The glorious title for Norm Laviolette’s book, The Art of Making Shit Up, offers readers an initial glimpse into the self-effacing tone pervading this book. Laviolette goes on to add a strong personal touch to the work, sometimes hinting at a soft-pedaled cynicism that never overwhelms the reader but, rather, provides some key understated laughs along the way. Despite the comic edge laced throughout the book, Laviolette has serious aims in his sights and nails them all.
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The book’s subtitle, “How to Work Together to Become an Unstoppable Powerhouse”, signals his intentions. The Art of Making Shit Up opens with the central premise that a certain amount of artifice is part and parcel of every human interaction. It may seem like a cynical assertion to some, but anyone who has endured a difficult day only to say they are doing okay when asked by a grocery store clerk will acknowledge the fundamental truth behind that idea. Laviolette maintains that such artifice, careful to distinguish it from wholesale lying, can be a creative act freeing us to exercise our imaginations and communicate with others on a different level.
He stresses the importance of active listening as opposed to its passive counterpart. Much of his advice surrounding this facet of communication focuses on traditional strengths such as making eye contact with the person to whom you are speaking, but Laviolette addresses the reader with a distinctive “voice” and includes numerous anecdotes supporting his ideas that even fundamentals like the aforementioned seem to possess a different spin. He places great importance on the idea of collaboration insofar as individuals recognize the value of building off another person’s ideas to strengthen their impact.
He addresses our often unreasonable fears of either seeming incompetent at a chosen task or else suffering the under the radar scorn of our peers and contemporaries. The same conversational style defining his approach to earlier topics is well suited to these sections of the book and his experienced as an improvisational comedian informs his conclusions even more here than elsewhere during the work. That experience, one of those central to Laviolette’s life, is a touchstone he returns to again and again and helps the book leave a mark on listeners.
His careful distinction between ideas of failure and “being wrong” is another highlight of the book. It isn’t a distinction people often make but he proves how important the comparison is with coherence and minimal effort. It is appropriate for this author to conclude the work with a mock Q&A revisiting some of the themes before bringing down the final curtain with a brief Author’s Note and a humorous snippet on the etymology of the word shit. The book is laden with references to dung, blessed be they are never literal, but Norm Laviolette’s The Art of Making Shit Up is far from a shit book full of crappy information. Instead, it is a slightly eccentric yet bountiful contribution to the library of books on how best to realize your creativity and put your best self into your chosen work every day.