Most of what we're chasing is that which we've had all along.
In our culture, the getting is ever more important than the having.
There's nothing wrong with getting, of course, as long as the process is in sync with the life you want to lead.
The latest book, Poke The Box is a call to action about the initiative you're taking - in your job or in your life, and Seth once again breaks the traditional publishing model by releasing it through The Domino Project.
Most of what we're chasing is that which we've had all along.
In our culture, the getting is ever more important than the having.
There's nothing wrong with getting, of course, as long as the process is in sync with the life you want to lead.
Some things are races, but not many.
A race is a competition in which the point is to win. You're not supposed to enjoy the ride, learn anything or make your community better. You're supposed to win.
At the end of a race, people congratulate the winner, and point out how well she did by winning. The rest of the field, the losers, well, hey, you tried.
Once you see it that clearly, so many things are clearly not races. And when we treat life that way, we cheat our customers, the people we seek to serve, as well as ourselves.
We sometimes abbreviate, "he won a particular race," to, "he's a winner." They're not the same thing.
In the old economy, social connection was done to us.
"There's nothing to do around here." "I'm bored." "Nothing's happening in this place."
You could whine about the fact that your college didn't have enough activities, or that the bar was 'dead'.
Today, though, the obligation is on us to make our own magic. To find two sticks and turn them into a game. To organize our own conversations, find our own connections... most of all, to bring generosity and energy to communities that don't have enough of either one.
Freedom and leverage is great, but it comes with responsibility. We're all curators/concierges/impresarios now.
If the association or the chat room or the street corner isn't what you need it to be, why not make it into the thing we're hoping for?
Great organizations are filled with people who are eagerly seeking to recruit people better than they are. Not just employees, but vendors, coaches and even competitors.
Most organizations seek to hire, "people like us." The rationale is that someone too good might not take the job, might get frustrated, might be easily lured away.
A few aim for, "so good she scares me." A few aim for, "it'll raise our game."
This takes guts.
It takes guts for an employee or a group member to aggressively try to persuade people more passionate, more skilled or smarter to join in, because by raising the average, they also expose themselves to the fact that they're not as good as they used to be (relatively).
Can we take it a little further? What happens if we read a book we not quite sure we'll understand, or ski down a slope that's a little too hard or sign up for a project we're not certain we can easily do?
What happens if we go to a school where we think everyone is smarter than we are?
We are each the average of the people we hang out with and the experiences we choose.
The best way to end up mediocre is via tiny compromises.
Do not tell your friends about your nascent idea, your notion, the area you hope to explore next.
Do not seek reassurance from them.
Do not become vulnerable about your tiny new sprout of an inkling.
It will be extinguished by people who mean well. They are trying to protect you from heartache.
There is a very, very tiny group of fellow travelers who can amplify your inkling. For the rest, keep it quiet. Trot out a make-believe idea instead, a pretend Potemkin Village of a project, let them dump all over that one instead.
Keep the other one in the incubator for now. There will be plenty of time for sharing later.
A colleague was talking to the CEO of a fast-growing small business about a partnership opportunity.
The CEO said, "well, this is something we believe in, something we want to have happen," and then he continued, "in fact, it's something my partners and I want to be able to support in our personal and our corporate lives."
But he declined, because, times are tough, the company is small, they need all their resources, etc.
If you aren't willing to live your values now, when will you start?
A company that begins with its priorities straight--about how it will keep promises, treat its workers, support causes it believes in--will rarely have trouble becoming the kind of company that does this at scale.
But if you put it in a folder marked "later," it may never happen.
[A marketing PS: It turns out that small organizations that stand for something and act that way usually have a better shot at earning our attention, our trust and our commerce. So yes, doing the thing that you believe in will get you better employees, better customers and more growth. I love it when things happen for the right reason, don't you?]
We say we want sustainable packaging...
but end up buying the one in fancy packaging instead.
We say we want handmade, local goods...
but end up buying the cheap one, because it's 'just as good.'
We say we want the truth...
but end up buying hype.
We say we want to hire for diversity (of thought, culture and background)...
but end up hiring people who share our point of view in most things.
We say we want to be treated with respect...
but end up buying from manipulative, selfish, short-term profit-seekers instead.
We say we don't want to be hustled...
but we wait for the last-minute, the going-out-of-business rush or the high pressure push.
It actually starts with us.
Here's the thing. It also starts with anyone with the leverage and power and authority to make something.
Because even if it's the marketing we deserve, it's also the marketing they create.
Jobs are finite, specified and something we 'get'. Doing a job makes us defensive, it limits our thinking. The goal is to do just enough, not get in trouble, meet spec. When in doubt, seek deniability.
Projects are open-ended, chosen and ours. Working on a project opens the door to possibility. Projects are about better, about new frontiers, about making change happen. When in doubt, dare.
Jobs demand meetings and the key word is 'later'. Projects encourage 'now.'
You can get paid for a job (or a project). Or not. The pay isn't the point, the approach is.
Some people don't have a project, only a job. That's a choice, and it's a shame. Some people work to turn their project into a job, getting them the worst of both. If all you've ever had is jobs (a habit that's encouraged starting in first grade), it's difficult to see just how easy it is to transform your work into a project.
Welcome to projectworld.
You can fix your "um" and you probably should.
Each of us now owns a media channel and a brand, and sooner or later, as your work gains traction, we'll hear your voice. Either in a job interview or on a podcast or in a video.
For a million years, people have been judging each other based on voice. Not just on what we say, but on how we say it.
I heard a Pulitzer-prize winning author interviewed on a local radio show. The tension of the interview caused an "um" eruption—your words and your approach sell your ideas, and at least on this interview, nothing much got sold.
Or consider the recent college grad who uses thirty or forty "likes" a minute. Hard to see through to the real you when it's so hard to hear you.
Alas, you can't remove this verbal tic merely by willing it away.
Here's what you can do: Persuade yourself that the person you're talking to will give you the floor, that he won't jump in the moment you hesitate. You actually don't have to keep making sounds in order to keep your turn as the speaker. The fastest speaker is not the speaker who is heard best or even most.
Next step: First on your own, eventually practicing with friends, replace the "um" with nothing. With silence.
Talk as slowly as you need to. Every time you want to insert a podium-holding stall-for-time word, say nothing instead. Merely pause.
You can do this into a tape recorder, you can try it in a meeting. It works.
You're not teaching yourself to get rid of "um." You're replacing the um with silence. You're going slow enough that this isn't an issue.
Then you can slowly speed up.
The best part: Our default assumption is that people who choose their words carefully are quite smart. Like you.
'Try harder' is something we hear a lot. After a while, though, we run out of energy for 'harder.'
You can harangue people about trying harder all you like, but sooner or later, they come up empty.
Perhaps it's worth trying better instead.
Try the path you've been afraid of.
Spend the time to learn a whole new approach.
Better, not harder.
Can you imagine how difficult the crossword puzzle would be if any given answer might be, "there is no such word"?
The reason puzzles work at all is that we know we should keep working on them until we figure them out. Giving up is not a valid strategy, because none-of-the-above is not a valid answer.
The same thing happened with the 4 minute mile. It was impossible, until it was done. Once Bannister ran his mile, the floodgates opened.
Knowing it was possible was the hard part.
And that's how software leaps forward as well. Almost no one seriously attempts something, until someone figures out that with a lot of work, it can be done. Then the shortcuts begin to appear, and suddenly, it's easy.
As soon as we stop denying the possible, we're able to focus our effort on making it happen.
[PS Tomorrow is the first priority application deadline for the next session of the altMBA.]
Impossible, not particularly worth wasting time on.
On the other hand, a ten-year commitment is precisely what's required if you want to be sure to make an impact.
These are two sides of the same coin.
Neophilia pushes us forward with wonder, eager for the next frontier.
And ennui is the exhaustion we feel when we fall too in love with what might (should?) be next and ignore the wonder that's already here and available right now.
That's certainly one way to get through a thorny problem.
The most direct way to get a jet to fly is to add bigger engines. And the easiest way to gain attention is to run more ads, or yell more loudly.
Horsepower is an expensive but often effective solution.
The challenge is that power is expensive. And that power is inelegant. And that power often leaves behind a trail of destruction.
When in doubt, try wings.
Wings use finesse more than sheer force. Wings work with the surrounding environment, not against it. Wings are elegant, not brutal.
It's impossible to see yourself as others do.
Not merely because the medium is imperfect, but, when it comes to ourselves, we process what we see differently than everyone else in the world does.
We make this mistake with physical mirrors as well as the now ubiquitous mirror of what people are saying about us behind our back on social media. We misunderstand how we look on that video or how we come across in that note.
When we see a group photo, we instantly look at ourselves first. When we pass a mirror on the wall, we check to see if there's parsley stuck on our teeth, yet fail to notice how horrible that camel's hair jacket we love actually looks on us. When someone posts a review of something we've built, or responds/reacts to something we've written online, we dissect it, looking for the germ of truth that will finally help us see ourselves as others do.
No one understands your self-narrative, no one cares that much about you, no one truly gets what it's like to be you. That germ of truth you're seeking isn't there, no matter how hard you look in the mirror.
You're not as bad (or as good) as you think you are.
Other than writing a daily blog (a practice that's free, and priceless), reading more blogs is one of the best ways to become smarter, more effective and more engaged in what's going on. The last great online bargain.
Good blogs aren't focused on the vapid race for clicks that other forms of social media encourage. Instead, they patiently inform and challenge, using your time with respect.
Here's the thing: Google doesn't want you to read blogs. They shut down their RSS reader and they're dumping many blog subscriptions into the gmail promo folder, where they languish unread.
And Facebook doesn't want you to read blogs either. They have cut back the organic sharing some blogs benefitted from so that those bloggers will pay to 'boost' their traffic to what it used to be.
RSS still works. It's still free. It's still unfiltered, uncensored and spam-free.
Here's how to get into the RSS game. Go ahead and click the green button above. It will take you to Feedly, where you can add this blog. You can then add blogs on food, life, business and even chocolate. I read more than fifty blogs every day. Worth it.
If you're a desktop user, go ahead and bookmark the Feedly page after you set up an account, add some more blogs (they have more than a million to choose from) and visit the page every day. You can easily keep up to date in less time than it takes you to watch a lousy TV show.
If you're on mobile, go ahead and sign up and then download the Feedly app.
For those of you that have been engaging with this blog for months or years, please share this post with ten friends you care about. We don't have to sit idly by while powerful choke points push us toward ad-filled noisy media.
When someone handed you a calculator for the first time, it meant that long division was never going to be required of you ever again. A huge savings in time, a decrease in the cognitive load of decision making.
You can use that surplus to play video games and hang out.
Or you can use that surplus to go learn how to do something that can't be done by someone merely because she has a calculator.
Either way, your career as a long-divisionator was over.
Entire professions and industries are disrupted by the free work and shortcuts that are produced by the connection economy, by access to information, by robots. Significant parts of your job are almost certainly among them.
Now that we can get what you used to do really quickly and cheaply from someone else, you can either insist that you still get to do that for us at the same fee you used to charge, or you can move up the ladder and do something we can't do without you.
Is the glass half full or half empty?
The pessimist sees what's present today and can only imagine eventual decline. The glass is already half empty and it's only going to get worse.
The optimist understands that there's a difference between today and tomorrow. The glass is half full, with room for more. The vision is based on possibility, the future tense, not the present one.
Pessimists have trouble making room for possibility, and thus possibility has trouble finding room for pessimists.
As soon as we realize that there is a difference between right now and what might happen next, we can move ourselves to the posture of possibility, to the self-fulfilling engine of optimism.
Avoiding a problem with foresight and good design is a cheap, highly leveraged way to do your work.
Extinguishing a problem before it gets expensive and difficult is almost as good, and far better than paying a premium when there's an emergency.
Fretting about an impending problem, worrying about it, imagining the implications of it... all of this is worthless.
The magic of slack (a little extra time in the chain, a few extra dollars in the bank) is that it gives you the resources to stop and avoid a problem or fix it when it's small. The over-optimized organization misunderstands the value of slack, so it always waits until something is a screaming emergency, because it doesn't think it has a moment to spare. Expensive.
Action is almost always cheaper now than it is later.
There are a billion people trying to do something important for the first time. These people are connected by the net, posting, creating, daring to leap first.
It's hard, because the number of people racing with you to be original is huge.
The numbers are so daunting that the chances that you will create something that resonates, spreads and changes the culture are really close to zero.
But it's also certain that someone will. In fact, there's a 100% chance that someone will step up with an action or a concept so daring that it resonates with us.
Nearly zero and certain. At the same time.
Pick your odds, decide what you care about and act accordingly.
As your new idea spreads, most people who hear about it will dislike it.
(click to enlarge)
Start at the left. Your new idea, your proposal to the company, your new venture, your innovation—no one knows about it.
As you begin to promote it, most of the people (the red line) who hear about it don't get it. They think it's a risky scheme, a solution to a problem no one has or that it's too expensive. Or some combination of the three.
And this is where it would stop, except for the few people on the blue line. These are the early adopters, the believers, and some of them are sneezers. They tell everyone they can about your new idea.
Here's the dangerous moment. If you're keeping track of all the people who hate what you've done, you'll give up right here and right now. This is when the gulf of disapproval is at its maximum. This happened to the telephone, to the web, to rap music... lots of people have heard of it, but the number of new fans (the blue line) is far smaller than the number of well-meaning (but in this case, wrong) people on the red line.
Sometimes, if you persist, the value created for the folks on the blue line begins to compound. And so your fans persist and one by one, convert some of the disapproving. Person by person, they shift from being skeptics to accepting the new status quo.
When the gulf of disapproval comes, don't track the red line. Count on the blue one instead.
It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need to be prettier if you want to be an actor or actress. It turns out, though, that most important thespians aren't conventionally pretty (Marlon Brando, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie, Geena Davis, Morgan Freeman...)
It's easy for a retailer or a freelancer to believe that the best way to succeed is to be cheap. But just about every important brand (and every successful freelancer) didn't get that way by being the cheapest.
And anyone who has been through high school has been reminded how important it is to be well-rounded. But Nobel Prize winners, successful NGO founders and just about everyone you admire didn't get that way by being mediocre at a lot of things.
Pretty, cheap and well-rounded are seductive ways to hide out in a crowd. But they're not the path to doing work that matters.
Coming and going matter far more than what happens in the middle.
Tearing off the bandage.
Meeting someone new.
Getting on the airplane, getting off of it.
Ending a feud.
We mistakenly spend most of our time thinking about, working on and measuring the in-between parts, imagining that this is the meat of it, the important work. In fact, humans remember the transitions, because it's moments of change and possibility and trepidation that light us up.
Challenge one: Believing that the solution you've got (the person you want to hire, the strategy you want to implement, the decision you want to make) is the one and only way to make the problem go away or take advantage of the opportunity.
Falling in love with your solution makes it incredibly difficult to see its flaws, to negotiate with people who don't agree with you, to find an even better solution.
And, on the other side of the table...
Challenge two: When you find someone who is pitching a solution you don't like, it's tempting to deny that there's much of a problem at all. After all, if you diminish the problem, you won't have to accept the solution that's on the table.
But of course, the problem is real. The dissatisfaction or inefficiency or wrong direction isn't going to go away merely because we deny it.
It's amazing how much we can get done when we agree to get something done.
A neighbor recently put in some new sidewalk. As usual, the workman interrupted the unbroken swath of perfect concrete with lines every three feet.
What are the lines for?
Well, the ground shifts. When it does, perfect concrete cracks in unpredictable ways, often ruining the entire job. When you put the breakpoints in on purpose, though, the concrete has a chance to absorb the shifts, to degrade effectively.
This is something we often miss in design and in the creation of customer experiences. We're so optimistic we forget to put in the breakpoints.
There's no doubt the ground will shift. The question is: when it does, will you be ready?
Human beings suffer from scope insensitivity.
Time and again, we're unable to put more urgency or more value on choices that have more impact. We don't donate ten times as much to a charity that's serving 10 times (or even 100 times) more people. We don't prioritize our interest or our urgency based on scale, we do it based on noise.
And yet, too often, we resort to a narrative about big numbers.
It doesn't matter that there are more than 6,000 posts on this blog. It could be 600 or 60. It won't change what you read next.
It doesn't matter if a library has a million books instead of a hundred thousand.
It doesn't matter how many people live without electricity.
Of course it matters. What I meant to say is that when you're about to make a decision of scale, right here and right now, if the number is more than ten, the scope of the opportunity or problem will almost certainly be underestimated.
But they're useful.
That's why professionals use them to teach, to learn and to understand.
A metaphor takes what we know and uses it as a lever to understand something else. And the only way we can do that is by starting with the true thing and then twisting it into a new thing, a thing we'll be able to also understand.
(Of course, a metaphor isn't actually a lever, a physical plank of wood that has a fulcrum, which is precisely my point).
The difference between the successful professional and the struggling amateur can often be seen in their respective facility with metaphor. The amateur struggles to accept that metaphor is even acceptable ("are atoms actually building blocks?") or can't find the powerful analogy needed to bring home the concept. Because all metaphors aren't actually true, it takes confidence to use them well.
If you're having trouble understanding a disconnect, or are seeking to explain why something works or doesn't, begin with a metaphor. "Why is this new thing a lot like that understood thing..."
Metaphors aren't true, but they work.
Pop culture is enamored with the Bond villian, the psycho, the truly evil character intent on destruction.
It lets us off the hook, because it makes it easy to see that bad guys are other people.
But most of the stuff that goes wrong, much of the organizational breakdown, the unfixed problems and the help not given, ends up happening because the system lets it happen. It happens because a boss isn't focusing, or priorities are confused, or people in a meeting somewhere couldn't find the guts to challenge the status quo.
What we choose not to do matters.
A few rhetorical questions:
Is a physical therapist with a professional logo better than one with a handmade sign?
Are you more likely to stay at a hotel that you've heard of as opposed to an unknown one, even if 'heard of' refers to the fact that they've run ads?
Do you believe that companies that rank higher in search results are better than the ones a few pages later? And if you don't, then what's the reason we so often stop clicking after one page?
There are more ways than ever to spread the word about your work, but we live in a culture where paid ads still have clout.
"As Seen on TV" was such a powerful phrase that companies brag about it, right on the box. And that connection between paying for attention and quality still remains.
Over time, we've been sufficiently seduced by marketers that spend on the surface stuff that cognitive dissonance has persuaded us that we must be making those choices for a reason.
Find the discipline to build your projects like you won't be able to run ads to make them succeed. A product that sells itself, that's remarkable, that spreads.
Then consider running ads as if you don't need them.
It's about scale. Pick a long enough one (or a short enough one) and you can see the edges.
In the short run, there's never enough time.
In the long run, constrained resources become available.
In the short run, you can fool anyone.
In the long run, trust wins.
In the short run, we've got a vacancy, hire the next person you find.
In the long run, we spend most of our time with the people we've chosen in the short run.
In the short run, decisions feel more urgent and less important at the same time.
In the long run, most decisions are obvious and easy to make.
In the short run, it's better to panic and obsess on emergencies and urgencies.
In the long run, spending time with people you love, doing work that matters, is all that counts.
In the short run, trade it all for attention.
In the long run, it's good to own it (the means of production, the copyrights, the process).
In the short run, burn it down, someone else will clean up the problem.
In the long run, the environment in which we live is what we need to live.
In the short run, better to cut class.
In the long run, education pays off.
In the short run, tearing people down is a great way to get ahead.
In the long run, building things of value makes sense.
Add up the short runs, though, and you're left with the long run. It's going to be the long run a lot longer than the short run will last.
Before we start laying out the logical argument for a course of action, it's worth considering whether a logical argument is what's needed.
It may be that the person you're engaging with cares more about symbols, about tribal identity, about the status quo. They may be driven by fear or anger or jealousy. It might be that they just don't care that much.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a discussion where the most coherent, actionable, rational argument wins.
Sometimes, but not often.
People like us do things like this.
The web was built on words.
And words, of course, are available to anyone who can type. They're cheap, easy to edit and incredibly powerful when used well.
Today's internet, though, is built on video. Much more difficult to create well, far more impactful when it works.
My friends at Graydin, for example, needed only 140 seconds to make their case about their practice.
Because video costs more, is more difficult to edit and takes a different sort of talent to create, we often avoid it. Or worse, we cut corners and fail to do ourselves justice by posting something mediocre.
When copy exploded across the web, the professional copywriter felt threatened. Anyone could write, and anyone did.
When photography was added to the mix, the professional photographer felt threatened. Everyone had a camera, after all.
And now, the same thing is happening to video.
In each case, the professional has something to add, something significant, but she has to change her posture from scarce bottleneck to extraordinary contributor.
Great video doesn't change the rules. A great video on your site isn't enough. You still need permission, still need to seek remarkability, still need to create something that matters. What video represents is the chance—if you invest in it—to tell your story in a way that sticks.
They got us hooked on data. Advertisers want more data. Direct marketers want more data. Who saw it? Who clicked? What percentage? What's trending? What's yielding?
But there's one group that doesn't need more data...
Anyone who's making a long-term commitment. Anyone who seeks to make art, to make a difference, to challenge the status quo.
Because when you're chasing that sort of change, data is the cudgel your enemies will use to push you to conform.
Data paves the road to the bottom. It is the lazy way to figure out what to do next. It's obsessed with the short-term.
Data gets us the Kardashians.
Trust is the biggest hurdle.
And trust largely comes from social proof.
Is everyone doing this?
Is it safe?
Will I be embarrassed/ridiculed/left out/left behind/feel stupid?
Social proof shares a word with social networks, but they're only loosely related.
Social proof is the story we end up believing.
Your job as a marketer, then, is to take the threads of social proof and weave them together into something powerful.
No, you can't fake this (and shouldn't try). But you can amplify it. You can focus the proof on a tiny cohort, so that it has more impact. You can invest in media that acts as a megaphone, multiplying the impact of the proof you already have.
One way to be trusted is to trust the people you seek to serve.
Mostly, you can work to build something that's worth trusting.
Roller coasters work because of momentum—the quantity of motion from the downhill allows the car to make it up the next rise. Without momentum, the car would merely stop. But few things in the world of ideas follow the same rules.
Ideas have no mass, they don't coast.
Authors fall into this trap over and over again. They believe that a big launch, the huge push upfront, the bending of the media in their favor (at any cost) is the way to ensure that weeks two and three and eleven will continue to show solid growth.
I'm betting that an analysis of the Billboard charts over the last fifty years would confirm that the speed a song makes it to the top has no correlation with how long it stays at the top.
The launch is the launch. What happens after the launch, though, isn't the result of momentum. It's the result of a different kind of showing up, of word of mouth, of the book (or whatever tool you're using to cause change) being part of something else, something bigger.
Fast starts are never as important as a cultural hook, consistently showing up and committing to a process.
Most people don't get too upset at anything a two-year-old kid says to them.
That's because we don't believe that toddlers have a particularly good grasp on the nuances of the world, nor do they possess much in the way of empathy. Mostly, though, it turns out that getting mad at a toddler doesn't do any good, because he's not going to change as a result (not for a few years, anyway).
Couldn't the same be said for your uninformed critics? For the people who bring you down without knowing any better, for those that sabotage your best work, or undermine your confidence for selfish reasons?
It's hardly productive to ruin your day and your work trying to teach these folks a lesson.
Better, I think, to treat them like a toddler. Buy them a lollipop, smile and walk away.
Commonly misunderstood and misspelled as "striking a cord."
A cord is a single strand that connects. You can strike a cord, but not much happens.
A chord, on the other hand, is the resonance of multiple cords, more than one vibrating together.
That's rare, and worth seeking out.
It probably won't happen if you don't do it on purpose.
... is now two problems.
It's great to dream like a kid, but no fun to be treated like one. It bristles because we feel that, even if the person involved has best intentions, we've outgrown being treated like a child. Some behaviors to consider if you want to avoid this situation...
Make long-term plans instead of whining
Ask hard questions but accept truthful answers
Don't insist that there's a monster under the bed even after you've seen there isn't
Manage your debt wisely
Go to school, early and often
Don't call people names
Get your own drink of water
Don't hit your siblings
(On the other hand, all the good stuff about being a kid helps you be happier and endear yourself to others: being filled with optimism and hope, smiling, trusting, finding creative solutions to old problems, hugging for no good reason, giggling and sharing your ice cream cone with a friend.)
Doing things with rigor takes effort, but not everything you put effort into is done with rigor.
Rigor is a focus on process. Paying attention to not just how you do things, but why. Rigor requires us to never use an emergency as an excuse. It is a process for the long haul, the work of a professional.
An amateur bread baker leaves the kitchen coated in flour, and sometimes, perhaps, ends up with a great loaf of bread.
A professional baker might not seem to be as flustered, as hassled or even as busy. But the bread, the result of this mindful process, is worth buying, every day.
We know that you're working hard.
The next step is to do it with rigor.
Many people are trying to find their calling.
But that doesn't explain Marianne Money, bank manager, or Jim Kardwell, who owns a card company. Or Thomas Duck who started Ugly Duckling rent-a-car and Tito Beveridge who makes vodka. It doesn't explain why people named Dennis are more likely to become dentists...
I'm not sure that anyone has a calling. I think, instead, our culture creates situations where passionate people find a place where they can make an impact. When what you do is something that you make important, it doesn't matter so much what you do.
It's not that important where. It matters a lot how. With passion and care.
When we were kids, my mom, fully exasperated, would survive a day when school was closed by dropping a bunch of us off at Sheridan Lanes for a few hours of bowling.
You only had a certain amount of money to spend, and each game (and the snacks) cost, so we knew that one could only play a few games. Which meant that every single roll mattered. Don't waste one.
Unlimited bowling is a whole different concept. As many games as you want. Roll to your heart's content.
When you're doing unlimited bowling, you can practice various shots. You can work on the risky splits. You can bowl without remorse.
As you've guessed, the fat pipes of the internet bring the idea of unlimited bowling to much of what we do. Interesting is enough. Generous is enough. Learning is enough.
It's a special kind of freedom, we shouldn't waste it.
You'll never hear it spoken aloud, but it happens all the time, particularly when you're selling something new, something powerful, something that causes a positive change:
"You're right, but we're not ready."
This is what people felt about the internet, about word processors, about yoga pants...
When you think this is going on, the answer isn't to be more 'right'. The answer is to figure out how to help people be more 'ready'.
PS I'm doing an AMAAA (ask me anything about the altMBA) today at 3 pm NY time.
Find out more by subscribing to the altMBA newsletter today and we'll send you all the details about the info session.
One of the little-remembered innovations of the industrial economy was the price tag.
If it was for sale, you knew how much it cost.
And if you got a job, you knew what you got paid--by the piece, at first, and then by the hour and perhaps by the week.
Both price tags and pre-agreed wages are pretty new ideas, ideas that fundamentally changed our culture.
By putting a price on buying and selling of goods and effort, industrialists permitted commerce to flow. One of the side effects, as Lewis Hyde has pointed out, is that knowing the price depersonalizes the transaction. It's even steven, we're done, goodbye.
Compare this to the craftsperson who won't sell to someone she doesn't respect, or the cook who charges people based on what he thinks someone can afford, or based on what he'll need to keep this project going a little longer... These ad hoc transactions are personal, they bring us closer together. Everything doesn't have to have a price if we don't let it.
Which leads to the eagerly avoided questions like, "What do you owe the editors at Wikipedia?" or "Is it okay to blog if you don't get paid for it?" and "Is there a difference between staying at a friend of a friend's house and staying at an Airbnb?" When people use Kickstarter as a sort of store, they denature the entire point of the exercise.
Seeking out personal transactions might be merely a clever way to save money. But in a post-industrial economy, it's also a way to pay it forward and to build community.
Sometimes, we don't pay because we have to, we pay because we can.
[PS... a new course, on listening]
The third Acumen course is now live... the astonishing Krista Tippett is doing her first online course, and you can find it here at a discount. (Trouble with the link? Please try: http://plusacumen.org/acumen-master-krista-tippett/ )
This joins the course we did with Elizabeth Gilbert (see below for reviews).
Which followed the first, the leadership course I launched the series with.
It's amazing what you can learn in a few hours if you're willing to do the work.
* * *
Elizabeth is awesome on camera. I feel like it's just the two of us. Normally, I hate online courses. This is different! Loving this! - Denise
Who doesn't love Liz Gilbert? The content was refreshing and inspirational. The assignments were thought-provoking. For the price I paid, I thought this was a great workshop. - Bernadette Xiong
This is amazing. I have needed this kind of talking to for a very long time. Thank you, Elizabeth. - James Hoag
I love it! Her voice is soothing and what she is saying is so appealing. I can't wait to go on! - Susan Archibald
I enjoyed it very much. Many good nuggets of wisdom to help me on my path. - Linda Joyner
Elizabeth has that rare ability to invite you into an intimate conversation on a very weighty subject, with a touch as light as a sparrow's ripple of air on a spring day. The introduction has already laid out some actions to take that I can tell will wake up my sense of being alive and in the world. - Jim Caroompas
Being at the age where you start questioning everything around you, I feel so far that this workshop is directed to me. I feel as thought Liz has invited me over to discuss a few things to help me get back on track. – Maria Pezzano
Liz's response to the fatigued teacher really resonated with me. The fact that the reason and season for our existence and the various roles we play change with time. I love the takeaways - going from grandiose to granular, learning with humility and serving with joy. These are lessons for life. – Smita Kumar
This course was just what I needed, delivered by a wise, empathetic, funny, fun Elizabeth Gilbert. It didn't chew up vast amounts of time or make me feel like I had "work" to do. I enjoyed it so much I'll probably go back and do the entire thing over again. Don't feel like you need to do all the workbooks right away, either. I percolated them for a while and it still worked out fine. More Elizabeth Gilbert, please! – Vanessa Kelly
When someone doesn't say yes, they'll often give you a reason.
A common trap: Believe the reason.
If you start rebuilding your product, your pitch and your PR based on the stated reason, you're driving by looking in the rear view mirror.
The people who turn you down have a reason, but they're almost certainly not telling you why.
Fake reasons: I don't like the color, it's too expensive, you don't have enough references, there was a typo in your resume.
Real reasons: My boss won't let me, I don't trust you, I'm afraid of change.
By all means, make your stuff better. More important, focus on the unstated reasons that drive most rejections. And most important: Shun the non-believers and sell to people who want to go on a journey with you.
Perhaps you can't see it, but we can. That 2 x 4, the board set right across that doorway, about 5 feet off the ground.
You're running it at it full speed, and in a moment, you're going to slam into it, which is going to hurt, a lot.
This happens to most of us, metaphorically anyway, at one time or another. But when it happens repeatedly, you probably have a hygiene problem.
Emotional hygiene, personal hygiene, moral hygiene, organizational hygiene--useful terms for the act of deliberately making hard decisions, early and often, to prevent a 2 x 4 to the face later.
Worth a pause to highlight that: hygiene never pays off in the short run. It is always the work of a mature person (or an organization) who cares enough about the later to do something important in the now.
When the doctor scrubs with soap before a procedure, it's not because it's fun. It's because she's investing a few minutes now to prevent sepsis later.
Way better than getting hit in the face with a 2 x 4.
More than 10,000 people attended the Lincoln Douglas debates, and yet they debated without amplification.
It's only quite recently that we began to disassociate talking-to-many from talking loudly. Having a large and varied audience used to mean yelling, it used to be physically taxing, it would put our entire body on alert.
Now, of course, all of us have a microphone.
The instinct remains, though. When we know that hundreds or thousands of people will read our words online, we tense up. When we get on stage, we follow that pattern and tense our vocal cords.
The problem with shouting is that it pushes people away. WHEN YOU SHOUT IN EMAIL, IT SEEMS ANGRY. Shouting creates a wall between us and the person at the other end (even though it seems like many people, sooner or later, there's one person at the other end).
Shouting destroys intimacy, and it hurts our impact, the impact that comes from authenticity.
We feel speech and words long before we hear the words, and we hear the words long before we understand them.
The solution is simple: whisper.
Whisper when you type, whisper when you address a meeting.
Lower your voice, slow your pace, and talk more quietly.
The microphone will amplify your words. And we'll hear them.
A restaurant that's too small for its following creates pent-up demand and can thrive as it lays plans to expand.
A restaurant that's too big merely fails.
There are occasional counterexamples of ventures that fail because they were too small when they gained customer traction. But not many.
It pays to have big dreams but low overhead.
Your money: Almost no one knows how to think about money and investing. Squadrons of people will try to confuse you and rip you off. Many will bore you. But Andrew Tobias has written a book that might just change your net worth.
His advice is simple: spending less is even more valuable than earning more. He is also a gifted writer, funny and dead on correct in his analysis. Highly recommended.
The brand new edition is right here.
Back story: 32 years ago this month, I had lunch with Andy Tobias. I was pitching him on a partnership, and the meeting had been difficult to get. I was intimidated and soaking wet from running fifty blocks through Manhattan (no Uber!). As I sat in the New York Athletic Club, my cheap suit dripping wet (you can't take off your jacket at the New York Athletic Club), I tried to break the ice by telling the moose joke.
I told it pretty well, but Andy didn't crack a smile. Even then, he was a canny negotiator. We never ended up working together, but his book probably did me more good than the project would have. And the story was priceless.
Your future: Kevin Kelly is the most erudite, original and prophetic futurist of our time. If you've ever picked up a copy of Wired, he's had an impact on your life.
If you hope to be working, producing value or merely alive in ten years, his new book (out in June) is essential. It might take you an hour or two to read certain pages—if you're smart enough to take notes and brainstorm as you go.
The people who read his previous book about the future (New Rules) in 1998 are truly grateful for the decade-long head start it gave them.
I've never had the nerve to tell Kevin a joke, but I did offer to do a magic trick for him.
It's rare that you can spend $33 on two books and have your life so profoundly altered.
PS new Creative Mornings podcast just up with my talk from a few years ago.
Backwards: Great designers don't get great clients, it's the other way around.
Patience is for the impatient.
Leading up is more powerful than the alternative.
...And a few more provocations. I only gave this talk once, I hope you enjoy it.
Sooner or later, tribes begin to exclude interested but unaffiliated newcomers.
It happens to religious sects, to surfers and to online communities as well. Nascent groups with open arms become mature groups too set in their ways to evangelize and grow their membership, too stuck to engage, change and thrive.
So much easier to turn someone away than it is to patiently engage with them, the way you were welcomed when you were in their shoes.
There are two reasons for this:
And so, Wikipedia has transformed itself into a club that's not particularly interested in welcoming new editors.
And the social club down the street has a membership with an average age of 77.
And companies that used to grow by absorbing talent via acquisitions, cease to do so.
This cycle isn't inevitable, but it takes ever more effort to overcome our inertia.
Even if it happens gradually, the choice to not fight this inertia is still a choice. And while closing the gate can ensure stability and the status quo (for now), it rarely leads to growth, and ultimately leads to decline.
[Some questions to ponder...]
Do outsiders get the benefit of the doubt?
Do we make it easy for outsiders to become insiders?
Is there a clear and well-lit path to do so?
When we tell someone new, "that not how we do things around here," do we also encourage them to learn the other way and to try again?
Are we even capable of explaining the status quo, or is the way we do things set merely because we forgot that we could do it better?
Is a day without emotional or organizational growth a good day?