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« December 2016 | Main | February 2017 »

Missed it by that much

I got to the gate just as they closed the door and the plane began to back away.

It was thirty years ago, but I still remember how it felt. I think we’re hard-wired to fear these painful moments of missing out.

Deadlines don’t cause death if missed, but sometimes we persuade ourselves that it’s almost as bad. As a result, marketers and others that want us to take action invent cliffs, slamming doors and loud buzzers.

We put a rope at door, a timer on the clock and focus on scarcity and the fear of missing out. And as a result, consumers and students and co-workers wait for the signals, prioritizing their lives around the next urgency.

When everything is focused on the deadline, there’s little time to work on the things that are actually important.

When we build our lives around ‘what’s due’ we sacrifice our agency to the priorities and urgencies of everyone else.

More important is the bigger issue: Time is running out.

For all the things you might want to experience, not merely the ones that are about to leave the gate.

Time is running out for you to level up or connect or to be generous to someone who really needs you.

Time is running out for you to become the person you've decided to be, to make the difference you seek to make, to produce the work you know you're capable of.

Set your own buzzer.

Make believe problems

We focus on them and elevate them on our priority list.

Sometimes, we invent a fake problem and give it great import and urgency as a way to take our focus and fear away from the thing that's actually a threat. These fake problems have no apparent solution, but at least they give us something to fret over, a way to distract ourselves and the people around us.

And sometimes, we pick a fake problem that has a convenient and easy fake solution. Because, the thinking goes, we're taking action, so things must be getting better.

Short order cooks rarely make change happen. And denying reality doesn't make it go away.

Friction and traction

It's fashionable for designers and marketers to want to reduce friction in the way they engage with users.

And sometimes, that's smart. If someone knows what they want, get out of their way and help them get it. One-click, done.

But often, what we want is traction. The traction to find our footing, shift our posture, make a new decision. The traction to actually influence what happens next, not merely slip our way toward a goal of someone else's choosing.

Just the right amount of data

The digital sign at the train station near my home could show me what time it is.

It could tell us how many more minutes until the next train.

Or it could announce if the train was running on time...

Instead, it shows me today's date.

What am I supposed to do with that data?

Or consider the typical hotel bathroom scale. Accurate to plus or minus five pounds, it's worthless, because it doesn't help the user know how much weight has been gained (or lost).

In this case, the absolute number doesn't matter, it's the trend over time.

Information is data with a purpose and a context.

Shared reality, diverse opinions

We're not having a lot of trouble with the "diverse opinions" part.

But they're worthless without shared reality.

At a chess tournament, when the newcomer tries to move his rook diagonally, it's not permitted. "Hey, that's just your opinion," is not a useful response. Because, after all, chess is defined by the rules of the game. If you want to play a different game, begin by getting people to agree to the new rules.

In physics, it doesn't matter how much you want a ping pong ball to accelerate faster, your opinion isn't going to change what happens.

It's tempting to race right into our plans to solve a problem, but too often, we wrap our version of reality tightly into that proposed solution, without thoughtfully getting buy in on the reality before launching into the solution we're so eager to describe.

Shared reality is the foundation on which we can build trust, make promises and engage in a useful discussion on how to achieve our goals.

Appropriate complexity and risk

The best time to experiment in the kitchen is if you don't have 11 guests coming for dinner in three hours.

Or, at the very least, be sure to have some decent frozen pizzas on hand, just in case.

We often sign ourselves up for long, involved entanglements, and a good thing, too, because they can enable us to produce real value.

But our promises matter, and there's no need to raise the stakes at the same time that we're figuring things out. 

Professionals leave themselves an out.

A listening device

Jacqueline Novogratz points out that the market can be an efficient listening device. If you go to a person and offer charity or even a gift, there's not a lot of choice. But if you offer to sell someone something, you'll hear very clearly what's wrong with it, whether it's worth it, and how it can be improved. The transaction engages both sides in a discussion, and sometimes, the market causes the supplier to listen. Co-creation over time transforms problems into opportunities.

In fact, this is the single best explanation for why markets work. Voluntary engagement and the exchange of resources can solve many problems, particularly if coercion is avoided.

As soon as an organization achieves significant market power, though, it's tempting for it to not listen any longer. Coercion and market power feel more efficient than engaging and leading. Apple stopped listening to its biggest fans and focuses on the stock price instead. Companies with near monopolies (like telecommunications, Google, Fedex, etc.) begin to lose the listening skills they'd developed and instead respond by expressing their power. Extraction companies focus on lobbying instead of innovating.

This willful ignorance and lack of engagement can last a long time, but it never lasts forever. Someone who listens better eventually shows up and changes the game.

If you hold the small end of a megaphone up to your ear, it acts as an amplifier, helping you listen more carefully.

And if you want to be heard, you can move it to your mouth and share your ideas. Persistently, consistently and often.

The best way to complain is to make something.  The second best way is to say something.  And if you can organize others to say it with you, even better.

Hoarding doesn't work

There's a contradiction built into our instinct to hoard: the more we do it, the less we get.

An idea shared is worth more than one kept hidden. Opportunities passed from one to another create connections which lead to more opportunities. Opened doors lead to forward motion.

Winning doesn't usually involve demolishing the opposition. Instead, for most of us, it's about weaving. A scientist without peers won't find a breakthrough anytime soon. A bookstore with one book won't work. A market with only one vendor will fail. And if you're the only cello player in town, your craft will disappear. Trust and connection and utilization support forward motion.

The primary driver of our well-being is our culture. A culture built on selfishness is harsh, brittle and short-lived.

We're not paying things forward. We're launching them forward, and it will boomerang back to us, eventually, somehow, in some form, if we do it often enough and with enough generosity.

Almost no one

We may dream of the mass market, but the mass market doesn't dream of us.

Almost no one visits your restaurant, almost no one buys your bestselling book, almost no one watches the Tonight Show.

Rare indeed is a market where everyone is active.

We think we're designing and selling to everyone, but that doesn't match reality. It makes no sense at all to dumb down your best work to appeal to the longtime bystander, because the bystander isn't interested. And it certainly makes no sense to try to convert your biggest critics, because they've got a lot at stake in their role of being your critic.

Growth comes from person-to-person communication, from the powerful standards of 'people like us'. And it comes from activating people who are ready to be activated.

The most recent Presidential election makes this clear: It's the non-voting bystanders who are in the majority:

Who didnt vote

Long-term strategy: Don't be a jerk

In the moment, when you have power, no matter how momentarily, how will you choose to act?

Jerk comes from the idea of pulling hard on the reins, suddenly and without care. Horses don't like it and neither, it turns out, do people.

More than just about anything else, what you do when you have the chance is what people say about you and remember about you. The community pays careful attention to the restraint (or lack of it) that you show when the opportunity arises.

Whether you're a parent or a multinational, in the long run, the wheel is going to turn. It might be a minute, a day or a week, but your power is unlikely to last.

When we assume that everyone is a volunteer and that all power is transient, it's easier to become the person we're proud to be.

This is the essence of marketing--acting in the way you'd like to be seen and understood. Especially when you have the power to make choices.

You can look it up

Of course, for millions of years, people couldn't look it up. They couldn't read and they hadn't invented writing yet, so there was nothing to look up.

All you knew was what you knew, along with what you could ask someone about.

"Uncle Rock told me that the bark from this tree will help a headache."

With writing came notes, records and books. And with a great deal of training and effort, there were things that you could look up. This is an unsung moment in human history, because it allowed knowledge to begin to compile, and enabled all sorts of longer-term transactions (including debt instruments).

In the mechanical age of a hundred years ago, we got better and better at doing this at scale. Now there were millions of books, and card catalogs. But looking up most things was time consuming and often came up empty (as recently as twenty years ago, the only way to find something in a book was via an index, which certainly gave hints, but it lived only in the book itself).

The current era of on-demand, widespread looking things up offers a whole new level of insight for those that care enough to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, most people don't. 

Most organizations, most leaders, most scientists, most doctors... hesitate to look it up. We're not sure exactly what to look up, not sure of what we don't know, not sure of what might be out there. It still takes talent and time to find the right thing in the right place at the right time.

The next frontier is already starting to happen. The system looks it up before we even realize it needs looking up. The system tells us that this resume comes with an anti-social online record attached to it. The system knows that these test results combined with that medical history is worth a deeper look. The system knows that this house was recently sold for a fraction of what's being asked...

All of us are smarter than any of us, and when you throw in the us that came before, the opportunities multiply.

But first, we need to care enough to want to know.

Rights (and responsibilities)

Human rights might be our species' greatest invention.

More than phones or trains or Milky Way bars, our incremental progress toward dignity, opportunity and equality is a miracle.

Rights aren't a decision we make when we're in the mood or it's easy. They're the bedrock of our culture, our economy and our way of life.

Of course, they're inconvenient sometimes. That's precisely why we have to work so hard to defend them.

Deep down, I think each of us understands how much a culture based on dignity is worth. But sometimes, we need to remind each other to stay vigilant, and to keep what our mothers and grandfathers worked so hard for.

Everyone is better than you are...

(at something). Which makes it imperative that you connect and ask for help.

At the same time that we encounter this humbling idea, we also need to acknowledge that you are better at something than anyone you meet.

Everyone you meet needs something you can do better than they can.

How to be heard

Do your homework.

Show up with contributions and connections long before you bring your opinion.

Save the snark for later.

Pay your dues.

Speak up about shared truths, shared principles and shared goals.

Don't blame the ref only when the call is against you.

Reflect back what you believe the other person is trying to say before you disagree with it.

If you want to persuade on the merits, avoid joining the threatening mob.

Convert six people before you try to convert sixty.

Tell true stories.

How long is now?

Yes, that dog is moving, but not that tree. Plants don't move.

Well, yes, they actually do. Trees grow and then they decay. It's just that we can't see it happening now. It happens over a longer span. Which means it is happening now, just not in a way that matches our frame.

Getting our time scale right is essential. It affects how we perceive the growth of our organization, or the changes in our planet. It changes the way we invest in education and how we react or respond to the news media.

Do we need a sweep second hand on our wrist watch or merely a page-a-day calendar to mark the passage of time?

Alan Burdick's new book goes into the history of how we think about now (as compared to before and after) and one particular example stuck with me: What would happen if we were creatures that lived for only 28 days? Or for 300,000 days? And if our attention span compressed or expanded along with that outcome?

Often, people who are happier or more effective than we are are merely seeing things in a different (and more appropriate) time window.

And one last example, I'll call it Dash's Twitch: It turns out that the insanely stressful ticker that the New York Times had on their home page on election night, the one that kept flicking back and forth, taunting everyone who saw it, was actually using "real-time" data that only updated a few times a minute. 

Which means that the twitch was faked. Yes, the data was moving over time, but it wasn't moving now.

If our now gets short enough, everything is a twitch.

And twitches, while engaging, aren't particularly useful or productive.

Economics is messy

We still teach a lot of myths in the intro to economics course, myths that spill over to conventional wisdom. 

Human beings make rational decisions in our considered long-term best interest.

Actually, behavioral economics shows us that people almost never do this. Our decision-making systems are unpredictable, buggy and often wrong. We are easily distracted, and even more easily conned.

Every time we assume that people are profit-seeking, independent, rational actors, we've made a mistake.

The free market is free.

The free market only works because it has boundaries, rules and methods of enforcement. Value is created by increasing information flow and working to have as many contributing citizens as possible. 

Profit is a good way to demonstrate the creation of value.

In fact, it's a pretty lousy method. The local water company clearly creates more value (in the sense that we can't live without it) than the handbag store down the street, and yet the handbag store has a much higher profit margin. That's not because of value, but because of mismatches in supply and demand, or less relevant inputs like brand, market power and corporate structure.

Profit is often a measure of short-term imbalances or pricing power, not value.

I hope we can agree that a caring nurse in the pediatric oncology ward adds more value than a well-paid cosmetic plastic surgeon doing augmentations. People with more money might pay more, but that doesn't equate to value.

The best way to measure value created is to measure value, not profit.

The purpose of society is to maximize profit

Well, since profit isn't a good measure of value created, this isn't at all consistent. More important, things like a living wage, sustainability, fairness and the creation of meaning matter even more. When we consider how to advance our culture, "will it hurt profits?" ought not to be the first (or even the fifth) question we ask.

The price of a stock represents the value of the company.

It turns out that the price of a stock merely reflects what a few people decided to trade it for today. Tomorrow, it will certainly be different, even if nothing about the company itself changes.

There's very little correlation with how the traders come to value a company in the market and how much value a company actually creates.

The only purpose of a company is to maximize long-term shareholder value.

Says who? Is the only purpose of your career to maximize lifetime income? If a company is the collective work of humans, we ought to measure the value that those humans seek to create.

Just because there's a number (a number that's easy to read, easy to game, easy to keep track of) doesn't mean it's relevant.

... and it bends toward justice

The arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends toward access.

Twelve years ago, Acumen made a modest investment in Water Health International, a start-up that builds water purification hubs in small villages in India. Today, and every single day, 7,000,000 people have clean water as a result.

... and it bends toward dignity.

Sixty years ago, it was still against the law for blacks and whites to get married in parts of the USA. And just five years ago, the same was true for gay couples

... and it bends toward healing.

Catherine Hoke's team at Defy brings hope and high expectations to the incarcerated and those recently released. As a result, the rate of recidivism falls more dramatically than anyone expects.

... and it bends toward community.

Jim Ziolkowski could have stayed in his secure job at General Electric. But instead, he went to Malawi and then Chicago and then to high schools in towns like yours. His work at BuildOn has transformed tens of thousands of students, executives and communities.

... and it bends toward helping the dispossessed.

Lexi Shereshewsky saw the Syrian refugee crisis firsthand. And so she started the Syria Fund, which, while still small in scale, is mighty in impact.

... and it bends toward diversity.

Willie Jackson couldn't find a magazine that spoke to him and to his generation. So he started one.

... and it bends toward responsibility.

We're not pawns if we choose not to be. This is not the work for someone else. No one else is doing it for us. With us, perhaps, and as an example for what we can do, but we're not off the hook.

History doesn't bend itself. But we can bend it.

It's taken us 100,000 years to figure out that we are only as well off as the weakest ones in our tribe, and that connection and community and respect lead to a world that benefits everyone.

The irony of Dr. King's holiday is that he surely believed that anyone could take on this calling, that anyone could organize, speak up and stand for justice.

We can connect, we can publish, we can lead. Anyone reading this has the ability to care, and to do something about it. We have more power than we dare imagine.

And so it bends.

Pavlov's in your pocket

Why do people buy lottery tickets?

It's certainly not based on any rational analysis of financial risk or reward.

So, why do something that almost never seems to work?

Because it actually works every single time.

What it does is release a hit of dopamine, first when you think about buying one, then again when you decide to buy one, and then a third time when you actually transact. For regular players, these three moments of hope and joy demolish the sadness that comes from actually losing.

It's a hope rush, for cheap.

Well, the same thing is true for the billion people carrying around a Pavlovian box in their pocket. The smart phone (so called in honor of the profit-seeking companies who were smart enough to make them) is an optimized, tested and polished call-and-response machine. So far, Apple's made a trillion dollars by ringing our bell.

Every time it pulses, we get a hit.

Every time we realize we haven't checked it in two minutes, we get a hit.

Hit, hit, hit.

And again and again.

The box vibrates, we feel hope and fear and our loneliness subsides, then we check, and we lose (again).

But we are hooked, so we put the phone in our pocket and wait for it to happen again.

Ring a bell?

How to make a sign

There it is, at every entrance to the terminal at LaGuardia, one of the busiest airports in the world: 

TERMINAL CLOSED
FOR MAINTENANCE

between 12:00 a.m.
and 4:00 a.m.
until further notice.

Ticketed Passengers &
Employees ONLY
will have access 
to Terminal.

A few questions on our way to fixing this:

Who is it for?

What impact will it have on everyone else?

To the sign maker: Are you angry? Frustrated? Trying to teach people a lesson?

What does it sound like when you read it aloud?

and... is it clear?

When I look at this sign, I wonder why it needs to say, "until further notice." After all, aren't all rules in place until further notice?

And why say 12:00 a.m. when midnight is so much more clear?

Do we really need to alert employees to this rule every day? 

Mostly, though, the headline is confusing (every person reading this sign for the first time is sure the terminal is closed right this minute, until they read the next line).

Perhaps, then, it might be a better sign if it said:

Hi. To keep this terminal clean, it's closed
to visitors from midnight until 4 a.m. every night.
Ticketed passengers are always welcome.

Thank you. 

More on this from Dan Pink.

Showing vs. telling

All the promises, explanations and asides in the world pale in comparison with what you do.

Too often, we forget that jargon and narrative exist to help shape our actions, not to replace them.

Words keep getting cheaper, which makes action more valuable than ever.

But where did the algorithm come from?

Imagine if the owner of the local bookstore hid books from various authors or publishers. They're on the shelf, sure, but misfiled, or hidden behind other books. Most of us would find this offensive, and I for one like the freedom I have (for now) to choose a new store, one that connects me to what I need.

The airline tickets I purchased last week are missing. Oh, here they are, in my spam folder. Gmail blames an algorithm, as if it wrote itself. 

That person who just got stopped on her way to an airplane—the woman who gets stopped every time she flies—the TSA says it's the algorithm doing it. But someone wrote that code.

And as AI gets ever better at machine learning, we'll hear over and over that the output isn't anyone's responsibility, because, hey, the algorithm wrote the code.

We need to speak up.

You have policies and algorithms in place where you work, passed down from person to person. Decision-making approaches that help you find good customers, or lead to negative redlining... What they have in common is that they are largely unexamined.

Google's search results and news are the work of human beings. Businesses thrive or suffer because of active choices made by programmers and the people they work for. They have conflicting goals, but the lack of transparency leads to hiding behind the algorithm.

The priority of which Facebook news come up is the work of a team of people. The defense of, "the results just follow the algorithm," is a weak one, because there's more than one valid algorithm, more than one set of choices that can be made, more than one set of priorities.

The culture (our politics, our standards, our awareness of what's happening around us) is being aggressively rewired by what we see, and what we see comes via an algorithm, one that was written by people.

Just because it makes the stockholders happy in the short run doesn't mean it's the right choice for the people who trust you.

Fixing the buffet line

Here's the obvious way: Watch people waiting to go through the line. Find the spot where the line slows down, where there's a gap between one person and the next. That's the spot that needs attention. Add a few spoons, pre-portion the item, remove a step.

Here's another way: Schedule how people enter the line. By managing the flow, you'll relax the participants and eliminate rush times.

Here's a better way: Pull the table away from the wall so people can walk on either side, thus giving your throughput a chance to practically double.

If you work on an assembly line, it's likely that someone has already thought about this.

But many of us are soloists, or do dozens of tasks a day. It's not as easy to notice where the bottlenecks are, so we have to look for them.

Have you considered the high cost of task switching? It probably takes you a little while to stop doing one thing and start doing another with efficiency. What happens when you switch less often?

Also: Consider the sprint test. If there's a task that comes up often, challenge yourself and your team to, just this once, organize and prepare to set a world record at actually completing this task. Get all the materials and processes set in advance. Now, with focus, seek out your most efficient flow.

Obviously, you can't do this every single time, but what did you learn? Steal the best parts and add them to your daily practice.

Is there someone who is more productive at a given task than you are? Watch and model. Even the way you hold the scoop, reach across the table or move the mouse is sufficient to change everything.

One last thought: Inspections are essential to maintain quality, but re-inspection is duplicative and slows things down. Where is the best place to be sure you've done the work properly? Do it there and then, and not again, and not five times. Organizing to build quality into the process, with steps that check themselves, is far more productive than constant task switching and over-inspection.

Entitlement is optional

It's not forced on us, it's something we choose.

And we rarely benefit from that choice.

That emergency surgery, the one that saved your life, when the ruptured appendix was removed—the doctor left a scar.

We can choose to be grateful for our next breath.

Or we can find a way to be enraged, to point out that given how much it costs and how much training the doctor had, that scar really ought to be a lot smaller. And on top of that, he wasn't very nice. We're entitled to a nice doctor!

Or we can choose to be grateful.

Marketers have spent trillions of dollars persuading us that we can have it all, that we deserve it, and that right around the corner is something even better.

Politicians have told us that they'll handle everything, that our pain is real and that an even better world is imminent.

And we believe it. We buy into our privilege as well as the expectation that our privilege entitles us to even more. It's not based on status or reality. It's a cultural choice.

And you're entitled to your entitlement if you want it.

But why would you?

Entitlement gets us nothing but heartache. It blinds us to what's possible. It insulates us from the magic of gratitude. And most of all, it lets us off the hook, pushing us away from taking responsibility (and action) and toward apportioning blame and anger instead.

Gratitude, on the other hand, is just as valid a choice. Except that gratitude makes us open to possibility. It brings us closer to others. And it makes us happier.

There's a simple hack at work here: We're not grateful because we're happy. We're happy because we're grateful.

Everything could be better.

Not because we deserve it (we don't, not really).

But because if we work at it, invest in it and connect with others around it, we can make it better. It's on us.

It's difficult work, counter-instinctual work that never ends.

But we keep trying. Because it's worth it.

More and less

More creating

    Less consuming

More leading

    Less following

More contributing

    Less taking

More patience

    Less intolerance

More connecting

    Less isolating

More writing

    Less watching

More optimism

    Less false realism

Maps and globes

If someone needs directions, don't give them a globe. It'll merely waste their time.

But if someone needs to understand the way things are, don't give them a map. They don't need directions, they need to see the big picture.

Good taste

When you appeal to the better nature of a specific group, you're doing something with good taste. Just barely ahead of the status quo, in sync but leaning forward.

The key understandings are:

It is never universal. Good taste is tribal, not widespread.

It's momentary. The definition changes over time.

And it's aspirational. When we encounter good taste, it makes us feel as though we can and will be better.

Because it's not universal, being seen as having good taste is not up to you. It's up to the recipient. You can't insist you're right.

Good taste is an incredibly valuable skill, and you can acquire it with practice.

Levelling up in 2017

You might have noticed that the gym was a little less crowded this morning.

It's only four days into the new year and most well-intentioned resolutions have already faded.

Of course they have. You can't change an ingrained habit with just a few days of willpower.

We stay where we are, finding a level and a routine and protecting it. Change isn't easy or everyone would do it. Finding more responsibility, making a bigger difference, following a new path--we need help and time to change those patterns.

That's why the altMBA takes thirty days. Every day, several hours per day. That's why we do it in small groups, with cohorts of just twenty people. And why we use live coaches, people who know your name. An online workshop that actually works.

I hope you'll sign up to have us send you some useful information about what we're doing. Every workshop we've run has been completely full, and we're accepting applications now for the spring session.

What will you create next?

Is kindness a luxury?

Luxury goods are only consumed when we've got enough. You shouldn't go shopping for a Birkin bag with your last dollar.

It's easy to believe that kindness is like that. We need more reserves, perhaps, before we can expend some of what we've got in this generous way.

You've had a hard day, it's raining out, the world is changing, your boss is mean to you, the checking account is overdrawn, you're on deadline...

But... Does every need have to be filled, every emotion in place before we're capable of being kind?

Do we have to have enough money, enough confidence about the future and enough of everything else we crave before we can find the space to offer someone else a hand?

It turns out that the opposite is true. That kindness is a foundation for the rest. That investing time and resources in extending ourselves shifts the rest of our needs in precisely the right direction, not only putting us closer to satisfying those other needs, but enjoying the journey as well.

Kindness rewards the giver as well.

The candy diet

The bestselling novel of 1961 was Allen Drury's Advise and Consent. Millions of people read this 690-page political novel. In 2016, the big sellers were coloring books.

Fifteen years ago, cable channels like TLC (the "L" stood for Learning), Bravo and the History Channel (the "History" stood for History) promised to add texture and information to the blighted TV landscape. Now these networks run shows about marrying people based on how well they kiss.

And of course, newspapers won Pulitzer prizes for telling us things we didn't want to hear. We've responded by not buying newspapers any more.

The decline of thoughtful media has been discussed for a century. This is not new. What is new: A fundamental shift not just in the profit-seeking gatekeepers, but in the culture as a whole.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."*

[*Ironically, this isn't what Einstein actually said. It was this, "It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience." Alas, I've been seduced into believing that the shorter one now works better.]

Is it possible we've made things simpler than they ought to be, and established non-curiosity as the new standard?

We are certainly guilty of being active participants in a media landscape that breaks Einstein's simplicity law every day. And having gotten away with it so far, we're now considering removing the law from our memory.

The economics seem to be that the only way to make a living is to reach a lot of people and the only way to reach a lot of people is to race to the bottom, seek out quick clicks, make it easy to swallow, reinforce existing beliefs, keep it short, make it sort of fun, or prurient, or urgent, and most of all, dumb it down.

And that's the true danger of anti-intellectualism. While it's foolish to choose to be stupid, it's cultural suicide to decide that insights, theories and truth don't actually matter. If we don't care to learn more, we won't spend time or resources on knowledge.

We can survive if we eat candy for an entire day, but if we put the greenmarkets out of business along the way, all that's left is candy.

Give your kid a tablet, a game, and some chicken fingers for dinner. It's easier than talking to him.

Read the short articles, the ones with pictures, it's simpler than digging deep.

Clickbait works for a reason. Because people click on it.

The thing about clickbait, though, is that it exists to catch prey, not to inform them. It's bait, after all.

The good news: We don't need many people to demand more from the media before the media responds. The Beverly Hillbillies were a popular show, but that didn't stop Star Trek from having a shot at improving the culture.

The media has always bounced between pandering to make a buck and upping the intellectual ante of what they present. Now that this balance has been ceded to an algorithm, we're on the edge of a breakneck race to the bottom, with no brakes and no break in sight.

Vote with your clicks, with your sponsorship, with your bookstore dollars. Vote with your conversations, with your letters to the editor, by changing the channel...

Even if only a few people use precise words, employ thoughtful reasoning and ask difficult questions, it still forces those around them to catch up. It's easy to imagine a slippery slope down, but there's also the cultural ratchet, a positive function in which people race to learn more and understand more so they can keep up with those around them.

Turn the ratchet. We can lead our way back to curiosity, inquiry and discovery if we (just a few for now) measure the right things and refuse the easy option in favor of insisting on better.

Crossing the awareness threshold

The blockchain, game theory, float tanks, turmeric, Justin Trudeau, Joi Ito, dal fry, thermite, the Corbomite Maneuver... these are all notions (people, ideas, technologies, foods) that you may or may not be aware of or have engaged with.

There's a path:

  • Unaware
  • Aware
  • Categorized
  • Have an opinion
  • Experienced
  • Have a new opinion
  • Have shared that opinion and are thus locked in

It's pretty clear that most the world is unaware of you and your work.

Once someone becomes aware of it, they'll probably leave it at that. "Oh." Because we're busy. And afraid of the new, because it often causes us to change our minds, which is frightening and difficult.

But sometimes, the culture or our work gives us no choice but to engage. We begin by putting this new thing into a category, so we know what to do with it, how to store the concept. Often, that's immediately followed by forming an opinion.

It's a huge leap, then, to go from, "Yuck, they make protein bars out of crickets," to, "I am going to try one."

After an experience, it's possible for a new opinion to be formed. But we like to be right, so that first opinion often sticks around.

And finally, seven steps in, it's possible that the word will spread, that awareness will be shared, that we'll tell someone else. And so the awareness barrier is crossed again, and the idea spreads, and opinions are truly locked in.

Some of these stages happen in clumps. Sometimes they take months or years to occur. How much time passed between the day you became aware that hockey was a spectator sport and the first time you went to a game?

We benefit when we're aware of how our idea will work its way through all seven stages, and cognizant that the process is different depending on the category, the culture and the people we're engaging with. Do it on purpose.

Wondering—past and future

Wondering about your past, about what might have happened, about bad decisions made and roads not taken... this is a recipe for not much more than regret.

But wondering about your future?

When we wonder about the future, we get a chance to begin again, to set new goals and envision bold plans.

No more chances to do yesterday over, sorry. But infinite chances for tomorrow.

If you could do tomorrow over again, would you?

The choice

Attitude is the most important choice any of us will make. We made it yesterday and we get another choice to make it today. And then again tomorrow.

The choice to participate.

To be optimistic.

To intentionally bring out the best in other people.

We make the choice to inquire, to be curious, to challenge the status quo.

To give people the benefit of the doubt.

To find hope instead of fear in the face of uncertainty.

Of course these are attitudes. What else could they be?

And of course, they are a choice. No one does these things to us. We choose them and do the work (and find the benefits) that come with them.

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