Book Review: It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be

I’m quite certain that most creative freelancers don’t read business books, especially when they’re just starting out. It’s strange, photographers read books on lighting, designers read books on type, and everyone has a stack of old Adobe guide books. However, when it comes to our key activity – running a business, it seems that no one needs advice from the pros. It’s a shame because business books probably offer the best return on investment for freelancers. I’ve recently read Paul Arden’s IT’S NOT HOW GOOD YOU ARE, IT’S HOW GOOD YOU WANT TO BE, it’s a great book, and a good intro to business books. Here is why you should read it.

The Author

Paul Arden was one of the top executive creative directors at Saatchi & Saatchi at their height. His clients included British Airways, Toyota, Nivea, and more. After leaving the ad agency he founded a film production company, an art gallery, and wrote three books.

General Idea

IT’S NOT HOW GOOD YOU ARE… is “a concise guide to making the most of yourself”. Though written from the point of view of the advertising world, the lessons in this book are applicable to all creative work. The book is divided into sections based on the various aspects of doing work – dealing with oneself, clients, generating ideas, etc. Within the chapters are several main lessons, each explained concisely in no more than two pages. The whole thing is written in a casual tone, with great design, and lots of visuals to help get the points across. An added benefit is that you can probably finish this book in an hour or two and save yourself years of personal experience.

Key Highlights

Have you noticed how the cleverest people at school are not those that make it in life?” (p20) – Arden goes into the key differences between school and the real world and why school doesn’t matter.

Don’t look for the next opportunity. The one you have in hand is the opportunity.” (p32) – Stop waiting for the perfect client, job, chance, they don’t exist. Start doing amazing work now.

When it can’t be done, do it. If you don’t do it, it doesn’t exist.” (p46) – Nobody can tell a good idea from a bad one or what is or isn’t possible before the fact. You have to get out there and make it happen. Most of the time, people have to see at least a bit of something to get excited about it.

Don’t be afraid to work with the best.” (p86) – It might be tough working with the best, they’re demanding, don’t want to compromise, perhaps slightly insane. But you won’t do great work when working “with Mr. Average Nice Guy”.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” (p66) – Being smart and talented is no good if nobody knows who you are.

Buy it on Amazon.

If you’ve read this, what do you think? If not, what are some other books you’d recommend?


  1. Thanks for the suggestion, Eugen. I just picked up “No Plastic Sleeves: The Complete Portfolio Guide for Photographers and Designers” which gives a really good overview of branding/identity stuff I never learned in school. Also I am a huge fan of “ART/WORK: Everything You Need to Know (and Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career” which has great advice on every topic from gallery consignment agreements to packing work.


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