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« February 2016 | Main | April 2016 »

Considering the nocebo

The letter to the co-op board sounds likely enough. The tenant is up in arms because air fresheners and other common household odors are seeping into the writer's apartment, giving him severe migraines. What to do about this chemical onslaught?

There's no doubt that these odors are giving the letter writer a debilitating headache, but also little doubt that there isn't a likely double-blind, testable, organic chemistry cause to the headache only in this setting. 

The migraine in this case, like many things that bother us, is caused by a nocebo.

A nocebo is a placebo that makes things worse.

In this case, the lack of control over his home, the unwelcome and unasked for odors, are making him feel trapped, and thus annoyed, and angry, and so they lead to a headache. It's pretty clear to most of us that if that very same bundle of molecules wafted in the door when the clever and happy grandson came to visit, there would be no problem. 

Of course the nocebo is real. And eliminating it is a great way to improve your life or the lives of your customers.

The TSA intentionally brings a nocebo to the airport, stressing out innocent travelers. And schools know precisely how to raise the blood pressure of stressed out students. In many situations, loud noises, uncomfortable seats, moments of lost control... these create actual physical discomfort.

We can use the nocebo to give you a headache, a backache, or even a chronic degenerative disease...

But you don't remove the nocebo with medical tests. You remove it with a better story, with a situation that makes us feel powerful and in control, with a setting and a narrative that gives us agency and dignity.

[I'm not asserting that all migraines are caused by nocebos. Far from it. I apologize to anyone who got that impression. But there's plenty of evidence that there are very real problems caused by nocebos.]

Time for a new model?

Human beings are prediction machines. Successful humans skate to where the puck is going to be, predict what's going to happen next, have an inkling of what's to come.

We do this by creating models. A really good model is a theory, a testable method for asserting what's going to happen next under certain conditions--and being right.

The pundits have models, of course. In writing about this one, the Times admits that they've been consistently wrong--in both directions--with their predictions. But rather than acknowledging that they have a broken model, they persist.

The thing is, when your model doesn't match reality (when you have trouble predicting how your investments will do, whether a sales call will resonate, whether a presentation will work, whether a new hire will work out) it's tempting to blame reality.

Consider that it might be much more effective to get a better model instead.

Big questions before little ones

Don't finalize the logo before you come up with a business plan that works.

Don't spend a lot of time thinking about your vacation policy before you have a product that people actually want to buy.

There are endless small details to get right before you have something that you're truly proud of. No doubt about it. But there are frightening and huge holes in any bridge to the future, and until you figure out how to get across, I'm not sure it matters if you have a typo on page 4.

Hiding takes many forms. Inappropriate attention to detail is a big one, because it feels like a responsible thing to do. 

By all means, get it right. Get it right the first time. Successful makers of change embrace the hierarchy of importance, though, and refuse to engage with a fight about right when it's vitally important to focus on important instead.

Short order cooks rarely make change happen

How far in the future does your agenda extend?

One way to tell: of the things you worked on last week, how many were due last week?

The marketplace has always tempted us with short-term cycles (they require less trust) and the internet amplifies this temptation to buy fast, sell fast, work fast, measure fast, move on. 

But the work that leads to change is rarely written on an order slip or an RFP. Selling to the next buyer is easier than changing the culture, but easier isn't always the point.

The train is coming

It's fun to believe that people buy the goods and services we make merely because they are excited, delighted and eager to engage.

But often, particularly in b2b selling, the call to action is very different. "Get off the tracks! The train is coming..." combined with the rumble, the smoke and the visuals of the train arriving. That's what causes action.

Action means change and change means fear, so of course we shouldn't be surprised that people (and organizations) are often as motivated by the fear of loss as they are by the desire for gain.

Hacking reciprocity

We're wired to return the favor. When someone opens a door for us, our instinct is to hold the next door for them.

This generous response has led some marketers to aggressively take advantage. They do a favor for someone and then reap the benefits when the favor is returned. All under the guise of, "I'm helping other people."

“Helping other people” is not what they're doing.

What they're doing is hacking reciprocity as a tool to help them get what they want. They're trading favors.

Some people have had success with this, but please don’t denigrate the very human activity of actually helping others by conflating it with trading favors.

If you want to help other people, go help them. Without regard for credit or for what you get in return.

"I agree in principle..."

"But in practice, I'll need to be more hard-hearted, practical, selfish, mass-oriented, short-term, callous..." Principles, it seems, are for other people.

Because business is business.

Because my boss won't let me.

Because he'll never get elected.

Because we've never done it that way.

Because the buyer will never take it for the store.

Because it's too risky.

Because I'm under a lot of pressure.

Because I'm afraid.

Principle, of course, is for us, not only for other people. One of the great privileges of not living on the edge of disaster is that we have the ability to act on our principles. 

The hard part is realizing that it's never the edge of disaster, and that the long run is always shorter than we imagine.

The fundamental mismatch error

"It's me, not you."

vs.

"It's you, not me."

What happens when you're unable to serve a customer well, or engage with an employee, or work with a partner?

One instinct is to blame the other person, that your art doesn't match their expectations, and they ought to change, or leave.

And the other is to put the blame on oneself, to state that, "it's up to me to change to make them happy."

Either might be true.

For some people, that's hard to swallow, but it's true. 

If you're not getting what you seek from the work you do, it could be because your instinct is to go too far in one direction, a belief that doesn't help you very much.

Blame too many other people and you become a lonely diva, bitter and alone.

Blame yourself too often and you become a wishy-washy panderer to the masses.

Mismatches have to happen. The opportunity is in dealing with them in a way that leads you (and your publics) to the place you want to go.

When will you get to Ramsgate?

Before Van Gogh was Van Gogh, he painted some pictures of streets in Ramsgate, a village in the UK.

View-of-royal-road-ramsgate-1876-1.jpg!Blog

What if he had stopped, saying, "This isn't good enough, it's a failure, I'm never going to amount to anything?"

Nobody, ever once, pops to the top. You walk there. Step by step, each a failure until it's not.

If you're not yet at Ramsgate, you've got some walking to do. And then, when you get to Ramsgate, more walking.

[Inspiring video on this topic.]

What are you competing on?

It's pretty easy to figure out what you're competing for—attention, a new gig, a promotion, a sale...

But what is your edge? In a hypercompetitive world, whatever you're competing on is going to become your focus.

If you're competing on price, you'll spend most of your time counting pennies.

If you're competing on noise, you'll spend most of your time yelling, posting, updating, publishing and announcing.

If you're competing on trust, you'll spend most of your time keeping the promises that make you trustworthy.

If you're competing on smarts, you'll spend most of your time getting smarter.

If you're competing on who you know, you'll spend most of the time networking.

If you're competing by having true fans, you'll spend most of your time earning the trust and attention of those that care about your work.

If you're competing on credentials, you'll spend most of your time getting more accredited and certified.

If you're competing on perfect, you'll need to spend your time on picking nits.

If you're competing by hustling, you'll spend most of your time looking for shortcuts and cutting corners.

If you're competing on getting picked, you'll spend most of your day auditioning.

If you're competing on being innovative, you'll spend your time being curious and shipping things that might not work.

If you're competing on generosity, you'll look for ever more ways to be generous with your time, your insights and your work.

And if you're competing on always-on responsiveness, you'll spend your time glued to your work, responding just a second faster than the other guy.

In any competitive market, be prepared to invest your heart and soul and focus on the thing you compete on. Might as well choose something you can live with, a practice that allows you to thrive.

Coercion

"You are with me or against me."

"Being against me is the same as being against us."

"If I determine that you are against us, you deserve all the problems that you brought on yourself by your actions. Don't make me hurt you again."

We are fortunate to live in a civil society that is governed by ideas, ideals and laws. Lincoln correctly warned us about the mob and the bullying leader who eggs them on.

Coercion can make change happen (in the short run). Coercion can look like leadership. But it doesn't scale and it doesn't last, because ultimately, it burns down the very institution it sought to change by mob force. 

We can encounter bullies at work, coaching teams and even working in law enforcement. Wherever people organize, they show up.

Coercion gets its start because well-meaning people believe that the short-run cost of the mob mentality is worth it. It almost never is. Coercion uses force and blames the victim. And coercion is impossible to live with.

Real change happens because of enrollment, because it invites people in, it doesn't use fear. Real leadership patiently changes the culture, engaging people in shared effort. It's more difficult, but it's change we can live with.

Survey questions

Is this a survey or a census? A survey is statistically based, extracting insight from a few and being able to assert its truth across a wider population. A census involves asking everyone, and usually, matching up the answers with the person so you can take further action. 

If it's a survey, you probably don't need to reach as many people as you think you do. And if it's a survey, you are almost certainly going to get skewed answers, because surveying the people who answer surveys is truly different from surveying a statistically valid sample of your audience. SurveyMonkey doesn't actually run surveys of your total audience. It runs a poll of people who are willing to answer the questions.

It's pretty easy to survey everyone, ask every customer a question on checkout. In fact, online, it's easier to run something more like a census than a survey, because you merely turn it on and let it run. This is not a smart way to get a statistically accurate insight, but worse, if you run a census, you're wasting an opportunity if you treat it like a survey. If you ask every customer a question, you better be prepared to follow up on every customer who's not happy.

Are you looking for correlations? Causation is almost impossible to find in a survey. But if you're smart, you can learn a lot if you're able to determine that people who said "B" in answer to question 3 are also likely to believe "E" in answer to question 6. This is a huge step in your ability to determine worldviews and to ultimately treat different people differently.

It doesn't matter if 40% of your customers believe something about price and 39% believe something about features, but if you discover that 98% of the customers who believe this about price also believe that about quality, you just found something useful.

Is this worth my customer's time? It's super easy to commission a survey. Pay your money and you're done. But then what? Fedex sent Ipsos after me and thousands of other people by phone, wasted more than ten minutes of my time with a survey that never ended, and then they never followed up. Those ten minutes cost Fedex a huge amount of trust and goodwill.

Asking someone to answer a survey has a very real cost. Is the survey worth it?

Are you asking questions capable of making change happen? After the survey is over, can you say to the bosses, "83% of our customer base agrees with answer A, which means we should change our policy on this issue."

It feels like it's cheap to add one more question, easy to make the question a bit banal, simple to cover one more issue. But, if the answers aren't going to make a difference internally, what is the question for?

Are you push polling? The questions you ask actually end up changing the person who is responding. Ask me if I'm unhappy and I'm a lot more likely to become unhappy. Ask me who my favorite customer service person is and I'm more likely to look for good customer service people.

This is a challenge that most census-structured customer service surveys have to deal with. If you ask someone if they're satisfied and then don't follow up later, you've just made the problem a lot worse. If you ask your best customers for insight and then ignore it, you've not only wasted the insight, you've wasted goodwill as well.

Here's a simple test I do, something that has never once led to action: In the last question of a sloppy, census-style customer service survey, when they ask, "anything else?" I put my name and phone number and ask them to call me. They haven't, never once, not in more than fifty brand experiences.

If you're not going to read the answers and take action, why are you asking?

Best question to ask about a survey: Do we actually have to run this?

No choice

That's an easy mistake to make and a tempting trap to fall into.

It's unlikely you have no choice. More likely: There's no easy choice. No safe choice that also embraces your potential. No choice you can make that doesn't cause short-term misery in exchange for a long-term benefit.

When we say we have no choice, we feel trapped and we are powerless. That's no way to do our work every day.

Do it or don't do it. It's up to you.

Would you rather...

Spend an hour with a good friend in intimate conversation,

spend an hour engaging with your team on the next significant leap in your strategy,

or spend an hour with your smart phone, grooming your social media presence and your inbox?

Good news, you can.

Show your work

It's tempting to sit in the corner and then, voila, to amaze us all with your perfect answer.

But of course, that's not what ever works.

What works is evolving in public, with the team. Showing your work. Thinking out loud. Failing on the way to succeeding, imperfecting on your way to better than good enough.

Do people want to be stuck with the first version of the iPhone, the Ford, the Chanel dress? Do they want to read the first draft of that novel, see the rough cut of that film? Of course not.

Ship before you're ready, because you will never be ready. Ready implies you know it's going to work, and you can't know that. You should ship when you're prepared, when it's time to show your work, but not a minute later.

The purpose isn't to please the critics. The purpose is to make your work better.

Polish with your peers, your true fans, the market. Because when we polish together, we make better work.

Hot: A theory of propulsion

Words are dead.

To be more clear: Words on a page or on a screen are asleep, inert, doing nothing at all until they interact with you, the reader.

That takes effort.

An audiobook, on the other hand, propels itself. The words are spoken, whether you listen or not, so you better listen.

And a video is just as alive. 

The next level up is new. As in news. Or previously unknown. When it's breaking, it propels itself even harder, because we know that we're about to hear something previously unheard.

And beyond that? When humans are involved. Not just news, but news from a friend. News that our peers are about to be talking about. Not just propelled, but amplified by our cohort and our culture.

Social media is built on the idea of propulsion. It's not history, it's now. The smartphone isn't smart, it's merely hot. Pulsing with the next thing.

[I know, you just got a text. Go check it, I'll be here when you get back.]

This, I think, is one of the giant chasms of our new generation, always seen, not often noticed. That we're moving from the considered words of a book or even a Wikipedia article to the urgent, connected ideas that propel themselves.

Words are a noun, attention is a verb.

The motion of an idea actually creates its own physics. Ideas in motion not only touch more people, they have more impact as well.

Slack is engineered for motion, the Kindle is a silent repository you have to press.

The cliche was that the author used to live for the solitary moments of considered thought and solo writing. "Leave me alone and let me write." The publisher paid the bills with the backlist, the old books that sold and sold. Today, without propulsion, most people aren't making the time or the focus to pursue inert wisdom. Without motion, the words get moldy.

Book publishing (and the making of movies, or songs, or articles) has always had an element of promotion associated with it, the act of introducing an idea to someone who needed it. What's shifted is that the promotion has transcended most of the process, because the idea itself becomes the promotion.

It used to be that nothing was more urgent than getting punched in the face. Instant, immediate, personal. Today, we're getting virtual punches, from every direction, all self-propelled, many of them amplified. The ideas that propel themselves on the tailwinds of culture will dominate, opposed only by the people who care enough to propel ideas that matter instead.

Maybe you.

The slippery slope

Make it a little more boring

Make it more fun

Make it cheaper

Onboard just about anyone

Don't speak up

Be less selective

Offer more variety

Make it shorter

Let it be

Dumb it down

Polish less

Polish more

Average it out

Respect the status quo

Wait

Don't even bother

...Gone with a whimper.

Links, shared

Iconic cartoonist Hugh Macleod is launching a series this week inspired by some of my work. Thanks, Hugh!

On Being's Krista Tippett has a new book ready for pre-order.

Doug Rushkoff's new book is out this month.  

Also, a new book from Gary Vaynerchuk.

And one from Adam Grant.

Faith Salie's new book comes out in a few weeks.  

Clay Shirky has a short book about a massive transformation you might not be noticing.

Also, I'm trying a new column in a new audio magazine online.

I'll be speaking in New York in April, Dallas in May.

Chicago in June.

And Helsinki in October.

Thanks for making something.

While waiting for perfect

You've permitted magical to walk on by. Not to mention good enough, amazing and wonderful.

Waiting for the thing that cannot be improved (and cannot be criticized) keeps us from beginning.

Merely begin.

The difference between confidence and arrogance

Confidence is arrogance if the market doesn't believe the story.

When we show up with something great, something generous, well-executed and new, some people will be suspicious. "Is this everything it's cracked up to be?" The skeptic wonders if we have the standing to back it up.

You're not going to be able to persuade those skeptics. In fact, when you try, you end up dressing up your confident presentation with too many claims and you risk being seen as merely arrogant.

The classic 1984 Apple commercial was beautifully confident. It pulled no punches, it was perfectly crafted and it described a product that some people believed would change their lives.

The 1985 commercial, though, was perceived as arrogant. Without enough to back it up, the skeptic in us said, "I don't want this change*, it's not real." (*the bulk of the market doesn't ever truly want change, because change brings risk and risk brings fear. Give people a chance to avoid change, and they'll likely take it).

The market needs the hubris of high expectations, it's the only thing that seduces some people to embrace change. But the provider (that's us) has to tell a coherent, resonant, true story that touches the right people the right way.

Self awareness in the face of marketing

"I know that this expensive herbal tincture homeopathic remedy is merely an expensive placebo. But I'll take it anyway, because placebos work."

A friend used to wear a fur coat in the winter, telling me that it was the only thing that kept her warm. Of course, if the goal was warmth, she'd probably be better off wearing it inside out.

We buy luxury goods, take placebos and engage in all sorts of actions that aren't going to hold up under the rational analysis of a double-blind study. But they work because we want them to. And often, we want them to because of marketing.

We end up conflating the things we believe with the powerful marketing that got us to believe those things. We feel like questioning the role of marketing is somehow questioning who we are and what we hold dear.

Mostly, marketing is what we call it when someone else is influenced by a marketer. When we're influenced, though, it's not marketing, it's a smart choice.

Do you use that toothpaste because they ran ads that resonated with you, or because you think it actually makes your teeth whiter?

It doesn't have to be this way... The thing is, placebos work even if you're smart enough to know that they're placebos.

Are there primary voters who say, "I know that he craves attention, hustling and manipulating to sell emotional promises, not realistic action, but I'm going to vote for him anyway, because it makes me feel powerful to do so..."?

As soon as that self-awareness kicks in, it's possible to be more discerning about what you believe and why.

Or are there mindful people who say, "there's no clear right answer in this conflict, but my people, my folks, we have always supported this side, so I'm going to keep doing that, because breaking with them is too painful..."?

As soon as you ask that question, it's a lot easier to have a civil, productive conversation, because instead of wearing yourself out arguing tropes, you can talk about the actual issue, which is belonging to a tribe. We can talk about how we work through the cultural change to get to a new place, not have an argument about history.

Marketing works. It's powerful. We're able to acknowledge that and see it for what it is without giving up what we choose to believe. 

We can create better decisions and more amity by being clear with ourselves and others about how marketing is changing what we believe (and vice versa).

It's a lot harder to be manipulated if you accept that there's a manipulator, and it's a lot easier to see a path forward if you acknowledge that you weren't looking for one before.

Galvanized

When George Martin first met the Beatles and became their producer, he liked their sound and their energy, but he didn't think they could write songs. So he licensed a song, handed it to them and had them record it. John and Paul hated doing this, so they asked if they could write one. That became their first hit. Faced with opposition and competition, they became better songwriters.

Sir George didn't think much of Pete Best, their drummer, and he said so. He wanted to hire session musicians as drummers. Faced with a loss of cohesion and control, John, Paul and George took action, fired Pete, found and hired Ringo.

George didn't think there was a chance this Ringo guy was any good, so he had a session musician sit in for the first recording. Ringo brought his A game on the next track and that was the end of session musicians sitting in.

Often, our best work happens when we're in a situation we wouldn't have chosen for ourselves. The hard part is choosing to be in that sort of situation in the first place, the uncomfortable one where we have no choice but to do better work.

Find a galvanizer if you can. If you care.

Give up and go up goals

You will benefit when you tell lots of people your give up goals. Tell your friends when you want to give up overeating or binging or being a boor. Your friends will make it ever more difficult for you to feel good about backsliding.

On the other hand, the traditional wisdom is that you should tell very few people about your go up goals. Don't tell them you intend to get a promotion, win the race or be elected prom king. That's because even your friends get jealous, or insecure on your behalf, or afraid of the change your change will bring.

Here's the thing: If that's the case, you need better friends.

A common trait among successful people is that they have friends who expect them to move on up.

Are they ready for you yet?

Most of the time, we don’t go first. There are good reasons for this (the iWatch comes to mind). With the exception of sushi and fresh powder, there’s little cultural or economic advantage to always trying the new thing first.

Change happens because some people, some of the time, have neophilia. We are dissatisfied enough or passionate enough that we seek out the new thing, mostly because it's new. This is the chowhound who seeks out the latest restaurant, or the idealist who supports the newest policy proposal.

But a surprisingly small percentage of the population has neophilia. So movie studios work to share almost the entire movie in the TV ads before opening weekend, because they know most people don't actually want to be surprised and take a risk, even at the movies. And so Kickstarter makes it easy to jump in at just the right moment, after an idea is sure to work, not when it's merely an idea. (This is now working for some charities as well).

Project creators have to wrestle with this chasm. First, there's the thrill of the launch, and then the gratifying response from the early adopters. (Note that they are not called adapters, for a good reason). But then, then there's a trough, the period between the excitement of the new and the satisfaction of the proven.

It can take days or years to get to proven. To get to the moment when you can honestly say, "it's ready for you now." Nothing new is for everyone. By definition, the new is for a few, those that see a benefit in going first.

This week, applications are open for altMBA5. There's only a week left before our first deadline. Over the last year, hundreds of people like you have enrolled in this four-week intensive workshop, and have come away changed, working at a higher level, seeing things differently, contributing in ways that truly matter.

Please take just a moment to read these testimonials from our students.

We're ready for you now.

We used to be new, now we're proven. That's something that every project that crosses the chasm has to be able to demonstrate.

The altMBA is the most effective transformation tool I've ever created. More than books or blog posts, this extraordinary group sprint is the agent of change I've been seeking, and I think, so have you.

I hope to see you there. We're ready. Are you?

Freedom and responsibility

Which do you want?

Freedom is the ability to set your schedule, to decide on the work you do, to make decisions.

Responsibility is being held accountable for your actions. It might involve figuring out how to get paid for your work, owning your mistakes or having others count on you.

Freedom without responsibility is certainly tempting, but there are few people who will give you that gig and take care of you and take responsibility for your work as well. 

Responsibility without freedom is stressful. There are plenty of jobs in this line of work, just as there are countless jobs where you have neither freedom nor responsibility. These are good jobs to walk away from.

When in doubt, when you're stuck, when you're seeking more freedom, the surest long-term route is to take more responsibility.

Freedom and responsibility aren't given, they're taken.

The dominant narrative

Life is filled with nuance.

Our ability to perceive things, not so much.

We come up with a story (about an organization, a person, a situation) and all the data that supports it, we notice, and the nuance we discount or ignore.

So, if you believe that Whole Foods is expensive, you won't notice the items that are a little cheaper, but the overpriced things that confirm your narrative will be obvious.

If you believe that your boss is cold-hearted, you'll gloss over the helpful moments and remind yourself of the other times.

We engage in this narrative and people do it to us as well, and to our brands and our institutions, all the time. Insisting that they see the whole truth isn't going to be a productive strategy.

It's easy to pretend that the dominant narrative is insightful, based in reality and in sync with what we wish it was. Denying it doesn't make it go away, though.

We can't easily change the dominant narrative that people have about us, we certainly can't do it by insisting that our customers or colleagues bring more nuance to the table.

Instead, we can do it through action. Vivid, memorable interactions are what people remember. Surprises and vivid action matter far more than we imagine, and we regularly underinvest in them.

Listening to smart vs. I'm with stupid

In what areas have you found that you benefit from listening to someone who's really smart about the decision you need to make?

Not a self-appointed expert, but someone with experience, patience and maturity, someone who's been educated in the field, practiced in it, someone who understands the history and the mechanics of what's on offer...

Certainly, most of us would agree that in areas like removing a tumor, investing a nest egg or even baking a loaf of bread, listening to these folks is the way to go. Ignoring all of them is foolhardy.

Sometimes, in our search for the new thing, we mistakenly grab the foolish thing instead. "I'm with stupid."

Challenging the status quo and going against all the the traditional rules of thumb is a great way to take a leap. But that sort of leap needs to be a portfolio play, part of a larger arc, not a matter of life and death, not the last spin of the wheel you're going to get if you're wrong.

[Worth noting that plenty of smart people shunned Semmelweis, Lovelace and Alan Kay. But not all of the smart people.]

By all means, take these intellectual risks. But not when you're skydiving. Being uninformed doesn't make you a renegade. It merely makes you uninformed.

On saying "no"

If you're not proud of it, don't serve it.

If you can't do a good job, don't take it on.

If it's going to distract you from the work that truly matters, pass.

If you don't know why they want you to do this, ask.

If you need to hide it from your mom, reconsider.

If it benefits you but not the people you care about, decline.

If you're going along with the crowd, that's not enough.

If it creates a habit that costs you in the long run, don't start.

If it doesn't move you forward, hesitate then walk away.

The short run always seems urgent, and a moment where compromise feels appropriate. But in the long run, it's the good 'no's that we remember.

On the other hand, there's an imperative to say "yes." Say yes and build something that matters.

Special orders don't upset us

You ask the waiter to bring you the mackerel, but without the teriyaki glaze. He says, "the menu says no substitutions, I'm sorry."

There's absolutely nothing wrong with running an establishment around the idea that it is what it is, here it is, you can have it if you want to buy it.

You ask the waiter to bring you the mackerel, but without the teriyaki glaze. He says, "Certainly. Is there anything else I can offer to make it even more to your liking?"

Again, that's a fine strategy. It recognizes that eating out is a choice, and that this establishment is in the business of treating different people differently.

Do you know what's not okay? "Well, we don't like to do this, but just this one time, I'll ask the chef, but I hope it's the only thing you want changed."

The front row culture

The group files into the theater, buzzing. People hustle to get to the front row, sitting side by side, no empty seats. The event starts on time, the excitement is palpable.

The other group wanders in. The front row is empty and stays that way. There are two or even three empty seats between each individual. The room is sort of dead.

In both cases, the CEO or the guest speaker is going to address the group for an hour. But the two groups couldn't be more different.

The first organization sees possibility, the second sees risk and threat. The first group is eager to explore a new future, the second group misses the distant past. 

The truth is this: it's possible to hire for, train for and lead a front-row organization. And if you merely let entropy take over, you're going to end up with the second, lesser, failing organization instead.

Worth saying this as clearly as possible: The culture, the choice of front row or back row, is a choice. It's the result of investment and effort.

Where would you rather work?

"Will this be on the test?"

There, in six words, is one of the worst questions any educator can hear.

It lays bare, in a simple question, the motivations, the structures and the flaws of the traditional educational paradigm. The test is a stick, the grade (and the degree) are the carrot, and compliance is the process.

I just published a long Medium post about how this mindset was the unseen standard as educators moved online, and why it can’t work (and what we can do about it.) I hope you'll take a minute to check it out.

Reading between the lines

If you've ever been rejected (grad school, an article submission, a job) you may have spent some time analyzing the rejection letter itself, reading between the lines, trying to figure out why you were actually rejected.

The thing is, there's almost nothing written between lines.

People rarely say what they mean when they reject you. It's just not worth the risk. Not worth saying, "I'm filled with fear about taking this sort of chance on you." Not worth the blowback of saying, "you're a miserable writer, the bane of my existence, and you will never amount to anything." It'll just come back to haunt them.

And of course, if you do read that sort of apparently honest screed in a rejection letter, it's just as likely to be about the writer as it is about you and your work.

Make a pile of the thousands of rejection letters that successful people have received over the years and analyze them for insights and patterns—you won't find much of use.

Short version: You got rejected. The words and the tone of the rejection aren't going to tell you much, and every moment you spend dissecting them is a way to hide from the real work of making something that will resonate tomorrow.

If you really want to know why someone didn't like your work, you're going to have to put a lot more effort into it understanding the person who rejected you. Reading the tea leaves in the rejection letters and one-star reviews is pretty worthless.

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