Why Jimmy Fallon is Best in Show

How the new Tonight Show host is reinventing late night while showing us all how to own our entrepreneurial space.

In his first week as the host of The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon did what he always does: He delivered the goods.

Many pundits believed that the entire genre of late night talk shows had run its course. The golden age of Johnny Carson and Jay Leno and David Letterman had come and gone. We were in a perpetual farewell tour.

Sure, there are some funny guys still going strong. Conan is hilarious. Kimmel kills. I remember in college when I would set my alarm every morning just to wake up to Jimmy doing the morning sports on KROQ. The new school of late night is amazing.

But, the reason why Jimmy Fallon is the Sidney Crosby of late night is because he’s taking an old game and making it his own.

Those other amazing entertainers are great. But, they’re playing the same old game. As the new host demonstrated in his inaugural week, he took his unique signature and tatooed it on late night.

We shouldn’t be comparing Fallon to Carson. We should be thanking Lorne Michaels! The Tonight Show is like watching Saturday Night Live, every night of the week. Why? Because that is what Fallon has been cultivating his entire career. The man is reaping what he’s sown.

And, my gut tells me he’s just getting started.

How did Jimmy do it?

Years before the changing of the guard at the Tonight show began (again), Fallon had been developing and honing his comedic style; the substance of which is reinventing the talk show genre before our very eyes.

But, he wasn’t just practiced in creating his amazing, often collaborative, content.

Fallon is way more entrepreneurial than that.

He’s been practicing for this moment. In fact, I say it was a pre-ordained set-up! This thing has been in the making for years. On his opening night monologue, Fallon mentions that he didn’t know how he got to his esteemed position. And, in a sense, I believe him.

He doesn’t need to know how he got there. He wasn’t concerning himself with that. Instead, he concerned himself with creating amazing stuff, every chance he got.

That’s what the new pre-ordained looks like:

  1. Make first.
  2. Refine until awesome.
  3. Make some more.
  4. Patiently trust the outcome to take care of itself.

What if it really was that simple?

The reason I’m so excited is because we’re witnessing the equivalent of what the iPhone did to our flip phones. Apple didn’t just create a better communication device. They offered a signature contribution that reinvented what a phone even meant.

But, beyond the innovator’s solution, I also don’t want to miss the good news for mere mortals like you and me.

Way beyond the disruption that Fallon is bringing to late night, he’s also demonstrating to all of us what’s possible when we make the habit of creating our best work our best primary offering to the world.

What Jimmy Fallon does best is he takes his body of work… and puts it to work! It’s what Brian Clark calls a media first mindset. By leading with his stuff, the form plays second fiddle to the content while he puts himself in the best possible position to rule his space. It’s not about clever sketches. Nobody can beat that signature content because he’s the only one who can sign his work that way.

And, the best news of all is you and I can do the same if we’re willing to do the work to put ourselves in a similar position.

Is it sustainable?

The only real concern anyone can lob on Fallon right now is more a query than grenade: Can he sustain this level of quality into the future?

It’s an understandable question. But, it fails to notice that this isn’t a new initiative he’s offering.

Look in the opposite direction and the answer becomes obvious.

Jimmy Fallon has been doing this for years! This is more culmination than inauguration. If he’s been doing it from SNL until now, why shouldn’t we expect him to keep on trucking?

What about you?

The big lesson to learn from Fallon is the same lesson friends like Seth Godin have been saying for years… If you want to reinvent, start yesterday.

Let’s pretend you are your habits for a second. Of course, you’re more than that, but let’s start there. If you have the habit of doing the hard work of becoming first, you will live into a legacy you didn’t think was possible.

That’s what Fallon is showing us. It’s an invitation for us to go and do likewise. And, if Fallon’s life so far is any indicator, being the real article looks pretty fun too.

© Dane Sanders

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Start in Front

Photo credit: Trey Ratcliff via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff

If you’re going for a new you for 2014, it’s too late.

It’s 7:59am on the west coast. With a fresh cup of coffee at arm’s reach (I’m at Starbucks), a quick text sent asking Tami if she wants a cup too, and my fingers typing away on this article, I’m honestly pretty happy with how my day, month and year have begun.

I’m also standing upright while I work (my new writing posture) and am completing Day One of my January writing challenge. I even took time before the coffee shop to fill my head with good ideas and pray.

With all these good habits rolling, I’m just a jog away from a new year’s day cliché.

And, it almost didn’t happen.

A little context

I was first up in my house this morning. Despite having ten warm bodies asleep at home (some of my son’s friends crashed after the ball dropped), I managed to slip out quietly and get my January 1st started the way I decided it would go, before I went to bed.

But, I really just got lucky.

What if my youngest had wandered in first with a bump on her elbow from falling out of bed? It’s not like that sort of thing happens all the time, but it has. What if my alarm clock failed? What if curiosity had caught me and I started with email instead of what I said I’d start with? What if, what if, what if? You get the point.

When unexpected interruptions to my method happen, my daily game plan get’s interrupted with it. It happens all the time. But not today… bullet dodged right?

What did happen – that could have had an even greater sabbotaging effect – took place when I was walking out of our bedroom. I found myself feeling all lovey dovey for Tami and glanced over at her while I was at the door.

Before you get concerned that this article is about to get racy, the affection I was feeling was less about me hoping to get some action and more about gratitude.

I am so thankful that Tami is supportive of this daily rhythm approach to my life and her kindness just hit me. Her willingness to take care of the household waking up most days is just amazing. She’s a remarkable person.

Anyway, when I had this mini-flood of good feelings well up, I noticed she was stirring just a bit and her eyes were beginning to open. I paused in my exit and went to her bedside to give a New Year kiss.

She received it, but I made the near fatal mistake of asking her if she was mad at me for getting up early and exiting, despite the fact that I told her my plans before we went to bed.

Sidenote about me: I have issues.

If you’re a newer reader, this might sound like an odd declaration but it’s an important thing to know if you’re going to show up here from time to time.

To the familiar, this is a profound statement of the obvious.

The reason I mention this here is if my past is an indicator, I have a tendency to do stupid things from time to time that get in my own way. This was one of them.

Any wannabe-Freud could tell you why: they’d likely say something about my obvious people pleasing tendencies that connect to my mom or my strivings for significance that connect to my dad… or something else. They’d probably be right too.

The psycho-insight wouldn’t mean much for this conversation though. What does matter is when my issues show, they often derail me. Can you relate?

Back to the story…

This is all backdrop to confess that when I asked Tami if she was mad, I really wasn’t asking for her sake.

It was more of a thinly veiled question about me. In fact, the more honest query would have been, “Regardless of how you feel about it, will my efforts in the next few hours tempt you to hold back on any of the other incredible things I get from you?”

Hi. My name is Dane and I’m a self-aholic.

The good news is she barely heard my question, or maybe it was just so familiar that she closed her eyes and nodded that all was well. That was her code for, “Do what you need to do, dude.

Did I mention how much I love her? That’s what my text was about. Asking if she wanted coffee wasn’t me being awesome. It was me saying thanks for her encouragement for me to be me, especially when it bugs her.

Here’s the thing

So, here I am feeling great about a solid start, right? What I’m more aware of though is how tomorrow (or some day soon after), circumstances won’t go my way.

Maybe Tami will wake up and get to have some issues of her own, and it’ll be my turn to let her do what she needs to do. Maybe I’ll get to cuddle with my daughter and her bruised elbow and daily method be damned.

But, what will it mean if I miss a day down the line? It will mean precisely what I decide it will mean. What I make up about missing a day really isn’t the point. Having a life is.

I’m not just committed to change. I’m committed to becoming something new.

New habits are useless anyway

What’s hilarious is just how useless new resolutions actually are. The only habits that really matter are the one’s that started weeks, months or years ago… the habits that I actually have today.

A great example of how big a deal this truth is, played out at a TED Conference a while back. Seth Godin (a particularly prolific author of best-sellers) was asked for advice by a first time author, on what they should do to have a successful book launch the following month.

Seth told him straight up, “You’re too late.” He should have asked his question a year earlier… or maybe two.

The good news

But what’s that poor author supposed to do with that?

If he’s wise, I think he takes it as the gift that it is and adjusts his expectations. Maybe he launches his book (now or later) but more importantly starts thinking immediately about how he wants his thing to end, not just begin.

It’s not that complicated. Everyone gets this when they slow down for a second.

In fact, just moments ago, the Barrista in front of me was asked by a patron what her new year’s resolution was for this year. She said she decided it was going to be the one she had last year… that she felt guilty about the year before… and wrote down the year before that.

She’s smart.

Making 2014 about anything other than what you’ll be telling yourself in 2015 is a sucker bet.

Want to make this year great? Be deliberate. Find your rhythm and method. Pause in the middle and be grateful for the interruptions. But, whatever you do, decide who you want to be a year from now and work backwards.

What actually happens will be way more interesting than wishful thinking.

An Open Letter to Humans in the Physical Universe

The Innovation of Loneliness from Shimi Cohen.

Dear listener, reader, watcher, hater, lover and friend,

I have a lot of personal goals for this coming year. I’m guessing you do too. A lot could be said about that. In fact, many of you are busy writing your lists and plans right now. And you should!

This time of year however, tends to generate a disproportionate amount of manifesto-like declarations. In fact, I’ve been getting a handful in my inbox most every day lately. I’m guessing you can relate. The same thing happened last year and for the past several.

They tend to arrive some time between Christmas and New Year’s. Some play off the cliché and cleverly write their resolutions closer to Canadian Thanksgiving or Valentine’s Day just to mix it up. I rarely see them in July.

As I read, I began to notice a consistent pattern. Most authors seem to be wanting increased personal honesty and earnestness and hope and possibility in the new year. The same was true when I considered my own declarations. What surprised me was that the experience left me with an odd sense of nostalgia.

Like the familiar tree in our living rooms (you get that it’s weird to kill and prop those things up inside by your couch, right?), it would feel odd not to do it, especially for the productivity-obsessed among us. But even for those who don’t remember what a Franklin-Covey Planner used to be, you can now join the utopian goal setting commune without even standing out.

Because it’s more socially acceptable this time of year, it makes it less threatening to make it public too. In truth, I’m guessing there are lots of July journal entries in people’s private diaries about good intentions for “next” month. They just don’t get published very often.

It’s probably true that most who are writing do tend to be public-facing folks or those who aspire to express themselves more honestly and earnestly, and with greater discipline in the new year coming.

When I’ve written them, I’ve tended to crave a fresh starting line, a renewed hope or some sort of unprecedented possibility. Nothing wrong with any of that by the way. Writing it down really is the smart thing to do.

This year though, I’ve found it useful to pause and wrestle with what I’m really needing, beyond just my hopes for behavior modification.

When I sat down to get my goals on this time around, I also began to notice how much it felt like I was talking exclusively to myself. Not that people wouldn’t read what I wrote or that it wouldn’t be meaningful or inspire others to create meaningful moments for themselves if they went and did likewise. Again, I hope all those things happen. But, on a profound level (at least for me), I am more ok than ever if they don’t.

Why end of year goal setting can remind us of just how lonely online life can be…

What I’m speaking to has more to do with the unintended side-effects of living life in two worlds. With the removal of space and time in the virtual space, it’s just easier to have the experience of a scaling connection with (several) others, when in fact no real connection has happened.

Please hear me: I’m not ignoring all the remarkable good that has come from extending our lives from physical to virtual. It’s incredible. Perhaps even intoxicating. I guess it’s the hangover I’m talking about.

It’s what Shimi Cohen has brilliantly identified as The Innovation of Loneliness. All this edited sharing to connect can leave me feeling more and more alone.

So, why am I writing all this?

Great question. I guess I’m witholding my public declaration of goals this year in exchange for a more personal request… of myself and of you, if you’re game.

Whether you are a listener, reader, watcher, hater, lover, friend or “friend”, would you do me this one favor? I’m personally committed to be more human with everyone I can. Might you be willing to join me? And if possible, can we do it in the real world?

Believe me, this will be as uncomfortable for me as it will be you. No need to be something we’re not. If we’re “friends” online, I won’t be hurt if others more real to you get priority time. But, if we both aspire to upgrade our relationship by losing the “air quotes”, let’s do that out in the open.

Same thing if you consume the content I make, will you reach out and tell me about how you experience it? I’ll be doing the same with those I read and watch and listen to. I can’t wait to make it more personal actually.

Hate me, mad at me or disagree with something I put out there or just what I represent to you? Let’s both be courageous and resist gossiping about it online (or even in private). Here’s a better idea… Call me up! Let me buy the coffee!! If I call you, I’ll let you buy. We can even have a real argument if you want. How much more gratifying would that be in person than by ourselves behind a blue lit screen.

Probably my favorite option on this is to be present proportionately with those I truly love. Enough being out of whack time wise with the wrong people. You know what I mean?

But here’s the deal: We all get to be engaged proportionately to our commitment to each other.

What do you think? Maybe, maybe?

I know I’m asking a lot. I also recognize it’s not going to be very efficient and in some cases, we just won’t have the chance to connect that way this year. If that’s the case, I hope we still take advantage of what the virtual world has to offer.

But if you and I do end up getting the chance to be together, let’s not waste it, ok?

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, that actually is my primary commitment to myself this year. Apparently, I couldn’t resist a goal setting letter after all.

Before you talk, meet, email or post – do this!

Idea Prep *

It’s one thing to have a good idea. It’s another to have that idea connect for the people I’m sharing it with.

It’s that second part that seems to be the hard part. I often find myself wondering what more I could do to clarify my ideas for maximum impact. When I came across Sasha‘s insights on getting straight before getting going, I felt compelled to share. His articulation turns out getting the results I’m looking for can be far less intimidating with just a few methodical steps applied to every talk, meeting, email or post. [Read more...]

I believe change is possible

Image used under creative commons license

One of the most thoughtful books I’ve come across in the last few years is Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.

Not only is it well written, the investigative reporter for the New York Times and Pulitzer Prize winner offers real hope to those who crave intentional change.

Habits for all of us

First, the good news: There is sound research to suggest we can actually change (woohoo)!

This might sound obvious but the rhetoric I hear a lot is a private skepticism that people and life are determined and fixed. And, that any effort toward “self-help” are little more than a mirage, folklore or at best, a distraction to get through hard days.

According to Duhigg though, behavioral habits are the building blocks for real life and societal transformation.

What I love is he doesn’t limit the conversation to individuals. He ambitiously tackles habit for organizations and even society too. That’s where we come in.

Lead the change you crave

All this got me thinking a lot about our community of creatives interested in making a living from the stuff what we create.

There is a lot of positive things we could say about our community ethos – that is our shared habits we’ve freely committed to. I’ve also been discouraged though by some of the bad habits we as a creativity industry have demonstrated.

What if Kid President is right?

The first habit that I commonly see is the habit of incivility – mostly online – and our passive willingness to stand by idly. This is not unique to photographers of course. Sonia Simone’s Civility Manifesto is written to all of us who create content. Whether we’re in learn mode or share mode, even Kid President thinks we’ve got some room for improvement! Candidly, I think we’re better than that too.

Many will disagree with me of course, but, you don’t have to. In fact, we don’t have to. If Duhigg is right – and I think he is – I wonder what our industry would be like two years from now if there was a collective who stood up and did our work differently.

Action, not consumption

A second habit that I think we’re maturing through is how we relate with people who influence us.

There’s a tension here of course.

On the one hand, there is great good reason to highlight those who’ve influenced our work. I love to talk about Jeremy and Julieanne and Chris and Amit and Seth and Ann and Todd and Jerry and Joel (and so many more). These people have had a huge influence on me and my work. I even tout it in my bio that others have said I’ve had influence on them. It’s humbling and scary and a privilege to have sway with others.

But at some point, when I (or we) elevate anyone beyond the level of blue-collar creatives that make my contribution better, I miss my my call to GO and do likewise. I’m tempted to spend too much time watching and not enough time offering up what I made myself.

This habit of choosing to be a consumer over being a contributor is just not a good idea for people who create for a living. And, I say we need to interrupt it. Let me get more personal: We need you to lead us.

Check out Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist for some great insights on breaking this kind of bad.

Risking belief

Maybe the most insidious of all our bad habits is the inclination to believe – based on the manifesto that is your life – that change isn’t even possible in the first place.

I get that it’s rare to hear people admit they don’t believe change can be had. More often, I see actions that declare the belief in the impossibility that we can change. My gut tells me that if we fix this one, we’re on our way to fixing a lot more.

What does your gut tell you?

Your life is the manifesto


When I do something… anything… I am making a declaration to the world about what I believe is important and right and true and beautiful.

I don’t always think of that when I cut someone off on the freeway or take time to look someone in the eye when they’re speaking or drive an extra two miles to find a special Starbucks that serves Clover (that’s for you Brian Gardner) or stand up for someone or sit quietly or gossip or care enough to listen or blow someone off or when I get home when I say I will or when I’m “just 15 minutes late.”

Every move I make is an unavoidable, micro-manifesto on who I actually am.

If I pause long enough to notice what’s going on for me, I have the ability to discover some very powerful insights about myself. This results-based living isn’t always flattering but always offers a kind of embedded explanatory power on why my life is turning out the way it is.

What seems particularly potent to me with examples like the one’s above, is how easy it is to miss how my pedestrian habits tell me what I actually believe and the ideas I actually live from.

When I’m asleep at the wheel I don’t even experience actions like these as conscious choices. Because they’re not. I just do stuff, often unknowingly. In this way, my habits run my life.

Over the last year, I’ve taken some hard looks at the parts of my life I don’t like much and worked in very grounded ways to interrupt my habits. And, shocker, my world is looking pretty different: I’m connecting with my wife and kids in fresh and more honest ways, my business projects are growing, I’m giving more, I’m down to about my high school weight, I am paying off debt (slowly), I’m writing and teaching more than ever (which I love) and as a result, my work is more fulfilling. I have plenty of headroom of course and fail plenty too. But the steady (and often unsexy) direction I’m actually walking in is what’s got me amped.

The ingredients to this new trajectory?

  • Notice my life and the lives around me.
  • Ask myself if the way I’m relating is for me.
  • Decide to carry on or mix it up immediately – like with real actions.
  • Give any required habit changes all I’ve got.

That’s it.

It’s been fashionable in recent years for individuals and companies to publish declarations online on what they think and plan to do. I wonder if all that manifesto work is a little redundant. No doubt, there’s huge value in deciding your days before they happen. Even more value in keeping those commitments. But, our actual manifestoes are being lived out in real time whether we’re paying attention or not.