Last night on the bike path I passed a well-dressed citizen, walking along with a bottle of water. I was stunned to see him finish his water and hurl the bottle into the woods.
I stopped and said, "Hey, please don't do that."
He looked at me with complete surprise and said, "what?" as if he didn't understand what 'that' was. His conception of the world seemed to be that there was two kinds of stuff... his and not-his. The park wasn't his, so it was just fine to throw trash, in fact, why not?
The challenge we have in the connection economy, in a world built on ever more shared resources and public digital spaces is that some people persist in acting like it belongs to someone else. When they spit in the pool or troll anonymously, when they spam or break things, it's as if they're doing it to someone else, or to the man.
Too often, we accept this vandalism as if it's a law of nature, like dealing with the termites that will inevitably chew exposed wood on a house's foundation. It doesn't have to be this way. Over and over, we see that tribes and communities and organizations are able to teach people that this is ours, that it's worth taking care of and most of all, that people like us care for things like this.
We know what you want to accomplish. We know how you'd like everything to turn out.
The real question is, "what are you willing to push through the dip for?" What are you willing to stand up for, bleed for, commit to and generally be unreasonable about?
Because that's what's going to actually get done.
One model of organization is to find something that you're good at and that's easy and straightforward and get paid for that.
The other model is to seek out things that are insanely difficult and do those instead.
Dave Ramsey does a three hour radio show every day. He books theaters and has a traveling road show. He has the discipline to only publish a new book quite rarely, and to stick with it for years and years as it moves through the marketplace. He has scores of employees. And on and on. By doing hard work that others fear, he creates unique value.
Henry Ford did the same thing with the relentless scale and efficiency he built at Ford. Others couldn't imagine raising their own sheep to make their own wool to make their own seat fabric...
"How do we do something so difficult that others can't imagine doing it?" is a fine question to ask today.
I would imagine that there are certain situations, perhaps involving the martial arts, where bracing for impact is a good idea.
The rest of the time, not so much. If your car is about to hit a tree at thirty miles an hour, or the jet is about to slam into the wall of the Grand Canyon, it's not altogether clear that tensing all your muscles and preparing to be squashed is going to do you much good at all.
Worse than this, far worse, is that we brace for impact way more often than impact actually occurs. The boss calls us into her office and we brace for impact. The speech is supposed to happen next Friday and we spend a week bracing for impact. All the clenching and imagining and playacting and anxiety—our culture has fooled us into thinking that this is a good thing, that it's a form of preparation.
It's not. It's merely experiencing failure in advance, failure that rarely happens.
When you walk around braced for impact, you're dramatically decreasing your chances. Your chances to avoid the outcome you fear, your chances to make a difference, and your chances to breathe and connect.
Architecture students bristle when Joshua Prince-Ramus tells them that they are entering a rhetorical profession.
A great architect isn't one who draws good plans. A great architect gets great buildings built.
Now, of course, the same thing is true for just about any professional. A doctor has to persuade the patient to live well and take the right actions. A scientist must not only get funded but she also has to persuade her public that her work is well structured and useful.
It's not enough that you're right. It matters if it gets built.
Isn't the drawing board the place where all the best work happens?
It's not a bad thing to go back there. It's the entire point. (HT to Neil).
"I'll show them!"
Creative people need fuel. Overcoming the resistance and quieting the lizard brain takes a lot of work. Often, we seek external forces to excite us, inspire us or push us to take the leap necessary to do something that might not work.
And so we read what the critics write, mistakenly believing that it will help improve the work.
Or we go to a conference and mentally start comparing ourselves to everyone. He seems to get more respect. He has a better speaking slot. They forgot to list me in the program. She didn't make eye contact. They must have known that I didn't want to talk about that. Someone at the reception didn't look closely at my favorite painting...
At the very same time you're persuading yourself that in the hierarchy of whatever-matters-to-you, you are close to last, all the people around you, each with his or her own hierarchy, has put you on the very top, on a pedestal, the person they seek to match or even surpass.
There are slights available wherever you look. Cool kids excluding you anywhere lunch is served, ever. You just have to look for it.
Here are two of the first photographic portraits ever taken, far more than a hundred years ago:
They could have been taken with Instagram, no?
I'm all in favor of self-driving cars and advanced robotics that will change everything. But few of us get to do that for a living. Mostly, we find new ways to do old things, better. No need to fool yourself into holding back just because your innovation or product doesn't contain a flavor that's never been tasted before or an experience previously unimagined.
Find something that will touch us, move us, improve us or change us. Then ship.
If you spend just a few minutes listening to a great radio station, you'll know it's them. They've worked hard to make sure that the promos they run sound unique and welcome and friendly. You're home.
People in radio call these little promo moments, "bumpers." Now that we're all in the media business, we can have them too.
During their glory days, MTV understood this. Anyone could run music videos, of course, but the promos, the little in-between shorts, those could only belong to one network.
Many listeners to Sirius/XM recoil when they hear the incessant bumpers that run on channels devoted to classical music or the Dead or comedy. They're too loud, too AM radio, they sound disrespectful, aural spam from a company that should be earning our trust...
Which brings us to your personal media voice, to the way you sound and look in social media and even in your email.
Twitter strips away much of what you might be able to use to differentiate yourself (fonts and pictures, for example) but even there, a rhythm and a voice can come through if you let it.
We only catch a glimpse of you now, a fleeting glance at what you've created. What does it look like and sound like? Is it always you? You can create this if you choose.
Your peer group are people with similar dreams, goals and worldviews. They are people who will push you in exchange for being pushed, who will raise the bar and tell you the truth.
They're not in your business, but they're in your shoes.
Finding a peer group and working with them, intentionally and on a regular schedule, might be the single biggest boost your career can experience.
Before you're asked.
Before she asks for the memo, before the customer asks for a refund, before your co-worker asks for help.
Imagine what the other person needs, an exercise in empathy that might become a habit.
No content online is 'rare', but here are two presentations you might not have seen before:
...from the Maker Faire, and here's a speech I did last year at Nearly Impossible in Brooklyn:
Sometimes it's fun or profitable to throw your weight around, to get customers or partners or students or the media or even local government agencies to do what you need them to do.
Inevitably, weight throwers come to a fork in the road:
Are you doing this to get people to do what's good for them or what's good for you?
When a teacher uses her power to get students to study (not in their short-term interest, at least not right now), she's doing them a service.
When a retailer or manufacturer uses purchasing power and scale to bring a product to market that people weren't expecting, it's probably because the customers will end up delighted.
Any time an organization pushes to change the status quo on behalf of its mission, causing the change they exist to make in the world, they're building something that will last.
But often, the opposite happens. Organizations in power change their pricing or their technology or their policies because it's good for the organization, because it raises quarterly earnings, most often because it's easier for them. They change the way they do support, or the promises they keep to long-term customers and vendors. Often, the people who count beans are making the decisions, not those that count positive change on behalf of those they serve.
And it works. For a while. And then it doesn't, because even powerful organizations don't last forever, especially when those that have been pushed discover that they might just have other options.
Throw your weight around, please. But do it for those you serve, not against them.
That's a common mantra among those that say that they want to leap, but haven't, and aren't, and won't.
What they're actually saying is, "I don't have any ideas that are guaranteed to work, and not only that, are guaranteed to cause no criticism or moments when I'm sure the whole thing is going to fall apart."
And that sentence is probably true.
But no good ideas? C'mon.
Here's a simple hack that takes whatever word you put in the seed box and comes up with a fresh game idea you've never had before. And it can do it over and over and over again. Pretty good ideas are easy. The guts and persistence and talent to create, ship and stick it out are what's hard.
At least you know what's holding you back. The good news is that those skills are available to anyone who cares enough to acquire them.
Yes, it's possible that your particular challenge is unique, that your industry, your job situation, your set of circumstances is so one-of-a-kind that the general wisdom doesn't apply.
And it's possible that your problem is so perfect and you are so stuck that in fact there's nothing out there that can help you.
Possible, but not likely.
When you complain that you need ever more specific advice because the general advice just doesn't apply, consider looking for your fear instead. As Steve Pressfield has pointed out, the resistance is a wily adversary, and one of the clever ways it will help us hide from the insight that will lead to forward motion is to play the unique, this-one-is-different card.
We can learn by analogy, if we're willing to try and fail, and mostly, if we're willing to get unstuck.
The first step is acknowledging that our problem isn't that special.
Rule one has two parts:
a. the customer is always right
b. if that's not true, it's unlikely that this person will remain your customer.
If you need to explain to a customer that he's wrong, that everyone else has no problem, that you have tons of happy customers who were able to successfully read the instructions, that he's not smart enough or persistent enough or handsome enough to be your customer, you might be right. But if you are, part b kicks in and you've lost him.
If you find yourself litigating, debating, arguing and most of all, proving your point, you've forgotten something vital: people have a choice, and they rarely choose to do business with someone who insists that they are wrong.
By all means, fire the customers who aren't worth the time and the trouble. But understand that the moment you insist the customer is wrong, you've just started the firing process.
PS here's a great way around this problem: Make sure that the instruction manual, the website and the tech support are so clear, so patient and so generous that customers don't find themselves being wrong.
- Resist the ad hoc. Announce that this is a project, and that it matters enough to be treated as one.
- The project needs a leader, a person who takes responsibility as opposed to waiting for it to be given.
- Write it down. All of it. Everything that people expect, everything that people promise.
- Send a note confirming that you wrote it down, specifically what you heard, what it will cost and when they will have it or when they promised it.
- Show your work. Show us your estimates and your procedures and most of all, the work you're going to share with the public before you ship it.
- Keep a log, a notebook, a history of what you've done and how. You'll need it for the next project.
- Source control matters. Don't change things while people are reviewing them, because then we both have to do it twice.
- Slack is your friend. Slack is cheaper, faster and more satisfying than wishful thinking. Your project will never go as well as you expect, and might take longer than you fear.
- Identify and obsess about the critical path. If the longest part of the project takes less time than you planned, the entire project will take less time than you planned.
- Wrap it up. When you're done, take the time to identify what worked and what didn't, and help the entire team get stronger for next time.
- It was designed at home, on the kitchen table...
- by someone who didn't get their name on it
- Never been done before, not guaranteed to get built or to work
- It was criticized by hundreds of leading intellectuals and cultural experts
- It wasn't supposed to last very long
- It's designed to be an icon, it's not an accident
- People flock to it because it's famous
- You can sketch a recognizable version of it on a napkin
Your turn to build one. Happy Bastille Day.
Two hundred years ago, the government of Sweden changed everything: They required all their citizens to be literate. It transformed every element of the culture and economy of Sweden, an effect that's felt to this day.
Television, of course, is a great replacement for the hard work of learning to read and write, but, if you think about it, so are autocratic governments and dogmas that eliminate choice. Unguided reading is a real threat, because unguided reading leads to uncomfortable questions.
Teach someone to read and you guarantee that they will be able to learn forever. Teach an entire culture to read and connections and innovations go through the roof.
Self-driving cars are going to be a huge transformational disruption, and they're probably going to happen faster than most people expect.
Starting in cities, starting with car-sharing, the economics and safety implications are too big to avoid:
- Few traffic jams--cars will have a slower top speed, but rarely stop
- No traffic lights--cars talk to each other
- Dramatically less pollution
- Pedestrians are far safer, bicycling becomes fun again
- No parking issues--the car drives away and comes back when you need it
- Lower costs and more access for more people more often
- Instant and efficient carpooling, since the car knows who's going where
Most of the physical world around us is organized around traditional cars. Not just roads, but the priority they get, the roadside malls, fast food restaurants, the fact that in many cities, more space is devoted to parking lots than just about anything else. It's pervasive and accepted, so much that we notice with amazement the rare places that aren't built around them.
Understand, for example, that the suburb exists because of the car, as does the big amusement park and the motel. All of them were built by people who saw the changes private mobility would cause.
The self-driving car benefits from Moore's Law, which explains that computers get dramatically cheaper over time, and Metcalfe's Law, which describes the increasing power of networks as they get bigger and more connected. Both of these laws are now at work on one of the biggest expenses and most powerful forces in our world: transportation.
Like all innovations, the death of the non-autonomous vehicle is not all upside. The car industry gets mostly commodified, jobs are shifted and distruptions occur. Privacy for teenagers, ordinary citizens and bank-robbers-making-an-escape disappears. The suburbs become even less attractive to some people. But just as you can't imagine a city scene where just about everyone isn't looking at their smart phone and swarming in the virtual cloud, it's going to be a whole new cityscape once cars retreat from their spot at the top of the attention/command chain.
One way this might happen: Certain models will be labeled as Uber-compatible (or whatever network is in place). Buy that car and with a few clicks, the car starts earning its keep. When you're at work or asleep or otherwise engaged, it moonlights and drives other folks around. The combination of security cameras in your car and rider registration pretty much guarantees that your car isn't going to come back wrecked. It's not hard to imagine organizations building fleets to profit from this (a medallion replacement) but it also becomes economically irresistible to the individual as well.
This is a bigger shift than the smart phone, and it might happen nearly as fast.
Near my house, there's a parkway that was built so that owners of private cars would have a place to go where they could drive them without endangering everyone else. I wonder how long before that's what it will be used for again.