Real Artists Ship: Steve Jobs’ remarkable advice is the kick in the ass you need

October 3, 2020

minute READ 

“Real artists ship.” If you want to be insanely productive and successful, these are three words you should take to heart.  

Let’s explore this in more detail: a while ago, I was talking to a coaching client, let’s call her Taylor (not her real name). Taylor was working on a number of different projects. When I asked her what was holding her back, she mentioned that she usually got her projects almost done and then abandoned them.

As Taylor was talking about how she usually handled projects, it reminded me of a runner who would enter a marathon, cover almost the complete distance, and then drop out a few meters (or a dozen feet) before the finish line.  

While almost nobody would do that during a marathon, when it comes to projects, people do this all the time. They give up just before reaching the finish line. They don’t ship.

And that’s where Steve Job’s powerful advice comes in: “Real artists ship.” According to Wikiquote, the phrase means that it is important to actually deliver. But let’s look at this in more detail. 

What does the saying “real artists ship” mean?

The phrase describes the difference between “real artists” who finish their projects and deliver on their ideas and “wannabe artists” who just tinker around.

Basically, it reminds us that it’s not just enough to have an idea… you also have to follow through on it and get it out into the world.

Basically, be a doer, not just a dreamer.

Why is it important to "ship" (get your project out into the world)? 

Before completion, the power of a project remains dormant. It is only through completion that that power gets unlocked.

Also, none of us has forever. That's why it's important to share your gifts as soon as possible.

I talk more about the importance of completing things in this brief video: 

(Side note: here's the book I'm referring to in the video.)

Let's explore how you can put this into practice: 

How to start "shipping" in 5 steps

Make a list of all your unfinished projects. 

Decide which of these you will complete and which you will let go of. 

Pick one project to finish first. If in doubt, pick the one that would make the biggest difference for your business or your life. If you're unsure what that is, just start with the first one on your list. (Here's how to overcome analysis paralysis.)

Finish the project and celebrate your accomplishment. 

Move on to the next project on the list. Don't start any new projects before finishing old ones. 

Be a real artist: stop playing around and start shipping

In his book, “West of Eden: The End of Innocence at Apple Computer,” author Frank Rose includes a powerful description of a 1983 speech when Steve Jobs used that phrase:

“…real artists don’t hang on to their creations. Real artists ship. Matisse shipped. Picasso shipped. They were going to ship too.”–Frank Rose describing a speech by Steve Jobs

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As we all know, the people at Apple Computer shipped. In fact, you might be using products from them right now.

And while I’m not the biggest fan of Apple products, they definitely had follow-through. They were real artists.

The question is: are you? Leave me a comment below!

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About the author

Bere is the founder of Leader for Good. She's a former lawyer and academic who moved from Germany to the United States where she started her own business. Today, Bere loves helping her coaching clients and students connect with their passion and purpose. You can find out more about her coaching business at

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  • As a guy who just started his own business i find this post very encouraging. I too have to focus myself on delivering and not giving up. I too have to focus on shipping!

  • I think the real power in the saying “real artists ship” is not in getting you to finish, it’s in getting you to get something out in the world without worrying about it not being perfect.

    Real artists ship means you do it, get it out the door, let the market tell you what you did right and what you did wrong, update, and ship again.

    Too often creative people get caught up in getting something “right” before letting the world see it. As if they know what “right” is. The world will tell you if you got it right.

    It really means, don’t be afraid to let the world see what you’ve done, warts and all. It will take you in directions you can’t have imagined by yourself.

    • I love how you put it, Michael: “… the real power is… in getting you to get something out in the world without worrying about it not being perfect.” Totally agree. My article focused more on the finishing but you’re right that it goes beyond that into letting go of perfectionism. Thanks for your comment!

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