What was Picasso doing before he became Picasso?

These are the two abilities you need to do to thrive in the new economy:

“1. The ability to quickly master hard things.
2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.”

​This is the case that Cal Newport makes in Deep Work.

Let’s focus on number two.

Consider the following.

Casey Neistat: Five-hundred-plus short films on his YouTube channel since 2010. Started vlogging daily on March 24, 2015. Started a social media company called Beme.

Drake: Since last February, he’s put out two albums and one mixtape. As well as a bunch of singles, features and shows.

Seth Godin: Over six thousand blog posts. Eighteen books, many of which were bestsellers. Multiple courses. Multiple events, like Start Up School. All while maintaining an open line of communication with anyone who wants to contact him.

Ryan Holiday: Four books in four years. Built his own marketing company. Editor-at-Large for The Observer. Regular contributor to Thought Catalog and popular speaker at events around the world.

Maria Popova: The mastermind behind BrainPickings. Publishes long, detailed posts three or four times a week. She’s also produced many labors of love.

We can turn to history too. 

Isaac Asimov: Released over five hundred books. Not including his short stories, essays and criticisms.

Picasso: Estimated to have produced fifty thousand works of art. Which is remarkable when you consider he lived for a total of 33,402 days.

All the above have prodigious outputs. Their work rates are astounding.

But that work rate wasn’t inborn, it was learnt. They all make (or made in Asimov’s and Picasso’s case) the decision to create every day. And many of them did and will continue to do so for decades.

Cal Newport mentions that both the quality and the speed of production matter. Of course they do. But of those two variables, there is one which you have much greater control over.


If, like Ray Bradbury, you recognise that quantity is necessary to achieve quality, what’s the obvious thing to do? If you want to become a master of an art or craft, you have to do more work.

Preferably, every single day. Preferably, for decades

But what we forget about these people is that they had their work rate before they had their critical and commercial success. Picasso produced thousands of those works of art before he was Picasso.

They were all doing the work long before anyone knew who they were.