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« January 2018 | Main | March 2018 »

Short-attention-span theatre

Being first is insufficient.

Google wasn't the first search engine. Facebook wasn't the first social network. Apple wasn't the first home computer, phone or smart watch. Amazon wasn't the first online bookstore.

Before Sonos, before Alexa, before Google Home, there was the HomePod. [pic 1, pic 2]

In 2004, Dan Lovy and I launched a device that could take the music on your hard drive and play it through your stereo. And some other stuff, too. You certainly don't own one. We were five years too early for early adopters and ten years too early for the beginning of the mass market.

I've jumped the timing before

You can see the same thing happen to inventors of online shopping carts, ad networks, auction sites, ad formats, file sharing, crypto applications, all of it... Even non-profits and musical styles.

I've embraced that pattern for years. Going first. It's thrilling. Not particularly profitable, but thrilling.

Too often, we come to believe that there's some sort of idea race going on. While some need the froth and magic of the new, it turns out that culture is changed by persistence most of all. Be an inventor if you choose, but don't expect that you'll be the one driving the bus once the masses decide to get on.

 

[The third episode of my Akimbo podcast is out today. It's about VF 145: The Square Tomato. The podcast is now one of the top 100 in the world, thanks to you.]

Low & Slow (vs. fear)

My sourdough rye bread failed. For the first time since I've been baking from this starter, this weekend's batch didn't work.

I know why.

I rushed it.

I didn't let the dough ferment long enough.

And then I made the oven hotter, in an effort to get the loaves finished so I could leave to meet someone.

That's not how great bread works. It's ready when it's ready, not when you need it to be.

Of course, the analogy is obvious. Much of the work we do as creators, as leaders, as people seeking to make change--it needs to ferment, to create character and tension and impact. And if we rush it, we get nothing worth very much.

There's a flipside.

Sometimes, we mistakenly believe that we're building something that takes time, but what we're actually doing is hiding. We stall and digress and cause distractions, not because the work needs us to, but because we're afraid to ship.

Impatience can be a virtue if it causes us to leap through the fear that holds us back.

 

[PS thanks for your support for Catherine Hoke's new book. Loyal readers like you made it a national bestseller on its first day--only Michelle Obama had a faster-moving book. If you didn't get a copy yesterday, I hope you'll check it out. It will change you in ways you don't expect. Here's a review that got posted yesterday:

Odds are, you've never been to prison...but as humans, we're masters at creating our own. Our prison may be the shame of our past, a desire for perfection or our need for acceptance. The walls might be the potential we haven't realized, a loved one we hurt or even a conversation we never got a chance to have.

By bravely sharing her personal story and the behind-the-scenes look at the important and generous movement she's leading at Defy Ventures, Cat Hoke gives us all a second chance...to speak up, to lead and to make a difference.]

"You can't be curious and angry at the same time"

The first time I met Catherine Hoke, she changed my life. That's what she does at Defy. She changes lives.

After more than a year of persistent nudging, I was finally able to persuade her to share her story and her wisdom in a new book.

I'm thrilled that it came out this morning.

Defy works with men and women who were formerly incarcerated. They work with business leaders who are used to being treated with respect and privilege. And they work with volunteers across the country.

Mostly, what Defy does, what Cat does, is help people understand that forgiveness is a powerful tool, one that's easily overlooked. That when you're busy holding a grudge, it's difficult to open your arms to the possibility that's all around us.

Alex Peck and I spent nine months helping Cat bring this book to the world. We've donated 20,000 hardcover copies to Defy, so that every copy sold contributes 100% to their important work.

I hope you'll buy a copy (or several) today. It's a game changer, and I'm confident you'll be glad you took the leap.

Here's an unsolicited note we got the other day:

I finished reading A Second Chance yesterday and immediately started it again. It is easily the most impactful book I have read in years, if not ever. I find myself continually referencing it in conversation and can't wait for others to be able to read it. I have a list of people I'm ordering it for. I've been giving out copies of What To Do When It's Your Turn for years and now I have a new book I can't wait to give to people.

Thank you, Seth and the rest of the team for your investment in Cat, Defy and this book. The work of Seth and the Domino Project have been tremendous influencers on my life and work for years and this book takes that to a whole new level.

Best regards,
-scott

Fun, urgent or fear-based

Most of what we do at work all day is one of these three.

Fun: It's engaging, it gives us satisfaction, people smile.

Urgent: Someone else (or perhaps we) decided that this paper is on fire and it has to be extinguished before anything else happens.

Fear-based: Most common of all, the things we do to protect ourselves from the fear we'd have to sit with if we didn't do them.

Not on this list: important.

A day spent doing important work is rare indeed. Precious, too.

Totaled

A car is totaled when the cost of fixing it is more than the cost of buying a similar used car in good condition.

The broken car is a sunk cost. It doesn't matter how much you paid for it. It's a gift from the you of yesterday to the you of today. And it arrived broken, so broken that it's cheaper to buy a different one than to fix this one. Reject the gift from your earlier self. It's no gift at all.

Sunk costs are all around us. Commitments and engagements and assets that were hard to get, but are now totaled. They're gifts from the you of yesterday, and it's okay to refuse them.

The rigor imperative

When the project is emotional, or urgent, or loaded with resonance, it's easy to dispense with rigor. It is, after all, an emergency. No time for the process, for doing the hard part first, seeking best practices, or reverse engineering toward the desired result...

Of course, the opposite is true. If it's worth getting into a swizzle about, it's worth doing properly. 

Do the math, do the reading, do the budget. Do it right.

Noticed vs. missed

Will they notice that you've left?

There are lots of ways to be noticed. You can be loud. Argumentative. You can be sour, difficult, a bit of a diva. You can take umbrage at every opportunity, crack jokes at the expense of others, or merely scowl.

You can use hyperbole, drama and shame to get your way.

You can spam people, yell a lot, interrupt our day. You can create a scene, engage in a scandal and bully others. Your brand or your personality can be the one that we'd all prefer never to hear from again soon.

Or...

You could be the one we'd miss if you were gone.

It takes quite a bit of emotional labor to pull this off. Consistent effort to contribute, to see possibility and to be patient. If it were the easiest or most direct path to a short-term goal, everyone would do it.

Because we live in a world now based on connection and trust, because we work with our ideas and our emotions instead of our muscles, because our reputation is what we have to offer, the effort is probably worth it.

"Is the noise in my head bothering you?"

The monologue that runs in our brain is loud. It's heavy-metal loud compared to the quiet signals we get from the rest of the world.

All day, every day, that noise keeps going. It's the only voice that has seen everything we've seen, believes everything we believe. It's the noise that not only criticizes every action of every other person who disagrees with us, but it criticizes their motives as well. And, if we question it, it criticizes us as well.

Is it any wonder that projection is more powerful than empathy?

When we meet people, we either celebrate when they agree with us or plot to change or ignore them when they don't. There's not a lot of room for, "they might have a different experience of this moment than I do."

That noise in our head is selfish, afraid and angry. That noise is self-satisfied, self-important and certain. That noise pushes intimacy away and will do anything it can to degrade those that might challenge us.

But, against all odds, empathy is possible.

It's possible to amplify those too-quiet signals that others send us and to practice imagining, even for a moment, what it might be like to have their noise instead of our noise.

If we put in the effort and devote the time to practice this skill, we can get better at it. We merely have to begin.

Status roles

"I don't have much, but I have more than you do..."

The second episode of my podcast is out today, and it's the result of perhaps fifty blog posts I wrote but didn't post, because the topic is too important and it's too nuanced for something as short as a blog post.

Status roles are at the core of who we are. They change how we spend our time, our money and most of all, our imaginations.

We define ourselves in relative terms, not absolute ones. More stuff, more power, less this or less that. Who's up and who's down?

It's about the Godfather and professional wrestling, about business cards and politics.  It's about Baxter and Truman. And it's about how fiction works, and real life as well.

Everywhere we turn, we see status roles on display. Some people are moving on up, while others are moving down. This creates tension, drama and the need for resolution.

Here's a page with all the ways to listen and subscribe for free.

Ask a question and see the show notes about this episode on our show page.

"The Luckiest Lottery Store..."

Really?

That's the headline in the paper.

  Luckiest lottery store

Of course, there's no such thing as a lucky lottery store. And rational, long-term citizens never buy lottery tickets, because it's a lousy bet.

But the idea of the lucky store is precisely what someone is paying for when they buy the ticket. That this time, just maybe, luck will turn out the way it's supposed to. That a hunch or a scratch or a slight change in habit will pay off. That's what people are buying, not the net present value of a series of transactions.

They're buying the thrill of possible luck.

A changemaker's triangle

Editor, publisher, instigator.

The instigator is the author, the dreamer, the writer. She creates a screenplay, founds a non-profit, says what needs to be said.

The editor curates. Picks and chooses. Amplifies the essential and deletes the rest.

And the publisher scales it. Turns it into a business or a success on some other metric.

Throughout the ages, there have been world-class editors. Sometimes they get the authors they deserve, sometimes not. And there have always been great publishers, turning worthy (and sometimes less than worthy) ideas into successes.

If you're a maker of change, you might resort to being your own editor and your own publisher. After all, the ideas must be brought forward. If you can, though, see if you can find the editor and the publisher your work is worthy of.

Building, breaking, fixing

We spend some of our time building things, from scratch. New ideas, new projects, new connections. Things that didn't exist before we arrived.

We spend some of our time breaking things, using them up, discovering the edges.

And we spend some of our time fixing things. Customer support, maintenance, bug fixes... And most of all, answering email and grooming social media. The world needs fixing, it always does.

You've already guessed the questions:

a. where do you personally add the most value?

b. how much of your time are you spending doing that?

 

[If you want to spend more time in building mode, I hope you'll take a look at the altMBA. It's designed to upgrade and recharge your commitment to building things. Final deadline for applications for our next session is tomorrow, Monday, the 19th.]

Last week, a small group of our worldwide coaching team got together. It reminded me of how much Kelli, Marie, Alex, Sam, Fraser, Anne, our extraordinary coaches and our thousands of alumni have contributed to evolving the altMBA. Thank you.

 

altMBA coaches in newport

altMBA gathering 2017

Quick or smart?

Your smartphone makes you quick, not smart.

Every time you pick up your quickphone, you stop inventing and begin transacting instead.

The flow of information and style of interaction rewards your quickness. It helps you make decisions in this moment. Which route to drive? Which restaurant to go to? Which email to respond to?

Transactions are important, no doubt. But when you spend your entire day doing them, what disappears?

We can’t day trade our way to the future we seek.

"I'm not selling anything"

Of course you are. You're selling connection or forward motion. You're selling a new way of thinking, a better place to work, a chance to make a difference. Or perhaps you're selling possibility, generosity or sheer hard work.

It might be that the selling you're doing costs time and effort, not money, but if you're trying to make change happen, then you're selling something.

If you're not trying to make things better, why are you here?

So sure, you're selling something.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, "I'm not selling something too aggressively, invading your space, stealing your attention and pushing you to do something that doesn't match your goals."

That's probably true. At least I hope it is.

Looking for seekers (who are looking for you)

"Don't go to the supermarket when you're hungry."

The reason is obvious--when you're hungry, you're likely to buy things. The risk is that you'll buy something you don't need, because, of course, all that buying isn't actually making you less hungry.

The same thing is true for just about anything we seek to sell. Selling water to a thirsty person, education to someone seeking enlightenment, goals to someone eager to move forward—this is dramatically easier and more satisfying than first having to persuade someone that they should actually care about the difference you're trying to make.

Obvious? I think so.

But most marketers make this mistake on the very first day and keep making it for their entire career.

You might be in love with the change you are trying to make in the world. Best to begin with an audience that's rooting for you to succeed.

Akimbo, my new podcast, launches today

Akimbo is a posture of strength and possibility. The chance to make a difference, to bend the culture.

It's at the heart of my work. Your work too. The work of making change that we're proud of.

And so, a new podcast. A different kind of podcast. No guests, no fancy production, it won't remind you of NPR or sports radio either. 100% organic and handmade.

And yes, I'll be answering your questions about each episode, submitted at our showpage.

Special thanks to founding sponsor Ziprecruiter.

The first episode launches today. Subscribe and listen on Apple and on Overcast or search your favorite podcast player for 'akimbo'.

Not a grand opening, but a start. I hope you'll join in.

Born to paint?

More than a hundred billion people have ever lived. Perhaps 1,000 have been widely heralded as artistic geniuses who painted in oils.

And perhaps there were another thousand genius physicists and just one Nobel-Prize winning folksinger.

We sell ourselves short when we argue that there's something magical about creative work, something that can only happen if we're born to do it.

It's not that different from the thesis that there's something in the DNA of Spanish-speaking people that makes them good at soccer. I hope we can agree that people from countries that speak Spanish are more likely to be soccer stars because they grow up surrounded by soccer, with the expectation that they too can be good at it.

It's not too late for you to be a genius. It comes at a price, but it's not based on your DNA.

The first law of organizational thermodynamics

Energy is either created or destroyed.

Newton was right about physics, but in organizations and cultures, the opposite is true.

You're either the person who creates energy.

Or you're the one who destroys it.

You might be the one who initiates projects, who asks, "what if?" or eagerly says, "I'll do it." The person who finds and amplifies and supports the good work of others. The spark.

Or, it's possible you're the passive one, the naysayer, the bystander, the one who manages to eat the donuts at the meeting but not actually add much in the way of energy, kinetic or potential.

You can choose to be the generous one, putting in more than you take out, surprising everyone with a never-ending flow of generosity.

Or, you can find any of one hundred perfectly acceptable explanations/excuses/reasons why you're merely an absorber of it.

What is extraordinary contribution worth?

I know it's worth a lot to the recipient, but what is it worth to you?

We all know what normal contribution looks like. It's what happens when a qualified person does the job, meets spec and keeps a promise.

But extraordinary contribution is rare. It's when we surprise the system, and perhaps ourselves, by showing up with something unexpected, far beyond the common standard. Extraordinary contribution creates careers. It's a breakthrough in the status quo, a shift in a previously accepted power dynamic.

Extraordinary contribution changes not just the recipient, but the giver as well.

So yes, it's worth quite a bit. The chance to do a stage in a professional (and generous) kitchen is priceless. The internship or the summer job where you quite recklessly level up, showing the world and yourself just what you're capable of--that's worth far more than the money you spent going into debt with college for.

The hard part isn't working for free. The hard part is figuring out that this is your chance to do more than you're asked, to resist being unpaid labor for an organization too cheap to pay you properly. Instead, this is a rare moment to leap.

Worth a special trip

Now that more and more is ordered online, or experienced online, the only trips we take are special trips.

If your offering, your service or your place isn't worth a special trip, it's likely we won't be coming by any time soon.

What do you see?

A better question might be, "what do you choose to see?"

If I take four professionals to the Whitney:

The architect sees the building, the sight lines, the way the people and the light flow.

The framer notices the craftsmanship and taste in the way the paintings are framed and hung.

The lighting designer can't help but comment on the new LEDs.

And the art dealer sees the names of each artist and marvels over career arcs.

When you read a blog post, or see a successful project or read about an innovation, what do you see?

Do you see the emotions and the fear and the grit of the people behind it?

Do you see the strategy and high-level analysis that went into it?

Or do you see the execution and technique?

Some people are willingly blind to metaphor, viewing each example as a special case. Others manage to connect the dots and find what they need just about anywhere.

You might not need more exposure to the new. Instead, it might pay to re-see what's already around you.

Reversing Alinsky's rules

In Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky laid out 13 principles that can be used in zero-sum game political settings to discourage and defeat enemies.

Alas, this approach is often used by both sides in just about any issue, and tears away at civil discourse. When you're so sure you're right that you're willing to burn things down, it turns out that everyone is standing in a burning building sooner or later.

What happens if we reverse the rules?

1. Put people to work. It’s even more effective than money.
2. Challenge your people to explore, to learn and to get comfortable with uncertainty.
3. Find ways to help others on the path find firm footing.
4. Help others write rules that allow them to achieve their goals.
5. Treat the others the way you’d want to be treated.
6. Don’t criticize for fun. Do it when helps educate, even if it’s not entertaining.
7. Stick with your tactics long after everyone else is bored with them. Only stop when they stop working.
8. It’s okay to let the pressure cease now and then. People will pay attention to you and the change you seek when they are unable to consistently ignore it.
9. Don’t make threats. Do or don’t do.
10. Build a team with the capacity and the patience to do the work that needs doing.
11. If you bring your positive ideas to the fore, again and again, you’ll raise the bar for everyone else.
12. Solve your own problems before you spend a lot of time finding problems for the others.
13. Celebrate your people, free them to do even more, make it about the cohort and invite everyone along. Disagree with institutions, not with people.

The respect of 'why'

"Because I said so," ends our inquiry, shuts the door and disrespects the questioner, all at the same time. 

Explaining what we need and why allows us to engage. It creates a connection of mutual respect.

When a bureaucrat or authority figure refuses to explain 'why', he is showing fear (because he's not sure why) and contempt (because he doesn't have to care).

We'd prefer to engage with a human, every time.

 

[PS Last chance for the taping and Q&A in Newport Beach in Southern California, Feb 15]

Ignore sunk clowns

Yes there was supposed to be a clown at your birthday party. No, he didn’t show up. That’s a bummer.

But! But your friends are all here, and the sun is shining and you’ve got cake and a game of pin the tail on the donkey ready to go.

The question is: how long should you mourn the loss of the clown? How much more of your party are you ready to sacrifice?

The same question confronts the pro golfer who three-putted on the third hole.

Or the accountant who forgot an obvious deduction, one that can’t be recovered.

Or the salesperson who missed a key meeting, or the speaker who got let down because the tech crew screwed up her first three slides.

If it doesn’t help, why bathe in it?

When we can see these glitches as clowns, as temporary glitches that are unrelated to the cosmic harmony of the universe or even the next thing that’s going to happen to us, they’re easier to compartmentalize.

That happened.

Okay, now what?

Empathetic doesn't mean doormat

It's essential to find empathy for the people you hope to serve, to teach, to work with. Without it, you can't find the place they're stuck, you can't help them move in the direction they seek to go.

But it's entirely possible that your empathy will lead to a moment where you need to say 'no'.

"I just bought a new car from you, drove it for a thousand miles, but now, I've broken my arm in a fall and I won't be able to drive for a while. Can I please have a full refund?"

Of course, this is a selfish request. Your dealership can't survive if buying a car is a slightly more complicated version of renting one for free.

Yes, you can empathize or even sympathize with this customer's plight. A broken arm is bad enough, but the additional pain of seeing a car you can't drive every day... that's worse.

But empathy doesn't require you to reach into your pocket because the customer has rewritten the terms of the deal and is undermining the business you've built to serve others.

Instead, it means that you can see his pain and that you're completely okay with this person not buying from you again. That through the mist of pain and percocet, it's entirely possible that he doesn't have the reserves to be empathic to you, that he can't see it through your eyes. And you probably can't force him to.

So empathy leads to, "I hear you, I see you, and if you need to walk away, we'll understand. We hope you'll see it the way we do one day, but right now, I can't solve your problem."

The Super Bowl is for losers

[But selling projects well isn't. There are five things every project organizer can learn from the stadium builders...]

The Times reports that the people of Minnesota spent half a billion dollars (more accurately written as $500,000,000.00) to build a stadium and make concessions that led to being able to host the big game today. And, like every other city that has invested heavily in the NFL over the last decade or more, they will certainly lose money, probably a lot of money. More money than we can easily visualize.

So why does it keep happening?

Why, despite volumes of documented evidence, do well-intentioned people spearhead new projects like this? There's a valuable set of lessons here about human behavior:

  1. The project is now. It's imminent. It's yes or no. You can't study it for a year or a decade and come back to it. The team creates a forcing function, one that turns apathy into support or opposition.
  2. The project is specific. Are there other ways that Minneapolis could have effectively invested five hundred million dollars? Could they have created access, improved education, invested in technology, primed the job market? Without a doubt. But there's an infinite number of alternatives vs. just one specific. 
  3. The end is in sight. When you build a stadium, you get a stadium. When you host a game, you get a game. That's rarely true for the more important (but less visually urgent) alternatives.
  4. People in power and people with power will benefit. High profile projects attract vendors, businesses and politicians that seek high profile outcomes. And these folks often have experience doing this, which means that they're better at pulling levers that lead to forward motion.
  5. There's a tribal patriotism at work. "What do you mean you don't support our city?"

For me, the biggest takeaway is to realize that in the face of human emotions and energy, a loose-leaf binder from an economist has no chance. If you want to get something done, you can learn a lot from the power of the stadium builders. They often win. 

[Update: I heard from some kind readers in MN who shared numbers that show that the state was very careful with their investment, and it might be one of the better long-term stadium bets on record. Well done. If you have to do a giant stadium project like this one, it sounds like this is the way to do it...]

Everyone's watching (no one is watching)

When you're doing something you'd rather hide, when you're cutting corners, breaking promises or acting like a bully, it's fair to assume that plenty of people are watching.

And when you've got a new project to launch, an act of generosity you want to share or an announcement to make, it's useful to imagine that those very same people are doing something else.

Positive signals are often weak signals. We need to be prepared to offer them with consistency, to keep showing up in the face of apparent apathy. It's not apathy, it's merely people who are too busy and distracted to slow down and hear you enough to appreciate you (at first.)

What motivates you to take action?

School taught us to answer a simple question, “will this be on the test?” If the answer is no, we’ve got no time for it.

Work taught us to fear the boss and the review and our performance ranking. And we are motivated to do the work if we get paid for it, because, after all, that’s why we call it work. Do the least, because you're always going to get asked to do more.

Or we could be motivated to avoid shame, or to take advantage of the sale that’s about to end. Motivated by deadlines, by crises, by the media "breaking news" out of the situation room.

Is it any wonder, then, that we end up as short-term, unhappy, profit seekers? And that marketers and others that seek to engage with you build their offerings around your motivation?

Millions of students are in college, many going hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. They are surrounded by huge libraries, high-speed internet access and educated people, and yet the dominant dynamic remains: how little can I do? Will this be on the test? 

And the rest of us are in the real world, with the infinite library of humanity at our fingertips, with millions of people to connect with, with an unlimited array of problems worth solving right in front of us.

What if each of us were motivated by curiosity instead? Or generosity? Perhaps we could learn to see possibility instead of risk. What if we took and finished online classes because we could, not because there are assignments, tests and a certificate?

I see this firsthand with the shift students in my courses go through. At first, there's an awkward pause when people realize that there are no tests. Without tests, it seems, it's easier to focus on more pressing urgencies at home or at work. But then, postures begin to change. People realize that a different kind of motivation might lead to a different sort of outcome.

The choice of motivation is a fork in the road. It not only determines what we do and how we do it, but it drives marketers to decide what they make and how they’ll sell it. It changes the way school boards and regents design courses. It changes the story we tell ourselves.

Today's Groundhog day, an oddball holiday built on the premise that winter's a grind, that we want it to be over with, that our motivation is TGIF... The magic of the film, though, was realizing that our motivation is actually up to us, and that if we choose, we can change it. If we do, the world might change in response.

We get more of what we respond to.

Falling out

The hard part isn't coming up with a new idea.

The hard part is falling out of love with the old idea.

That's why editing work is so difficult. In order to make the new thing, to make the old thing better, you need to destroy it first.

Situation switching, acting as if, loving the idea enough to sketch it out and then caring enough to stop loving it... that's where the tension often lies.

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