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It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be.

Paul Arden book

Paul Howard Arden, advertising creative and successful writer, was born on April 7th, 1940, and died on April 2nd, 2008. This short blog post can, in no way, do justice to his creative influence. What it can do, however, is serve as an introduction to those who are unfamiliar, and as a brief reminder to the rest of us.

Here’s a snippet from one of his best-selling books.

Do not seek praise. Seek criticism.

“It is quite easy to get approval if we ask enough people, or if we ask those who are likely to tell us what we want to hear.

“The likelihood is that they will say nice things rather than be too critical. Also, we tend to edit out the bad so that we hear only what we want to hear.

“So if you have produced a pleasantly acceptable piece of work, you will have proved to yourself that it’s good simply because others have said so.

“It is probably ok. But then it’s probably not great either.

“If, instead of seeking approval, you ask, ‘What’s wrong with it? How can I make it better?’, you are more likely to get a truthful, critical answer.

“You may even get an improvement on your idea.

“And you are still in a position to reject the criticism if you think it is wrong.

“Can you find fault with this?”

Paul Arden book

Paul Arden book

Paul Arden book

Purchase It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be.

on Amazon.com
on Amazon.co.uk
on Amazon.ca

More good books.

My second book on Amazon

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34 comments about “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be.”

  1. I think the quote “It is quite easy to get approval if we ask enough people, or if we ask those who are likely to tell us what we want to hear” Is so true and I am sure we are all guilty of this from time to time. I enjoyed reading this post. Thank you for sharing.

  2. This constant search for improvement is a noble one, and one that I’ve taken to heart (although sometimes too harshly at that.) I personally look over whatever situation is at hand and ask “What next?”

    I do recall you had a post sometime back detailing your move from rising sun (rising dawn?) to your current website that has a more professional flair to it. I have to admit that I’m curious: how do you feel about your current site design? Do you feel that you need to ask for criticism of it right now, or that it’s just good enough and you can come back to it later?

    I feel unfortunate to not have known Mr. Arden whatsoever. I’m definitely adding at least one of his publications to a long list of stuff to read before I die.

    Also, I’m sorry for not commenting in the past David, I just felt like I didn’t have anything to say on the matter. Trying to lurk less and involve myself in this whole blogging thing. I’ll try to contribute in the future.

  3. I sometimes read a few pages from “It’s Not How Good You Are…” before work, it really helps me stay sane and positive. Paul Arden’s words have encouraged me through hard times more than anything else, his work is both motivational and humbling.

    I’m a programmer rather than designer or advertiser, so I find his perspective on work and careers refreshing and useful.

    Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite is also worth checking out.

  4. Love the man. Never met him, but he’s produced some of the greatest design, and thoughts on design, of recent times.

    I can’t see any fault in the quote. If there’s one thing I hate when looking for feedback is for people to say “That’s nice” with no further comment. True crit is invaluable!

    Like you I need to read the other two books – thanks for the reminder!

  5. I have two of his books, the one mentioned in the post, and ‘Whatever you think, think the opposite’. I couldn’t stop reading after a colleague lent me hers and I bought my own. These two are truly gems on any bookshelf and I highly recommend people in the creative industry to buy them.

    I was saddened to know of his passing, but he has definitely left his mark on this world, just like how he encouraged everybody to do, in his books.

  6. Just came to know about this creative genius, browsing through his work.

  7. Great overview David, thanks!

  8. I also have this book, plus others of his and highly recommend them. The section you have quoted also stood out to me, these days I always try to ask people what is wrong with a piece of my work rather than what do they like… it’s proving to be far more effective.

  9. I too own It’s Not How Good You Are… and Whatever You Think… and they are both excellent. Not only are they both packed full of wisdom and insight which can be gleaned just by picking either up and flicking through it for a few minutes, but both are beautifully designed and laid out.

  10. I bought that book 3 months or so back. I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s a very easy read. I plan on getting his entire collection.

    1ove, wisdom.

  11. You know, I have been recommended that book by so many people, in fact I’ve still got a sticky note on my monitor to remind me to buy it.

    Amazon, here I come…

    Cheers David!

  12. This is a fantastic book and one of the jewels of my collection.. I remember picking it up when i was near the end of my studies and it being such an eye opener.. Arden had such a way of not only cutting through the crap, but helping you understand why the crap should be cut through..

    the most amazing thing for me is how simple and short the book is, yet how much it influences and how much wisdom it contains.. I’m waiting for the Australian dollar to be comparable to the American and then doing a nice big order of books from Amazon — the two books of his that I don’t yet have are at the top of the list… thanks for sharing the links and your thoughts, David :)

  13. All too often I see design students asking for feedback on their work… all they want to hear is praise and get offended when told otherwise. How will they learn if they are not told any critical feedback? Not by the mark they are given that is for sure… one must ask see criticism.

    Checking my library now if they have this book. Thanks David.

  14. Thank you for the interesting blog – it’s my first post although I visit your blog regularly.
    Today I thought I’d leave a note cause I’ve just ordered all three books by Paul Arden as a Christmas present… to myself!

  15. A ex-girlfriend of mine had bought “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be” but hadn’t read it yet. I saw it on her desk and read it in under 15 minutes. Put it down and read it again for the next 60 pondering over every bit of advice. Common sense, all of it, but put in away you NEED to hear it.

    I read it now once every 3 months as a reminder to keep up the good fight of being a creative in a money driven complacent world. One of those you keep forever and pass on to the grand kids.

  16. Criticism is not something that I am usually very good at taking… the passage that you posted is a nice reminder, thanks! Sounds like a book I should check out.

  17. Praise is great. But what I want is feedback. Areas of improvement. Things I can change, things I can strive to be, things that are weak that I can strengthen.

    Criticism is positive – even when it’s negative.

  18. Very good advice, but it helps to be thick-skinned! And there is a big difference between constructive and destructive criticism…it’s easy for an anonymous commenter to dish out exactly what he/she thinks of you, but how seriously can you take someone who won’t even make up a name? But yes, I think it’s important to always be looking to improve.

  19. I would agree, trying to improve on what you’ve done is always the goal. Acknowledging good work is important, but not letting it cloud the flaws is also important.

    Good post!

  20. It is definitely nice to receive praise as well (particularly if it is unexpected) for me, because I am never happy with my outcomes and I already know it COULD be a lot better. Seeking criticism is the way I find out HOW to make it better.

    Great article David.

  21. We can grow and excel by giving and receiving negative feedback, no matter how bitter and hurtful the truth is. I learned from Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great”, of the importance of telling brutal truth with lots of compassion.

  22. Critism always help continue to evolve eyeview and show growth.

  23. There is an art to drawing attention to fault without giving offence, very few of us are able to manage it (here I is crit of 90% of populas) , I certainly do not have this down myself (here a self crit) so invitation to find fault is definately helpful to a would be fault finder. And better still if the invitation is genuine and the person has already considered the possibility they have not got it right, because they read Paul Arden.

  24. I haven’t read any of Mr. Arden’s books nor knew him personally. But the one-line title of this blog pulled at me. I appreciate the excerpt from his book because those words of wisdom are not for the ads people only. I’ve always asked friends and family: ‘How’s my new article? Is it good?’. of course, they’d answer ‘yes.’ After reading the excerpt, I wonder about what answer would I get if the question were: ‘Is my article helpful? Did I forget to add something important?’ Thanks for sharing Mr. Paul Arden with us. I never knew the man but I will surely get to know him through his books.

  25. Right on!

  26. Thanks for your comments — each great to read. Sorry it’s taken a few days to acknowledge. Some important projects are in the final stages and need quite a bit of my attention. Thanks again, though. Your chat keeps me motivated.

  27. I’ve often been guilty of seeking more praise than criticism, but I’m thankful for the criticism I receive. It usually ends with me improving.

  28. Thanks to my MD I had the opportunity to read his book, “Its Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be” and thought it was great! A lot of it seems common sense, but it’s not always obvious at the time.
    I will definitely be having another read of it, and hoping to spend some Xmas money on the books!

  29. agreed. if you seek praise, fishing for compliments is only going to feed the ego. if you ask for criticism, then you have a chance at bettering your life :). but a little praise always helps! just don’t go around asking for it, lol.

  30. So true David , it’s always about improving oneself. The time one feels he or she has achieved it all the graph takes a dip. Take care.

  31. It took me a few years before I started seeing the importance of critiques. I now breeze over the compliments and dive right into what I could do to better myself. Being in the creative line of business you have to stay aware of what the public enjoys.

  32. I know this is a very old post, and a late comment. But I recently read “Whatever you think, Think the opposite” by Paul Arden, and I absolutely loved it.

    Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of him and his great work. I am going to get the other books he wrote!

    Thanks for this post that highlights how Paul Arden was an amazing writer and advertising creative.

    Constantly looking for ways to get better at what we do is essential – if you stop doing this you stop improving and you stop learning new things.

    Thanks again for this great overview on Paul Arden.

  33. Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world!

    Joel Arthur Barker

  34. I’m sold! Great post, going to buy the book today, thanks a bunch. Emotionally distancing myself from my work to help it improve has proved difficult at times, but I’m slowly getting better. This read should help me thinks!

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