Some can only win when others lose.
Others seek to win by helping others succeed.
One of these approaches scales far better than the other.
The latest book, Poke The Box is a call to action about the initiative you're taking - in your job or in your life, and Seth once again breaks the traditional publishing model by releasing it through The Domino Project.
Some can only win when others lose.
Others seek to win by helping others succeed.
One of these approaches scales far better than the other.
Here's an interesting choice that most people leave unmade:
How comfortable are you engaging in projects where there's a likelihood that you'll lose by just a hair?
What makes a project worthwhile and interesting is that it might not work. All the this-is-sure-to-work projects are taken.
Given that you're taking a risk, what kind are you up for?
Are you seeking out areas where there's no competition, true longshots where few people see you fail?
Or are you okay with the daring near misses?
Joi Ito and Jeff Howe have a new book called Whiplash. Joi's the head of MIT's Media Lab and an extraordinary thinker. Jeff brings the ideas and the lessons of the Lab to life. This is a big think, well worth a deep dive.
The Knowledge, Steve Pressfield's new book, is put together like a Swiss watch. Every single word, every scene... it's a master class in what it means to get out of your own way and write a book that works. I am walking around the house, unable to put it down.
In the last week, I discovered that at least two of my smart friends hadn't read Godel, Escher, Bach. They have now. You should too.
As we head toward the end of the year, I think you'll find inspiration in the work of people who show up and do the work. Daily. For decades. Jacqueline Novogratz and her classic book, The Blue Sweater continue to change lives. As does Jim Ziolkowski's amazing true story. This is what happens when people step up, keep their promises and make things happen.
"What's it like around here?"
It's a fair question to ask about an office, a home, a town...
"Why do people act like that, talk like that, treat others that way?"
The only reason they do is because we let them. People can't violate community standards for long without being asked to leave the community. Either that, or the standards change.
Always right about feelings.
About the day he just experienced.
About the fears (appropriate and ill-founded) in his life.
About the narrative going on, unspoken, in his head.
About what he likes and what he dislikes.
You'll need to travel to this place of 'right' before you have any chance at all of actual communication.
In his day job, The Wizard of Oz sold hokum. Patent medicines guaranteed to cure what ailed you. And none of them worked.
Deep within each of us is the yearning for the pill, the neck crack, the organizational re-do that will fix everything.
Sometimes, it even happens. Sometimes, once in a very rare while, there actually is a stone in our shoe, easy to remove. And this rare occurrence serves to encourage our dreams that all of our problems have such a simple diagnosis and an even simpler remedy.
Alas, it's not true.
Culture takes years to create and years to change.
Illnesses rarely respond in days to a treatment.
Organizations that are drowning need to learn to swim.
Habits beat interventions every time.
Consider these boundaries...
Avoid the crash diet.
Fear the stock that's a sure thing to double overnight.
Be skeptical of a new technology that's surely revolutionary.
Walk away from a consultant who can transform your organization in one fell swoop.
Your project (and your health) is too valuable to depend on lottery tickets.
There are innovations and moments that lead to change. But that change happens over time, with new rules causing new outputs that compound. The instant win is largely a myth.
The essential elements of a miracle are that it is rare and unpredictable. Not quite the reliable path you were seeking.
Deliberate, focused, generous, confident, thoughtful, these are all good things. Being pushy isn't.
Imagine you had a check for $100,000 made out to someone else. Someone you don't know but can reach out to. How hard would it be for you to cajole this person to take the check from you and cash it?
We call someone pushy when they are trying harder for forward motion than we are. We call them pushy when they have more at stake, or more to gain, than we think we do.
It's easy to rationalize your pushiness, imagining that the other person really wants to do this project. And it's just as easy to minimize the value you add, hiding in a corner instead of bringing your value forward.
Pushiness is in the eye of the beholder. Generosity requires that we be aware of how the other person is feeling about the forward motion we're trying to make.
It really ought to be called the core list, because it's fundamentally misunderstood as something in the background, an afterthought.
The backlist is the stuff you sell long after you've forgotten all the drama that went into making it.
Book publishers make more than 90% of their profit from books they published more than six months ago. And yet they put 2% of their effort into promoting and selling those books. Editors, agents, salespeople all focus on what's new, instead of what works.
It's more exciting, more fun and more hopeful to seek out and launch new books. It's the culture of many industries, particularly ones that are seen as creative.
Nike and General Mills and the local freelancer all generate a bigger contribution with their classic stuff.
It turns out that time spent on packaging, promoting and spreading the ideas in the core list is almost always a solid investment.
There's a simple explanation:
Successful backlist products have crossed the chasm and are selling to the mass market, the largest chunk of any market. These are people who don't buy a lot of books (or sneakers, or cereals) a year, but when they do buy one, they buy a popular one. And so, every year, year after year, millions of copies of Dr. Seuss books are sold. Not because they're new, but because that's what people buy.
On the other hand, frontlist products, the new stuff, are bought by a smaller group, the early adopters, the people who like buying new books. These people are easier to reach, probably more fun to work with, but because they seek variety, they rarely all align and buy the same product.
[FWIW, the readers of this blog and followers of my work are almost all in this category--focusing on early adopters is a fine way to build a platform for work you care about—it's something that I do on purpose. But it doesn't always make economic sense.]
The way for an enterprise to build a core list, then, is to latch onto those frontlist titles that have proven themselves, to persistently and consistently work with the retail channel and the existing customer base to make them into classics—useful, reliable products or services that the masses can rely on.
This takes discipline and effort—product creators like me find this difficult. But publishers of all stripes, the organizations that exist to bring new ideas and useful technologies to the world, need to dig in and do this work.
[Expiring today, Saturday: For the first time ever, Linchpin, one of my backlist books, is on promo on the Kindle. It's less than $2.]
The best way to build a brand that matters, a story that spreads, an impact that we remember, is to understand a simple but painful trade-off:
If you want to stand for something,
You can't stand for everything.
"Anyone can be our customer and we will get you what you want..." is almost impossible to pull off. So is, "we are the cheapest and the most convenient and the best."
It didn't work for Sears, or for Chevrolet or for Radio Shack. It definitely doesn't work for the local freelancer, eager to do whatever is asked.
Relentlessly trimming what's on offer, combined with a resolute willingness to say, "no," are two characteristics of great brands. And linchpins, too.
Organic chemistry doesn't care if you believe in it. Neither does the War of 1812.
Truth is real, it's measurable and it happened. Truth is not in the eye of the beholder.
There are facts that don't change if the observer doesn't believe: The age of the Eiffel Tower. The temperature in Death Valley. The number of people in the elevator.
On the other hand, there are outcomes that vary quite a bit if we believe: The results of the next sales call. Our response to medical treatment. The enjoyment of music...
If you believe that this wine tastes better than that one, it probably will. If you believe you're going to have a great day at work, it will surely help. Placebos work.
We make two mistakes, all the time. First, we believe that some things are facts (as in true), when in fact, belief has a huge effect on what's going to happen. In the contest between nature and nurture, nurture has far more power than we give it credit for. In countless ways, our friends and parents matter more than our genes do.
At the same time, sometimes we get carried away. We work to amplify our beliefs by willfully confusing ourselves about whether the truth is flexible. It makes belief a lot more compelling (but a lot less useful) if we start to confuse it with truth.
But belief is too important and too powerful to be a suspect compatriot of the scientific/historical sort of truth.
We can believe because it gives us joy and strength and the ability to do amazing things. That's enough.
It's possible that you're the way you are, that you do what you do, that you react as you react, and that it can never be changed.
Believing this is incredibly sad, though.
Each of us is capable of just a little more. A little more patience, a little more insight, a little more generosity.
And if you can do a little more, then, of course, you can repeat those changes until you've done a lot more.
Fear, loneliness, anger, shame & hunger.
They drive us. They divide us. They take us away from our work, our mission, our ability to make a difference. And yet, sometimes, they fuel our motion, leading to growth and connection.
When a variety of FLASH shows up, it almost never calls itself by name. Instead, it lashes out. It criticizes what we’ve made or done. And mostly, it hides behind words, argument and actions, instead of revealing itself.
As you’ve guessed, correcting the false argument is futile. Logic doesn’t work either. You can’t reason with FLASH because it is, by definition, unreasonable.
Worth repeating that: We’re rarely reasonable. Most of the time, we’re afraid, lonely, angry, shameful or hungry.
Sometimes, we can address those emotions by seeing that reason can help our problem, but mostly, we start and end with the emotion.
Pause to allow it be seen and heard.
And then, if we’re willing, we can dance with it. We can put the arguments aside, the demands and the expectations and sit with the emotion. Not get defensive, because the emotion isn’t about us or our work at all.
Then, maybe, we can begin to bring civilization back into the conversation, the story of us, the opportunity for growth and connection, and ultimately, the power of thought and reason and forward motion.
Imagine a supermarket (or any store, for that matter), where the items are arranged by price. At one end is the salt and the chewing gum, and at the other end are mops and steaks.
We always think about the cost of an item before we buy it, but we don't buy it because of what it costs.
If you find yourself acting like you sell a commodity, saying, "this is category X and the price is Y" then you've ceased doing any sort of marketing. You're a commodity provider by choice, which is fine as long as you're okay with competing in a race to the bottom.
The alternative is to do the difficult and risky work of earning attention, earning a reputation and mostly telling a story that takes your product or service out of the commodity category and into a space defined by connection, meaning and possibility instead.
Low price is the refuge for the marketer who doesn't have anything more meaningful to offer.
Hobson's choice is no choice at all. Take what's offered, or walk away.
Occam's razor is a rule of thumb: the simplest explanation is often the best one.
Wheeler's which teaches us that the answer to "one egg or two?" is usually 'one', while the answer to, "do you want an egg?" is usually zero.
Occam, Hobson and Wheeler were all scholars of something humans are fabulously bad at: deciding among multiple options.
Getting good at this is a skill, something we can do better if we choose to. That might be the first decision.
[Some readers were curious about the "Wheeler which." Elmer Wheeler was a sales trainer nearly a century ago. He got hired by a chain of drugstores to increase sales at the soda fountain. In those days, a meal might consist of just an ice cream soda for a nickel. But for an extra penny or two, you could add a raw egg (protein!). Obviously, if more people added an egg, profits would go up. Wheeler taught the jerks (isn't that a great job title?) to ask anyone who ordered a soda, "One egg or two?" Sales of the egg add-on skyrocketed.]
"You can have any color car you want as long as it's black."
Henry Ford made cars in black because black paint dried four hours faster than any other color. That fast drying meant that the line worked faster, which made them cheaper. Just as important, he didn't have stockouts--with only one color, the color you wanted was the color he had.
Ever since then, there's been a move to on-demand, built to order and custom work. In everything we do. Freelance work, shoes, baked goods, kitchen cabinets, software, travel plans. And it seems like a cost-free progression. The thing is, it's not.
Most of the cost of everything we buy is in the risk, the starting, the stopping, the waste, the breakage, the planning.
A pair of mass produced shoes can be made for $3. A pair of custom shoes might cost $200 once you count all the associated costs.
McDonald's hit a peak moment of productivity by getting to a mythical scale, with a limited menu and little in the way of customization. They could deliver a burger for a fraction of what it might take a diner to do it on demand.
McDonald's now challenges the idea that custom has to cost more, because they've invested in mass customization.
Things that are made on demand by algorithmic systems and robots cost more to set up, but once they do, the magic is that the incremental cost of one more unit is really low. If you're organized to be in the mass customization business, then the wind of custom everything is at your back.
The future clearly belongs to these mass customization opportunities, situations where there is little cost associated with stop and start, little risk of not meeting expectations, where a robot and software are happily shifting gears all day long.
But if you're not set up for this, if you're hustling your coders or your production line or your painters or whomever to go faster and cheaper, you're fighting the wrong side of the productivity curve. It's like the diner that sought to be a friendly, custom-order place but also promised to be as cheap or as profitable as a fast food place.
These traditional businesses, the small ones, the non-automated ones, can sell custom, sure, but not at the price they used to sell the thing they make in bulk. And too often, organizations undercharge for the custom work and find themselves trapped between the productivity of doing things in batches and the challenge of delighting each customer, who carries his or her own dreams of what perfect looks like.
Unraveling has precisely the same meaning as raveling... when we pull on a thread, pull and pull, as it unweaves what came before.
It's nice to have the next thing clearly laid out, planned and sure to work.
It would make our projects and our art and our plans a lot more secure.
More often, though, we have to ravel for quite a while before we have enough to work with.
Nothing is ready when we need it to be, but that merely means we have to begin earlier.
More honest, more caring, more generous.
It's all a choice, isn't it?
We can choose to dream better, connect better and contribute better.
Sometimes, in the rush for more, we get confused about what better means, and how attainable it is.
If you are lucky enough to be with family today, I hope you'll get a chance to use our beloved Thanksgiving Reader around your table. It's a free PDF that you can print out and use for group readings.
And that's enough. It has to be.
It's all we've ever had.
The challenge is in realizing this and working with it, even when we're secretly hoping for something more, some external force.
You and me, kid, you and me and a few billion other folks.
We can treat each other as if it matters, because it does.
Opposite of the naysayer, of course.
This is the person who will find ten reasons why you should try something.
The one who will embrace the possibility of better.
The colleague to turn to when a reality check is necessary, because the reality is, it might work.
Are you up for it?
It snowed last night here, so it must be almost time for the holidays. Some thoughts as you think about holiday gifts for you and the people you care about:
There are fewer than 2,000 copies of my huge new collection left. The book weighs 18 pounds, it's 800 pages long and profusely illustrated. We will not be printing any more, that's all there are. All the copies are currently on container ships and on their way to our fulfillment house... orders taken now should arrive to most locations before the holidays.
My most recent original book, What To Do When It's Your Turn... is now in its fifth printing. It comes in a multi-pack, so you can have one and give one (or more) away.
I have three bestselling courses on Udemy. There is a master course on value creation, one for freelancers and a leadership course that's a fundraiser for Acumen. Learning is a great gift, of course, because it transforms people you care about. And it is sure to be the right size.
You can find a list of all my books here.
And we're getting close to my live event in New York on December 10. I hope you can come and even better, bring a colleague.
Where do conspiracy theories come from?
More than 10% of the population still believes that the moon landings were faked. (Even though we can see the landing modules with a telescope).
People make up inane theories about various cabals that are secretly controlling this or that.
In fact, the more information and leverage we each have, the more inclined the culture seems to embrace stories of puppetry, conspiracy and control.
Because it lets us off the hook.
How can you possibly be responsible if there are powerful shady forces working behind the scenes? If you're powerless, it also means you're not at fault if things don't get better.
[Of course, the world isn't fair, and there are people, powerful people, working against you. The best systems open doors, not close them. The best systems work for us, not against us. But that doesn't mean we're powerless, it only means that we have to work ever harder. Harder on the system and harder around it.]
She's been quoted a million times, but people don't really listen to the essence of Marianne Williamson's quote: "Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."
If we're actually powerful, if our voice, our effort and our contribution matter, it's time to get to work.
This is enervating. It would be so much more comforting if it were up to someone else. Whatever system we are living in or with, it would be nice if it were responsible for what happens next.
On the other hand, knowing that we can connect, publish, inspire, lead, build, describe, invent, encourage and (especially) teach, means that there's no one better than us and no time like right now.
And if it helps, go find, organize and connect with others who feel as committed as you do.
Of course it's frightening. But it's important and it's our turn.
Is it possible that you misunderstood them, or they misunderstood you?
With your client, employee, vendor, partner, or that random passerby?
The thing that just happened, it sounds terrible, and if they did it on purpose, the way it sure seems to you and to me, that would be horrible.
But before we burn down bridges and ruin everyone's day, just a quick moment to wonder, "what if there was something misunderstood?"
It's a lot easier to ask than it is to go to all the trouble of breaking things.
It's fun to imagine what we'd do if we had a magic wand, something that with a wave, could produce us the introduction, the funding, the open door, the technology, the breakthrough, the insight, the inspiration, the shortcut...
They stopped making magic wands several millennia ago.
Now that you know that there are no magic wands, a better question is probably:
What do you care enough about that you're prepared to expose yourself to fear, risk and hard work to get?
It's easy to dream of a strategy or a set of tactics that will make your forward motion feel less like an uphill slog. A perpetual motion machine of progress.
These are few and far between.
The single most important part of any project is the battery, the source of energy, the optimism and effort that turns the long shot into the sure thing, one day at a time.
Better to hire and train and seek out batteries. They're priceless.
A million things happened to you today. The second bite of your lunch. The red light on the third block of your commute...
Tomorrow, you'll remember almost none of them.
And the concept that you'd remember something that happened to you when you were twelve is ludicrous.
What actually happened was this: After it (whatever that thing you remember) happened, you started telling yourself a story about that event. You began to develop a narrative about this turning point, about the relationship with your dad or with school or with cars.
Lots of people have had similar experiences, but none of them are telling themselves quite the same story about it as you are.
Over time, the story is rehearsed. Over time, the story becomes completely different from what a videotape would show us, but it doesn't matter, because the rehearsed story is far more vivid than the video ever could be.
And so the story becomes our memory, the story gets rehearsed ever more, and the story becomes the thing we tell ourselves the next time we need to make a choice.
If your story isn't helping you, work to rehearse a new story instead.
Because it's our narrative that determines who we will become.
To watch people at work, it seems like we never have enough:
And to see them at rest, it seems as though we never have enough:
Which is why people talk about how they're always falling behind and feel like they don't have enough time.
Lots of us walk around thinking we do have enough:
I'm wondering what happens if we flip them?
Organizations are built on the work of people who don’t get paid very much, don’t receive sufficient respect and are understandably wary of the promises they’ve been hearing for years.
Calling these folks the bottom of the org chart doesn’t help.
Imagine that throughout your career you were paid as little as legally possible, the last to be hired and the first to be laid off. Imagine that the boss gets more vacation days, doesn’t have to clock in and out, and is actually given control over how he spends his time.
Why is it surprising to bosses, then, that some workers respond to this arrangement by doing as little work as possible?
Here’s the thing: people actually want to do a good job. They want to be proud of their work, they appreciate being engaged, they thrive when they have some measure of control over their day.
Too often, though, the optimistic leader meets the pessimistic front line and distrust undermines all the good intent. The boss loses patience and reverts to the test-and-measure, trust-no-one, scientific-management tradition of dehumanizing the very humans who make the whole project work.
And so, back to being mediocre. Back to high turnover, low trust, no care. Back to workers who don’t believe and bosses who are now cynics.
Mostly, back to an ordinary organization that’s like so many others.
There’s an alternative. But it’s a process, not an event.
Step 1: A commitment, from the top, that this place is going to be different. The commitment is open-ended. It involves leading and showing up and keeping promises, for months and years into the future. It’s non-cynical, and it views leadership as an opportunity, the possibility of serving customers at the very same time you inspire and enable employees.
This is going to take a long time, and it’s not going to be the cheapest path. It turns out, though, in industries where people matter (which is more and more of the work we do) that this path pays for itself eventually.
Step 2: Hire for attitude, not for learned skills. You can teach someone to do just about anything. It’s far more difficult to build an instinct to care. When you hire trustworthy people who are willing to trust you, you have an opportunity to build trust, which enables communication, which allows you to teach, which upgrades everything.
If you are in a hurry to assemble a group of people who can ‘do the work’, you will end up with folks who merely needed a job. On the other hand, if you are willing to invest in people who are enrolled in the journey you’re on, you will end up with a team.
[Corollary: Fire for attitude, fix for skills. The attitudes you put up with will become the attitudes of your entire organization. Over time, every organization becomes what is tolerated]
Step 3: Be clear in actions and words about what’s important. It doesn’t do any good to hire for attitude but only reward for short-term results. If you reward a cynic merely because he got something done, you’ve made it clear to everyone else that cynicism is okay. If you overlook the person who is hiding mistakes because his productivity is high, then you are rewarding obfuscation and stealth.
Who gets the employee of the month parking space? Who gets laid off?
People are watching you. They’re not listening to your words as much as they’re seeking to understand where the boundaries and the guard rails lie, because they’ve learned from experience that people who do what gets rewarded, get rewarded.
Hint: if you tell people something is important but fail to give them the tools and the support and the training that they need to do that important thing, you’ve just told them that it’s not actually important.
Step 4: Be clear and consistent about how we do things around here. It’s going to be a long time before people act like they own the place. After all, you own the place and you don’t even act like you do most of the time.
This job is important. It feeds my family. It pays the rent. It’s connected to my self-esteem. I will act in the interest of my family, not your invisible shareholders.
Step 5: Your problem is not their problem. The people who build the foundation of your business have plenty of things to worry about. Your narrative about your day is not one of them.
Over time, it’s reasonable to expect that an engaged and respectful working environment will lead to ever more big-picture thinking. But it’s naïve and self-defeating to expect a 20-year-old who’s been on the job for a week to make a connection between the customer who just walked in, your big wholesale account, the loan that’s due soon and the espresso he just pulled.
Every day, you’re going to be tested on these five principles. Every day, there’s going to be a moment of urgency, a shortcut presented, a confusion. And in that moment, the first principle is going to come into question.
But this is the foundation, it’s not the bottom. This is the source for all your possibility, for the change you seek to make.
Isn’t it worth it?
I've just created an intensive video course designed to help you think differently about what you make and why.
It's for marketers, founders, freelancers, fundraisers, teachers and change agents that understand that nothing works unless it works for your audience.
Intensive? Yes because unlike most video courses, you're supposed to do more than watch it. It contains just over 40 minutes of video broken into short chapters. It also comes with a workbook that's 30 pages long. Print out the workbook, watch the video, fill in the workbook, go over it with others in the Udemy community, print the workbook out again, watch the video again, go over the workbook with your team. Like most things, more input gets you more output.
From a recent review: "... approaches the problem of value creation in such a new way that I've already had many 'aha'-moments. And I'm only partway through the course!"
If you do the work, you'll start to see things differently.
The course is $95, but blog readers doing important work can get it for half price by using this link.
It comes with a money-back guarantee and I hope you will check out a few of the lessons before you enroll.
And if you're a freelancer, I hope you'll check out this course as well. It's one of the most popular courses on Udemy, because it works.
"Sorry" doesn't mean you caused the pain. It merely means that you see it, that you've felt pain before in your life as well, that you are open to a connection.
Our ability to bring people along is critical because we're playing a long game, even an infinite one. Back and forth, day by day, with many of the same people. One day, it will be reversed, and a classmate or co-worker or competitor will be the one that can listen and care about the pain. A pain that might feel very similar.
Gloating or silence closes the door. Empathy, on the other hand, and the action of speech, of moderation, of connection, can change everything. And if it hasn't been present before, it can start right now.
"I see you. I'm sorry for what you're feeling. How can I help?"
It almost doesn't matter what the question is, really.
Everyone is an independent actor, now more than ever, with access to information, to tools, to the leverage to make a difference.
Instead of being a cog merely waiting for instructions, we get to make decisions and take action based on what we know and what we believe.
Change what you know, change what you believe, and you change the actions. Learn to see, to understand, to have patience, and you learn to be the kind of person who can make a difference.
Formal education is a foundation, but lifelong, informal education can transform our lives.
And informal education scales. It spreads more easily than ever before. Educated people create other educated people. The standards go up when education is present, because the cost of being the least educated person in your tribe is high.
Ignorance, on the other hand, can spread as well. When the cultural dynamic in your circle is that ignorance is prized, it will pull others down and lead to more ignorance.
We can learn techniques, sure, but also empathy, curiosity and patience.
Arguing is futile, because arguing presumes that we can use force of will to change minds. And force begets force. Education, on the other hand, involves enrollment, and volunteers in search of answers can learn quickly.
The path forward, it seems, is to connect. To earn enrollment in having others join you in a journey of education. If you can teach something, find someone who will benefit and teach them. And if you can connect and make education accessible, it creates a new standard for the people you care about.
[Heads up: The last day for early-bird discount tickets to my only-time-this-year live seminar in NY is tomorrow. I hope you can join us... we're gathering the tribe for a much needed chance to connect in person. It will be eye-opening, affirming and perhaps game-changing for those who can join us.]
Is there anything more difficult?
Showing up day after day, week after week, sometimes for years, as your movement slowly gains steam, as your organization hits speed bumps, as the news goes from bad to worse...
Showing up, it turns out, is the hardest part of making a difference.
Make a list of the organizations and voices and movements that have made a difference. How old are they? How long have they been at it?
Creating impact, building something of substance, changing the culture... this is the work of a lifetime, not merely a fun project.
It's not easy, but I have a feeling you're up for it. Because it matters.
Fill in the missing number:
π, 1, __, 3, 11, 15, 13, 17
Some people, when confronted with an artificial problem like this, simply throw up their hands. It's a trick, it's a waste of time, there's really no value in it.
Some people look for the quick insight, the fact that there's an irrational number, that the string doesn't go on forever, etc. But they usually get stuck.
Some people are only interested in the answer, and are eager to argue that it should be zero, not four, while others would point out that zero isn't necessarily a natural number, and on and on, merely as a way from hiding from the entire point of the lesson.
The real lesson happens once we realize the metaphor that's available to each of us: Things don't need to be artificial to be puzzles. In fact, if you're willing to be disappointed in your search for the right answer, just about every situation is a puzzle, a place where an insight might be found.
Artificial puzzles like this one generally guarantee a right answer exists. The challenge of the natural puzzle is that you eagerly accept that maybe, there's no good solution.
If you don't like the puzzle you've got, pick a different one. We're never going to run out of puzzles.
Our human interactions, the scarcity around us, the opportunities we all have—they're puzzles. They are invitations to find a new way to do something, a beneficial shortcut, a connection in an economy based on connections.
But first, you have to see.
[PS time to start planning for Thanksgiving.]
Sometimes, the wind is at our back, the resources are easily acquired and good karma increases our ability to do great work.
Other times, it feels like we're up against it, that the wind has shifted, that there's not a lot of opportunity or momentum.
It's in those times that, "what are you working on?" becomes a vital question, a lifeline to get us from here to there.
Trainwrecks, tantrums, massive shifts in the way things are and are supposed to be--they make it difficult to concentrate, to plan, to leap...
We each have a platform, access to tools, a change we'd like to make in the world around us. We each have a chance to connect, to see, to lead.
And it's not, at least right now, fun or easy. It might not even seem like you've got a shot, or that the wind is too harsh.
Persist. It matters.
When we're sure it's not going to work, when we can't figure out where to turn, when we don't know what to do next...
Sometimes, our ability to do the best we can in small ways is enough to start moving forward. And when it doesn't work, we try something else.
Enough small things by enough people coalesce into the next big thing.
Care a little more.
Tell the truth.
Seek the truth behind the story.
Ask the difficult question.
Lend a hand.
Dance with fear.
Play the long game.
Say 'no' to hate.
Look for opportunities, especially when it seems like there aren't any left.
Risk a bigger dream.
Take care of the little guy.
Offer a personal insight.
Build something magical.
Keep your promises.
Do work that matters.
Sign your work.
Be generous for no reason.
Give the benefit of the doubt.
Make your mom proud.
Play by a better set of rules.
Choose your customers.
Choose your reputation.
Choose your future.
Thank the ref.
Because we can.
It really is up to us. Which is great, because we're capable of changing everything if we choose.
All we can do is all we can do, but maybe, all we can do is enough.
This thing you're making...
This day you're spending at work...
This interaction you're having...
Is it merely the next one in a long string of next ones, good enough to get you through?
Or is it special enough to be the last one? The one you're remembered by...
The easiest way to win an election is to get the people who might vote for your opponent to not vote.
TV has proven an effective engine behind this strategy, and the growth in voter turnout has slowed since campaigns began running significant TV campaigns 50 years ago. [This year's turnout was the lowest since 2000].
It works because it's not that difficult to talk someone out of voting.
The two most common unstated reasons for not voting are:
"I don't want to vote for the person who loses, because I'll feel badly having wasted my vote and being associated with the unpopular outcome."
"I don't want to vote for the person who wins, because then I'll be partly responsible for whatever happens."
A popular rationale to justify either of these reasons is:
"I don't like either candidate, they're both terrible."
The thing is, there has never been a perfect leader. There has never been a flawless president. There are always weaknesses, foibles and scandals. It takes more than a hundred years before the patina sets in, and even then, most great leaders throughout history had defects that would cause them to wither under today's profit-minded, scandal-focused media.
Same thing for the charities we donate to (or don't), the heroes and mentors we revere, the organizations we're proud to be a part of.
Change is always rough around the edges. It has no right answers, no ideal keys that unlock the future. But risky schemes are always risky.
The media, with our complicity, has created a game where we end up disillusioned and disgusted. But it's only the disillusioned and the disgusted voters who are capable of raising the bar in the long run.
Vote as if you're responsible, because you are, especially if you don't vote.
Vote as if it's not anonymous, knowing that you'll have to explain it to your grandchildren.
Work for justice. Progress is possible. It matters.
When a stranger treats you poorly, tries to rip you off, brings discourtesy instead of respect
...how do you treat the next stranger?
Paying bad behavior forward hurts.
Every website your organization puts up is going to reach a moment when it is obsolete, out of date or buggy.
How will you know?
And what will you do about it?
Big organizations have this problem every day. When building a website, the hierarchy pays attention. There are meetings and approvals, and it all fits together in the current strategy.
But a year or a decade later, those folks have moved on, but the website remains. And it's unlikely that there's someone checking it for bad behavior.
So there's the Fedex database that sends customers to a drop box that doesn't accept packages any longer. Or the part of the Brother website that requires users to change their password every single time they visit. I'm sure I have pages out there on the web that are out of date or buggy as well. It's inevitable.
Here are two simple questions that ought to be part of any online launch:
Stick around long enough and it's going to break. We come out ahead when we treat that event like part of our job, not a random emergency.
Have you noticed that authors often happily recommend books by other authors (even though an MBA might call them competitors)?
Not only that, but books sell best in the bookstore, right next to the other books.
It would be a stunning surprise if Tim Cook wrote a blurb for a Samsung phone. They live in a zero-sum universe, assuming that everyone is likely to only buy one or the other.
But for the rest of us, in most industries, it turns out that the real competition is inaction. Few markets have expanded to include everyone, and most of those markets (like books and music) have offerings where people buy more than one.
This means that if there's more good stuff, more people enter the market, the culture gets better, more good work is produced and enjoyed, more people enter the market, and on and on.
So encouraging and promoting the work of your fellow artists, writers, tweeters, designers, singers, painters, speakers, instigators and leaders isn't just the right thing to do, it's smart as well.
Ignorance—We're too busy doing our jobs to notice that.
Dismissal—That? It's trivial. Kids.
Nervousness—Let's take a look at what they're up to, benchmark it, buy a research report... Bob, can you handle this?
Poor Copies—See, I told you it was no big deal. Our new model is almost the same.
Admiration—Wow, look at them go. Every once in awhile, someone comes up with something special. Good for them.
Special case—Of course, this won't effect our core business. It's working really well here because that's unique.
Superman—Holy smokes. Who is this guy?
Catastrophe/Doomsday—Run for your lives. It's over. Over forever and ever.
[Today's example of how it plays out: Newspapers.]
Bean to bar dark chocolate is a revelation. It's got the terroir and backstory of the finest wines, it's a collision of rural farmers and modern technology and markets similar to coffee, and it also brings along the Proustian nostalgia of childhood.
Too many of us have been stuck in a Nestle/Hershey universe for too long. And if your early collisions with dark chocolate aren't positive, it's easy to decide it's not worth the trouble or expense.
[I get at least 10 servings out of a $10 bar, though, so it's hard for it to feel like a ridiculously expensive luxury. If you skip an espresso...]
Here, in no real order, are my favorite brands, all good to start with, all great to stick with. Every one is made by a human, who cares, someone you could meet, engage with and root for.
A few simple understandings and principles:
The percentage matters, in the sense that chocolate that is between 70% and 90% dark is a Platonic ideal of flavor. I avoid flavoring agents like candies, seeds or salt, because what I'm trying to taste is the bean and what the maker has done to bring it to life.
The kind of bean matters. Forastero beans are cheap, easy to grow and not particularly worth seeking out (with a few exceptions). On the other hand, Criollo (particularly the wonderful rare Porcelana hybrid which you can find from Soma and Original Beans) is a party in your mouth--but, alas, the hardest to grow. It's always that way, isn't it? And Trinitario beans are the backbone of this hobby.
The country matters. Yes, with practice, it's actually easy to tell the difference between Madagascar and Colombia.
And finally, the farmer's relationship with the grower matters a lot. Askinosie imports their own beans, and does amazing work with the farmers who work so hard to grow them.
Enjoy. Halloween doesn't have to mean bad chocolate any more! And don't even get me started on candy corn.
It says that people don't understand polls. Even smart marketers get it wrong.
What do people think? There's a lot of confusion, much of it intentional, some spawned by a presumed fear of simple math, all of it worth clearing up.
A survey is not a poll is not a census. A census is what you get if you ask every single person what they think or who they are. There are only two reasons to have a census. Either you want each person to feel personally involved (hence an election) or you are keeping track of each person's answer. For example, if you're printing up t-shirts for the Frisbee team, you ought to do a census of the team to find out what size each person wants, then deliver each person the size they seek.
You could do a survey, which is merely a collection of answers from whomever cares enough to answer the survey. A survey is a useful tool for brainstorming, but it shouldn't be confused with what the group actually feels. Your lack of rigor in setting it up is repaid in a lack of precision in the data.
And a poll? A poll is a smart shortcut, a statistical method for replacing a census (asking everyone) with a very close approximation achieved by asking the minimum number of people required to get a useful answer. A properly done poll will get you an answer nearly as useful as an accurate census will, without the expense or the time.
It rarely makes sense to ask all of your customers about how they feel. You're wasting their time (and yours) by adding more entries into the database without those entries actually making the database any more accurate—part of the problem is that the only people who answer surveys are annoyed or have nothing better to do, and simply making a poll bigger doesn't make it better.
When big companies ask you to fill out a quick survey after talking to a customer service rep, they're not actually doing a survey. What they're doing is snooping on their customer service people, and your answers are directly connected back to each rep, so that person can be scolded (or worse) if they do a bad job.
A poll doesn't predict the future. The media has completely missed this point, again and again. If, on the day the iPhone was announced, you had done a well-designed poll of adults and asked, "Do you intend to ever buy a smartphone?" the yesses would have certainly been less than 5% of the result.
Of course, a decade later, that's turned out to be completely wrong. Was the poll in error?
An accurate poll is a snapshot of right now, based on what's happening today. That's all. If outcomes end up being different a week or a year later, that's not the poll's fault, it's our mistaken belief that the future can be predicted.
To go one step further, the question that gets asked is as important as the answer. Try this at home: When you ask people a question, they rarely give you the straight up truth in their answer, especially when there are social factors at play. The very best polls combine not only the right math, but more important, the right question structure.
The magic of sample size. Let's say you had a bag of M&Ms. You know they come in six colors and you want to figure out the percentage of each that's in the bag. As long as the candies are distributed within the bag, it turns out that no matter how many are in the bag, whether it's a 2 pound bag or a 2,000 pound bag, all you need to do is randomly pull out 300 to 400 M&Ms. That's plenty. More samples won't dramatically increase the quality of this poll.
The purpose of the sample is to pick a random selection from a coherent group.
The key to this is understanding that sample size is relevant for any sized group that's consistent in its makeup. As soon as you can divide the group into buckets, you benefit by doing multiple samples.
Most of the well-done polls you hear about in public do not have a sample size problem. It's a red herring.
The power of bucketing. But what happens if you realize that there are more than one kind of M&Ms, and that different kinds have different color distributions? (This, it turns out, for mysterious reasons, is true. Almond M&Ms only come in five colors).
Well, you could take this into account and run much bigger sample groups, or you could get smart about sample size.
It turns out, for example, that women who ride Harley Davidson motorcycles want different things from them than men do. It also turns out that (I'm guessing about all the Harley stats here) perhaps 10% of the people who buy a Harley are women.
Given that, you could poll 300 women (the easy minimum) and then 2700 men (so you get the balance right). OR, you could get smart, and poll 300 women and 300 men (because every time you add a new person, it's really expensive). "But wait," you might say, "that's not right, because women are overrepresented."
So far, that's true. But after you figure out how women think, and then figure out how men think, you can weight the men's results in your final tally. If, for example, you discovered that women intend to buy a new Harley every two years, but men intend to buy one every six years, you could then report back that the average customer intends to buy a new Harley every five and a half years or so. (Said with full knowledge that it's dangerous to average averages, but in this case, it's correct.)
Confusion about polls is easy. And the more we try to make decisions using polls, the more careful we need to be about the structure and motivation of the poll itself.
But finding an accurate poll is pretty easy as well. Most pollsters (in private and in public work) are transparent about their methods, and the magic of statistics is that the math of how the poll is structured can be checked by others.
Too often, marketers do surveys, not polls, or bother everyone with a census, poorly done. Worse, they then use these results as an accurate prediction of the future, instead of a reliable snapshot of now.
It's the surveys that are so often wrong, deceptive and confusing. It's surveys ("no one I know believes that") that feel like they're accurate but rarely are.
And if we're going to challenge a poll, far smarter to challenge the questions ("that's designed to get the respondent to lie") or the flaws in sampling ("this requires all polled individuals to have a home phone, but of course, an entire generation of young people don't have one.")
But it makes no sense at all to throw out the results of polls we disagree with. The quality of the cars we drive, the efficacy of the medicines we take are all directly related to the very same statistical techniques that we use to run a poll. Ask the right questions to the right people and your snapshot is going to be helpful.
If you want to, be wary of polls. But be wary for the right reasons.
In any given meeting, on any given day, most people are merely showing up.
It's the 50th time he's performed that sonata. The guy in the outfield had a hard day at home before the game. The folks in the meeting are realizing that it's yet another meeting in a long series of meetings, and wondering if it much matters anyway.
Every once in awhile, though, someone is on their toes. This cocktail party is a big deal, he thinks, because he's going to meet that agent that could change everything. It's the key presentation before launch. This performance in Carnegie Hall is... well... it's Carnegie Hall.
We can't be on our toes all the time. It's too exhausting, and we can't keep it up.
But what happens if we decide, everyone in this room, right here and right now, at least for a little while, that we'll act as if it's the first time, or the last time, or our best shot?
What would happen if we all got on our toes, together? Just for a little while?
That's when big things happen.
Professional wrestling is fake.
The blood is fake, the lack of physics is fake, the arguing with the ref is fake, the rivalries are fake... it might be professional, but it's not real.
This willful disregard for reality is at the heart of pro wrestling. It's a juvenile fantasy, come to life. An opportunity to make up the rules, ignore authority, and exert bullying force on others, merely because you can.
So why is Billy Corgan (of Smashing Pumpkins) one of the most successful musicians of our generation, running a pro wrestling organization?
He says it's because it's one of the last transgressive arenas left. That it's a morality play, a microcosm of the human condition, a chance to put on a show that highlights our fears and our avarice. He knows that it's fake, authenticity is a foreign concept in this world.
And what lesson can we learn from politics importing pro wrestling's mindset? Once you see it, you can't unsee the connection. Worth noting that one of the key narratives of pro wrestling is the fake within the fake--someone is always claiming that the outcome is rigged. (In wrestling, of course, it is rigged. And so is the complaining.)
Pro wrestling works as a play and a medium because the people who are part of it realize that it's fake.
It turns out that modern media is a perfect match for the pro-wrestling approach. You can put on a show, with your own media, as often as you like. And that show is, to many, remarkable, and so it spreads.
And there lies the danger, the opportunity for pro-wrestling thinking to corrupt our society: When the fans, or worse, the participants, don't realize that it's fake.
In real life, the laws of physics actually work. In real life, blood feuds rarely end well. In real life, accepting the ref's decisions is the only way to have civilization...
The filter bubble creates an echo chamber, and reality stars are pushed to be more like cartoonish pro wrestlers and less like responsible human beings. If it bleeds, it leads.
You probably work with people who are living in their own pro wrestling universe. These are people who are so in love with their version of reality and their goals that they view the real world as an affront, an intrusion on the way they insist things turn out.
Reality remains our common ground, the best one we have to work with.
There's the filter bubble of the internet, in which we willingly surround ourselves only with information sources with which we agree, soon coming to the conclusion that everyone agrees with us.
The other kind is the filter we can choose to build to avoid falling into a rabbit hole of wasted time, misogyny and dissatisfaction. This is to avoid the endless clicking, the hateful comments, the mind-numbing noise of the net.
Here's a hint: The first kind of filter is easy to build and satisfying in the short run. It's reassuring to believe we're right.
The second kind, the one that builds a foundation for us to do better work, is always under attack from within and without, and it's tempting to stop using it. Tempting to give up, but ultimately worth the effort.
The easier the filter is to build, the less it's worth.
...is to get promoted.
And the best way to get promoted is to learn something new and get good at it. Take a course. Learn to sell. Public speaking. Statistics. Become the person that your organization wants in a bigger role. You can accelerate that process with deliberate learning and practice.
Smart companies will pay for it if you ask. After all, it's a high-return investment in the very people who do the work. Organizations have learned that it is significantly cheaper to grow their people than it is to hire pre-grown people from outside.
Many companies that offer tuition reimbursement are frustrated that employees rarely ask for it. Bosses realize how useful this investment is, they're just waiting for you to take them up on it.
It might feel awkward to ask your boss if you can take a course (after all, employees are supposed to be perfect, right?) but in fact, one of the biggest insights that growing companies have is that they're only as good as their smartest people.
And their best people realize that getting smarter is the only way to avoid falling behind...
Just in time for Halloween, some thoughts on our fear of the other, the people in the shadows, or merely those that don't look like us.
It's tempting to rile yourself up about the 'other'.
But that's not the real challenge.
The challenge is inside. It's the self-sabotage. The projects not shipped, the hugs not given, the art not made.
The real boogeyman isn't the other. The one we're afraid of is with us all the time.
Irritation is a privilege.
It's the least useful emotion, one that we never seek out.
People in true distress are never irritated. Someone who is hungry or drowning or fleeing doesn't become irritated.
And of course, irritation rarely helps us get what we need.
Irritation clouds our judgment, frustrates our relationships and gets our priorities all wrong.
Irritation tries to persuade us that it's justified, but it merely pushes us away from what we actually need.
In order to be irritated, we need to believe we're not getting something we deserve. But of course, that expectation is the cause of the irritation. We can choose to lose the expectation, embracing the fact that we're lucky enough to feel it, and then get back to work doing something generous instead.
It turns out that irritation is a privilege and irritation is a choice.