That's the key insight of the peer-to-peer connection economy.
Anyone can reach out, anyone can lead, anyone can pick someone else.
But if you wait for anyone, it's unlikely to happen.
It begins with you.
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.
That's the key insight of the peer-to-peer connection economy.
Anyone can reach out, anyone can lead, anyone can pick someone else.
But if you wait for anyone, it's unlikely to happen.
It begins with you.
Is that a habit?
If your instinct is to publish, to share, to instruct, to give away, to engage and to put it into the world, then 'save as draft' is a rare thing.
On the other hand, if you find yourself noodling then putting aside, waiting for perfect, you're on track to be waiting for a very long time.
[Tomorrow, Thursday April 27 is the first priority deadline for the next session of the altMBA. This is an intensive 30-day workshop that creates the habit of shipping. We help people learn to see, to take action, to make decisions and to cause change to happen. It might just be for you.]
Six missions after Apollo 11 amazed the world by going to the moon, Apollo 17 was the last trip.
It fell off the cultural radar. Flying to the moon, driving around and getting back safely wasn't interesting enough, apparently.
And the miracle of the internet, which connects billions of people, instantly, is something we all take for granted after less than a generation.
Is it any wonder that your magnificent Facebook post or clever tweet isn't racking up ever more likes?
This is a significant bug in our culture and a glitch in our DNA.
When we're on the spot, giving a speech, or pulled over by a cop, we get nervous.
We sweat, talk too fast, constrict our throat, avoid eye contact, put on a half smile and do many of the things that people often associate with lying.
At the same time, because the con man (who might also be a politician or CEO) has figured out how to avoid these telltale signs, we give them the benefit of the doubt and they lie with impunity.
If you have good intentions, you have two options: You can either avoid getting nervous (which comes with practice) or you can work on the most obvious symptoms you display, intentionally diminishing them. Actors are better on screen than the rare famous person doing a cameo because the actors have been taught how to read their lines without all the telltale signs of lying. (Of course, reading lines is lying...)
If you're using a microphone, use it. No need to brace your body to shout. Talk more slowly. Intentionally make eye contact...
And don't lie. But you knew that part.
You shouldn't have to practice appearing to be truthful when you're being truthful. But you do. Because we're humans and we're judging you.
To countless teenagers who had the wrong teacher in high school, it means, "a boring collection of right answers, categorized by topic."
Once we discover that some things we were taught aren't black and white any more (Pluto, DDT, infant formula), it's not surprising that people begin to go from bored to skeptical. About all of it.
Except that's not what science is.
Science is a process. It's not pretending it has the right answer, it merely has the best process to get closer to that right answer. Science is an ongoing argument, one where you show your work and make a prediction about what's going to happen next.
And you're not allowed to have magical faeries. Not allowed to change the explanation based on what just happened. You must begin again, from first principles, and make a new argument, and show new work, and make a better prediction.
Science isn't only done in the lab. Every one of us does it at work, daily.
Science isn't something to believe or not believe. It's something to do.
... is before it's given.
The best time to campaign is before the election.
And the best time to keep a customer is before he leaves.
We get what we invest in. The time we spend comes back, with interest.
If you practice five minutes of new, difficult banjo music every day, you'll become a better banjo player. If you spend a little bit more time each day whining or feeling ashamed, that behavior will become part of you. The words you type, the people you hang with, the media you consume...
The difference between who you are now and who you were five years ago is largely due to how you've spent your time along the way.
The habits we groove become who we are, one minute at a time. A small thing, repeated, is not a small thing.
[And the same thing is true for brands, organizations and movements.]
It's easy to say that, "the industry is to blame," or "the industry doesn't understand this."
But because no one is charge, because there's no coherent enforcement method, this is merely a shorthand. There is no industry, no economy, no market. Only people.
And people, people can take action if they care.
One clue that someone doesn't understand a problem is that they need a large number of variables and factors to explain it.
On the other hand, turning a complex situation into something overly simple is an even more common way of demonstrating ignorance of how the system works.
What we're looking for isn't the number of countable variables. It's the clarity of thought. The coherence of the explanation. The ability to have that explanation hold water even if small inputs change. The explanation might be long, but it makes sense.
Too often, the overly simplistic explanation is just a form of hand waving. We beg the question because we mention the simple explanation plus the miracle. It's the miracle, the homunculus, the little man in the machine, that actually holds the answer, and punting on explaining it is lazy. We use magic to kick the explanation down the road, making it not simple, but obtuse.
[Examples: Magical faeries. Conspiracy theories. Science denialism. Simplistic views of marketing or culture...]
A useful description is one that can be tested, expanded and makes accurate predictions. A lazy one just makes us feel better until we actually have to engage with the system in a useful way.
It's entirely possible that you're trying to work with a complicated system, one that can't be boiled down to a simple catch phrase. That's okay. Clarity is still possible.
If you've committed to only working in systems that are simple enough to be explained in sixty seconds on cable news, you've opted out of making the impact you're capable of.
You can be good at Twitter in about five minutes a day. Spending ten minutes doesn't make you twice as good... in fact, there's probably little measurable improvement. To be great at Twitter might take five hours of daily effort.
All the time in between five minutes and five hours is wasted. You're in a chasm with no measurable benefits.
We see the same thing happen with your Yellow Pages ads or your customer service. Showing up takes some effort and it often pays off. Showing up a bunch more is often worthless. If you want to truly be great, you're going to have to do things most people couldn't imagine. That's what makes it great, after all. The scarcity of it.
This is the underpinning of the Dip. Don't get caught doing more than you need to but less than you want to.
A quick look at Yelp reviews will show you that NY restaurants are not quite as good as those in some suburbs.
This, of course, makes no sense. New York is insanely competitive, with a ton of turnover and a very demanding audience. A fast casual restaurant in Shaker Heights can coast for a long time, because... it's better than the alternatives.
Thanks to marketing, the media and our culture, we spend a lot of our time comparing before we decide whether or not we're happy.
Turn back the clock just 60 years. If you lived in 1957, how would your life compare to the one you live right now? Well, you have access to lifesaving medicines, often in pill form. You can choose from an infinite amount of entertainment, you can connect with humans all over the Earth, for free, at the click of a button. You have access to the sum total of human knowledge. You have control over your reproductive cycle. You can eat sushi (you've even heard of sushi). You can express yourself in a thousand ways that were forbidden then...
That's in one lifetime.
But we don't compare our lives to this imaginary juxtaposition. Instead, we hear two things from the media we choose to engage with: Other people have it better, way better. And, it's going to get worse. Add to that the idea that marketers want us to believe that what we have now isn't that good, but if we merely choose to go into a bit of debt, we can buy our way to a better outcome...
Comparison leads to frustration which sometimes leads to innovation.
More often than not, though, frustration doesn't make us happy. It only makes us frustrated.
If a comparison isn't helping you get to where you're going, it's okay to ignore it.
You might need help to turn an idea into a project.
Most of the time, though, project developers walk up to those that might help and say, "I have a glimmer of an idea, will you help me?"
The challenge: It's too challenging. Open-ended. To offer to help means to take on too much. And of course people are hesitant to sign on for an unlimited obligation to help with something that's important to you, not to them.
Consider the bingo method instead.
Build a 5 x 5 grid. 25 squares. Twenty-five elements that have to be present for your project to have a chance. If it's a fundraising concert, one of the grids might be, "find a theater that will host us for less than $1,000."
Here's the key: Fill in most of the grids before you ask someone for generous help. When nine or twelve of the squares are marked, "done," and when another six are marked, "in process," then the ask is a lot smaller.
A glimpse at your bingo card indicates that you understand the problem, that you've highlighted the difficult parts and that you've found the resources and the knowledge necessary to complete most of it.
You've just asked a much easier question.
Are there any other options for people who seek to innovate?
Sort by price is the dominant way that shopping online now happens. The cheapest airline ticket or widget or freelancer comes up first, and most people click.
It's a great shortcut for a programmer, of course, because the price is a number, and it's easy to sort.
Alphabetical could work even more easily, but it seems less relevant (especially if you're a fan of Zappos or Zima).
The problem: Just because it's easy, it doesn't mean it's as useful as it appears.
It's lazy for the consumer. If you can't take the time to learn about your options, about quality, about side effects, then it seems like buying the cheapest is the way to go--they're all the same anyway, we think.
And it's easy for the producer. Nothing is easier to improve than price. It takes no nuance, no long-term thinking, no concern about externalities. Just become more brutal with your suppliers and customers, and cut every corner you can. And then blame the system.
The merchandisers and buyers at Wal-Mart were lazy. They didn't have to spend much time figuring out if something was better, they were merely focused on price, regardless of what it cost their community in the long run.
We're part of that system, and if we're not happy with the way we're treated, we ought to think about the system we've permitted to drive those changes.
What would happen if we insisted on 'sort by delight' instead?
What if the airline search engines returned results sorted by a (certainly difficult) score that combined travel time, aircraft quality, reliability, customer service, price and a few other factors? How would that change the experience of flying?
This extends far beyond air travel. We understand that it makes no sense to hire someone merely because they charge the cheapest wage. That we shouldn't pick a book or a movie or a restaurant simply because it costs the least.
There are differences, and sometimes, those differences are worth what they cost.
'Worth it' is a fine goal.
What if, before we rushed to sort at all, we decided what was worth sorting for?
Low price is the last refuge of the marketer who doesn't care enough to build something worth paying for.
In your experience, how often is the cheapest choice the best choice?
[PS new dates now posted for the altMBA. ]
When something goes wrong, how do you respond?
When you own assets, when your position feels secure, when you're playing the long game, a bump in the road is just that. "Well, that was interesting." You can learn from it, and the professional realizes that freaking out pays little benefit.
On the other hand, the middleman, the person who realizes just how easily he can be replaced, the person who can't stop playing the short game... well, he realizes that it's all sort of a house of cards, and often indulges in the urge to freak out, disgorging panic and fear and even hatred on the person that's easy to blame.
The thing is, thin ice doesn't give you a lot of leverage, and thin ice can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The first step for the agent, the middle manager, the hanger-on is to invest in the long term, to find an arc that actually builds an asset that lasts.
And the second is to act 'as if'. All that panic doesn't pay off. It merely makes it more likely that the people you need to earn trust with will do precisely the opposite.
You can disdain gravity all you want, call out its unfairness, seek to have it banned.
But that's not going to help you build an airplane.
If you watch a well-directed film with the sound turned off, you'll get a lot out of it. On the other hand, it takes practice to read a screenplay and truly understand it.
It's worth remembering that we lived in tribes for millennia, long before we learned how to speak. Emotional connection is our default. We only added words and symbolic logic much later.
There are a few places where all that matters is the words. Where the force of logic is sufficient to change the moment.
The rest of the time, which is almost all the time, the real issues are trust, status, culture, pheromones, peer pressure, urgency and the energy in the room.
It probably pays to know which kind of discussion you're having.
A large, freshly-paved parking lot has no boundaries. You can drive in any direction, free to speed to your destination.
But once there's more than a few cars driving, traffic stops. It's too risky, there are too many uncertainties. A car could come at you from any direction, and so we crawl.
Flow is far more efficient, and flow comes from well-placed guardrails and intelligently painted lines. Flow only happens when the guardrails are universally accepted, when we can find the confidence to drive just a bit faster than our eyes can see.
One opportunity to make progress presents itself when it's possible to move a guardrail, to show the others a better route.
The other leap occurs when we realize that we've been imagining a guardrail, one that's been causing us to detour when in fact it's not actually there. We're obeying invisible guardrails when it doesn't benefit the others. Ignoring these self-erected guardrails permits us to contribute more than we thought possible.
Easter Island was the home to a thriving community, thousands of people living good lives.
One by one, though, the trees on this isolated island were cut down. They were cut down for fuel, or to make tools, or boats.
And finally, the last tree was gone. And the population went extinct.
My question, though, isn't really about the last tree. It's about the second-to-last tree.
When someone cut it down, how did the community react? Were they afraid to speak up? Was it made clear that the social and societal costs of cutting down a tree were severe, so severe that no one would even contemplate cutting down the last tree?
And maybe they could have started this cultural norm with the third-to-last tree. Or even sooner.
Culture is the most powerful tool we have to change behavior. All around us we see people selfishly taking from the commons, eroding our standards, chopping down trees (real and metaphorical) we depend on.
What will we say the next time someone comes with an axe?
People talk about bike riding when they want to remind us that some things, once learned, are not forgotten.
What they don't mention is how we learned. No one learns to ride a bike from a book, or even a video.
You learn by doing it.
Actually, by not doing it. You learn by doing it wrong, by falling off, by getting back on, by doing it again.
PS this approach works for lots of things, not just bikes. Most things, in fact.
Cooks know that a sharp knife is less likely to cause injury, because it goes where you point it. It does what you tell it to do, which means you can focus on what you want the outcome to be.
The challenge of a sharp knife is that it puts ever more responsibility on the person who uses it. It will do what you tell it do, so tell it well.
More opportunities come knocking than we know what to do with.
They often come enshrouded with hassle, perceived risk and the need to overcome inertia. It's easier to just say no.
And so no becomes the default, a habit, it's easier than discernment.
Do you and your organization have a method to sort the opportunities out?
In emergency rooms, they put people into three groups: Gonna die no matter what, going to be okay if we help them eventually, and needs help right this moment. By prioritizing where to focus, they serve the patients who can benefit the most.
What happens if instead of ignoring opportunity, you triage it?
“This is all the pie I received, but that’s okay.”
“I have a small piece of pie, but others have an even smaller piece, so I’m sharing mine.”
“I want all the pie.”
“I don’t want all the pie, just your piece.”
“The pie isn’t big enough for all of us, I’m going to work to make it bigger.”
“I have the biggest piece of pie, want to see?”
“I have the biggest piece of pie, but that’s not enough, so I’m going to work hard to take some of yours.”
“If I can’t have a big enough piece of pie, I’m going to put my fist through the entire thing and no one gets any pie.”
“If I delay gratification and wait a bit, my piece of pie will be bigger.”
“Bob has a bigger piece of pie than I do, so I’m going to go deep into debt so I can buy more pie.”
“If we eat less pie now and invest it, we can have more pie later.”
“The only fair thing to do is give everyone an equally sized piece of pie.”
“I can’t possibly eat all the pie I’ve got, but I refuse on principle to share the rest.”
“Apple? I hate apple. Why can’t we have blueberry?”
“I’m able to skirt the rules and end up with two pieces of pie when everyone is only supposed to get one.”
“No matter how much pie there is, it’s not enough, and we should risk the pie to make more pie.”
“Whoever is responsible for allocating pie is a crook, destroy the pie allocators!”
“More pie now is way better than the promise of some pie later.”
“Pie? I don’t eat pie.”
Predict the weather
Read an X-ray
Figure out the P&L of a large company
Pick a face out of a crowd
Fly a jet across the country
Maintain the temperature of your house
Book a flight
Create an index for a book
Weld a metal seam
Place online ads
Figure out what book to read next
Water a plant
Monitor a premature newborn
Detect a fire
Read documents in a lawsuit
If you've seen enough movies, you've probably bought into the homunculus model of AI--that it's in the future and it represents a little mechanical man in a box, as mysterious in his motivations as we are.
The future of AI is probably a lot like the past: it nibbles. Artificial intelligence does a job we weren't necessarily crazy about doing anyway, it does it quietly, and well, and then we take it for granted. No one complained when their thermostat took over the job of building a fire, opening the grate, opening a window, rebuilding a fire. And no one complained when the computer found 100 flights faster and better than we ever could.
But the system doesn't get tired, it keeps nibbling. Not with benign or mal intent, but with a focus on a clearly defined task.
This can't help but lead to unintended consequences, enormous when they happen to you, and mostly small in the universal scheme of things. Technology destroys the perfect and then it enables the impossible.
The question each of us has to ask is simple (but difficult): What can I become quite good at that's really difficult for a computer to do one day soon? How can I become so resilient, so human and such a linchpin that shifts in technology won't be able to catch up?
It was always important, but now it's urgent.
There are very few fences that can stop a determined person (or dog, for that matter).
Most of the time, the fence is merely a visual reminder that we're rewarded for complying.
If you care enough, ignore the fence. It's mostly in your head.
Everyone asks themselves this question.
And everyone looks for different clues and cues to answer it.
It's primordial. We've been doing it for millions of years, because nothing is more important to our survival.
The thing is, almost no one decides the answer to the trustworthy question based on the fine print, your policies, your positions on critical issues of national importance.
We decide long, long before that.
People watch what you do. They watch with the sound off. They listen to others. They seek out clues of the tiniest sort.
Reminder: We were in tribes for a very long time before we even developed language.
Waking up a sleeping bear is difficult.
People hibernate too.
But it turns out that once activated, people do far more in a short time than you might expect. And so, the week before Christmas sees an insane amount of shopping. The weeks before a big election see a significant amount of attention paid. The final days of a Kickstarter lead people to action.
If you wait until a marketer tells you it's time to get out of your comfort zone, you've just handed over your freedom and agency to someone who might not care about the things you care about.
Far more powerful to develop the power to get out of our hibernation, on our own timetable, on a regular basis.
It's no one's day but yours.
We have a holiday for it, but no good words. Belief in disbelief. The asymmetry between incredulity and credulity. The fact that too often we believe in the wrong stuff, follow the wrong leader and take the wrong medicine.
In just a few decades, we've managed to wreck April Fools as a useful holiday. The stakes are just too high.
For a long time, we've been easily fooled by patent medicines. Snake oil was a real thing. People used electricity in the wrong places for the wrong illnesses. We swallow silver, see a faith healer and spend all our money for a small bag of magic beans. At the same time, we hesitate to see the doctor, don't talk to her when we do, and fill prescriptions but don't take them when we get home. We're skeptical about vaccines but eagerly line up for oxygenated water...
We believe, but in the wrong things.
When someone tells us a certain kind of person is dangerous, we're too eager to believe our xenophobic instincts. We work ourselves into a frenzy over a small injustice, but stand by when the big scam gets done right in front of our eyes.
And we don't like being wrong.
Hence the paradox, the corner we've painted ourselves into: We need to believe, we want to believe, we benefit from believing. We can't function without news and connection and forward motion.
But, we don't like to be proven wrong.
So it's easy to begin by calling it all fake, by non-believing. To become cynical and short-sighted and brittle.
But non-belief doesn't help, because we can't make forward motion without belief. No society works without trust and optimism.
Which leads us right back where we started, which is the cost of agency and the cost of freedom: the responsibility of believing in things that work. We received leverage and the price is responsibility.
Our job is to see our misbelief and replace it with better belief, thoughtful belief, belief in things that actually work.
"We owe you nothing."
This week, all but one NFL owner voted to let the Raiders leave Oakland for Las Vegas (I'm not a football fan, but bear with me).
A nearly perfect example of how one version of capitalism corrupts our culture.
The season ticket holder bought a ticket and got his games. Even steven. We owe you nothing.
The dedicated fan sat through endless losing games. Even steven. Ticket purchased, game delivered. We owe you nothing.
The problem with 'even steven' is that it turns trust and connection and emotions into nothing but a number. Revenue on a P&L. It ignores the long-term in exchange for a relentless focus on today. Only today.
There's an alternative view of capitalism. Modern capitalism. Capitalism for the long-term. In this view, the purpose of an enterprise is to make things better. To minimize negative externalities and create value. Value for the owners, sure, but also for the workers, the customers and the bystanders.
"We owe you everything."
You trusted us. You showed up. You tolerated our impact on your world, even when you didn't invite us in.
It'll never be even steven, but we can try to repay you. Thank you for the opportunity.
I think this is what sports fans signed up for when they were first offered the chance to support a team. Maybe your customers feel the same way.
No need to shop for a better you, or to work overtime to make bigger promises.
Keeping the promises we've already made is sufficient.
The real asset you're building is trust.
And even though it's tempting to cut a corner here and there to boost profit per interaction, the real cost is huge.
No one will say anything, no one will put up a fuss, until one day, they're gone. Those extra few dollars you made with some fancy footwork have now cost you tens of thousands of dollars in lost value.
The opposite is clearly true: invest a nickel or a dime every chance you get, and the trust you earn pays for itself a hundred times over.
From restaurants to direct mail, there's pressure to be scalable, to be efficient, to create something easily replicated.
Which is often used as the reason it's not very good. "Well, we'd like to spend more time/more care/more focus on this, but we need to get bigger."
What if you started in the other direction?
What would happen if you created something noteworthy and worried about scale only after you've figured out how to make a difference?