A few hours before my train back to Boston departed from New York’s Penn Station, I stopped by the public library for the chance to reflect at the end of a demanding business trip. There was a strong pull for me to the familiar lions who guard the entrance to New York Public Library Schwarzman building now and for the past 100 years. [2] These silent guardians sat as reminders of one my favorite thinking places in Boston, the public library that also has lions (please see A Storied History), lying couchant, protecting the thoughtful.

This trip to New York is one of the many I will have to make in my work to try and develop a business around innovation in the book publishing space. My work for an early stage startup provides the privilege of seeing raw innovation morph into something valuable to the world– this is the intersection where scientific experiment meets practicality during the evolution of a business.

I sat there quietly in the library’s grand reading room making follow-up notes about the potential strategic partners and customers I had met on the trip. During this time a realization began to form about strategy based on a lesson from Sun-tzu regarding the different types of ground in which to do battle in The Art of War. Sun-tzu’s instruction tells us that strategic ground is “[l]eternally, ground worth struggling for…” as translated by John Minford. That being said, it has been my great surprise as an entrepreneur how challenging the act of identifying a key strategic position can be that is both advantageous and accessible for a developing business. Accordingly, it is my belief that great entrepreneurs are effective because they have the capacity to abstain from seemingly strategic opportunities that are not yet accessible to a new business.

Jason Freeman is the founder of Work of Start.


1. Sun-tzu (Sunzi); translated with an introduction and commentary by John Minford. The Art of War (New York: Penguin Group, 2009), 268.
2. Acquired from New York Public Library Website – NYPL.org