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« December 2011 | Main | February 2012 »

Trading favors

Now that everyone has a media platform, look for even more of the mutual back scratching that comes from tracking favors.

The most corrosive sort of this network amplification goes like this: I do something for you unasked. Then I do something again. Perhaps I even tout you or your work a third time. Then I come to you, point out how generous I've been and ask for you to do something for me. Or I network my way to one person and then use that platform to reach three more, and repeat until I've worked the entire digital room.

Humans have a natural openness to reciprocity. It's a time-honored survival technique, one that allowed us to live together in villages for millenia. Someone who doesn't reciprocate is less likely to be protected by his peers, right? Not only have we been taught reciprocation since birth, but it feels right. It's baked in.

The problem occurs when the trading of favors become mercenary, when alert individuals start manipulating the system for personal gain. Suddenly, every favor is suspect, measured and not at all generous. Suddenly all the likes and links and blurbs become nothing but currency, not the honest appraisals of people we can trust. It means that bystanders have trouble telling the difference between honest approval and the mere mutual shilling of traded favors.

Yes, you can trade your way up, but at some point, the very people who were influenced by all your trades start to realize that you can't be trusted.

Mutual funds deserve to be rigorously measured and relentlessly traded. Favors and taste and allegiances, though, not so much. Like is too important to be something you do because you have to.

Worth a million words

We all know how much a picture is worth. What about a good short video? (hit the play button and watch for thirty seconds--here is the large version). And here's one about obesity.

Insatiable

Long-lasting systems can't survive if they remain insatiable.

An insatiable thirst for food, power, energy, reassurance, clicks, funding or other raw material will eventually lead to failure. That's because there's never enough to satisfy someone or something that's insatiable. The organization amps up because its need is unmet. It gets out of balance, changing what had previously worked to get more of what it craves. Sooner or later, a crash.

More fame! More money! More investment! Push too hard and you lose what you came with and don't get what you came for.

An insatiable appetite is a symptom: There's a hole in the bucket. Something's leaking out. When a system (or a person) continues to demand more and more but doesn't produce in response, that's because the resources aren't being used properly, something is leaking.

If your organization demands ever more attention or effort or cash to produce the same output, it makes more sense to focus on the leak than it does to work ever harder to feed the beast.

The problem with reassurance

The taxi's waiting, it's honking its horn, time to go to the airport.

Yes, the passport is in my pocket. I checked five minutes ago.

Of course, the cost of checking again, just one more time, is tiny. Hardly worth discussing with myself. And compared to the cost of being wrong, of missing the flight... go ahead, check again.

And like giving in to a toddler every time he whines for ice cream, this is the problem.

The lizard brain seeks constant reassurance. It will wheedle and argue and debate with the rest of your head, pushing for one tiny bit of evidence, some sort of proof that everything will be okay.

Don't do it.

When you indulge the lizard, it gains power. It doesn't walk away ashamed, humiliated at its anxiety. Instead, it merely sidesteps and looks for the next thing to worry about, because, ready for this? It's nice to be reassured.

Developing the reassurance habit is easy to do and hard to kick. The problem is this: there are some ventures where no reassurance is possible. There is important work for you to do where no proof is available.

If you've trained the lizard brain that reassurance is forthcoming, it will scream even louder when those projects that don't come with proof are at hand.

Over your head

Once the water is deep enough that you must swim to stay afloat, does it really matter how deep the pool is?

Good news about Amit (thank you!)

My colleague Amit Gupta found a 10/10 marrow match. There's still a long and treacherous road ahead, but thanks to you, and to people like you, and the ability to spread the word among the tribe, a match was found, something that was impossible just a few years ago.

Thank you.

Learning leadership from Congress

The most frustrating thing for me in the SOPA/PIPA debate now winding down is how unnecessary the whole thing should have been. It occurred to me that we learned a lot about what sort of behaviors make for great leaders and careers. The short version: do the opposite.

When did we lose Congress? Not just in terms of losing our respect for just about everyone there (one of the least respected careers in the USA) but in the sense that they no longer even pretend to represent our interests or act as we would act if given the chance?

I'm not so much angry as saddened that it has come to this.

When planning your career, avoid these pitfalls, behaviors evidenced by many elected officials:

  • In all things, look for money first. Listen to people with money, respond to people with money, justify your actions around money. Worth noting that 47% of those in Congress (House and Senate) are millionaires--an even greater percentage than those that are lawyers.
  • Embrace the fact that you don't know what you're talking about. Aspire to run systems you don't understand.
  • Compromise over the important issues, but dig in and fight forever over trivia.
  • Along those lines: focus obsessively on the short run. Even though you are virtually assured of re-election, define the long term as "before the next election."
  • Take months off from your day job (with pay) to actively campaign for a better job.
  • Blame the system, the other side and your predecessors for the fact that you are not taking brave, independent action.
  • Avoid developing independent thought and analysis. Focus on parroting the work of lobbyists and the party line.
  • When given the choice between being on television or doing hard work, pick television.
  • When a difficult problem shows up, duck.
  • Try mightily to outlast passionate resistance by quietly ignoring it and waiting for it to go away.

I'm thrilled that reality has intruded and SOPA is derailed (for now). You probably know more about how the internet works than your senator does. Has he or she called you or asked your insight?

I'm disheartened that even when a linchpin shows up in Washington, she is quickly beaten into submission. Where are the lions, the Mr. Smith's and the statesmen who would rather do the people's business than business as usual? Sure, Congress has a marketing problem--largely because they have a problem with the decisions they make and the way that they make them.

At least they've left us a useful career guide about what not to do in the real world.

When the world changes...

It's painful, expensive, time-consuming, stressful and ultimately pointless to work overtime to preserve your dying business model.

All the lobbying, the lawsuits, the ad campaigns and most of all, the hand-wringing, aren't going to change anything at all. In fact, instead of postponing the outcome you fear, they probably accelerate it.

The history of media and technology is an endless series of failed rearguard actions as industry leaders attempt to solidify their positions on a bed of quicksand.

Again and again the winners are individuals and organizations that spot opportunities in the next thing, as opposed to those that would demonize, marginalize or illegalize (is that a word?) it. Breaking systems that benefit your customers is dumb. Taking money from lobbyists to break those systems is dumber still.

Access to access

What's standing in your way? What would help you start and ship and create something of value?

Access to ideas is easier than ever before. You can see over the shoulders of the great leaders in every industry, instantly and for free.

Access to tools is easier too. Every digital tool in the world is easily available, often for free.

Access to markets? The internet brings every market segment into clear view and lowers the cost of reaching it.

Access to capital? It's never been easier to find funding for an idea that's enabled by the efficiencies the web creates.

Alas, the only access that's harder than ever is access to the part of your brain that's willing to take advantage of all of this. Precisely because it's easier and faster than ever before, it's easy to be afraid to reach out, to connect and to commit. No one can help you with that but you.

Straight up

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent."

Martin Luther King, Jr.

And a few more thoughts, from one of the greatest men of my lifetime:

“On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?" Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?" And Vanity comes along and asks the question, "Is it popular?" But Conscience asks the question "Is it right?" And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.”

. . .

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

. . .

“The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.”

« December 2011 | Main | February 2012 »