You can look forward to them, the weirder the better.
Or you can push customers to make them as uncustom and unspecial as possible, because, of course, these are easier to handle.
If you embrace special orders, you're doing something difficult, scarce and worth seeking out.
If you handle them begrudgingly, you're likely to undo the very goodwill you sought to create.
It's a pretty easy way to let ourselves (or someone else) off the hook. "Hey, you did your best."
But it fails to explain the improvement in the 100-meter dash. Or the way we're able to somehow summon more energy and more insight when there's a lot on the line. Or the tremendous amount of care and love we can bring to a fellow human who needs it.
By defining "our best" as the thing we did when we merely put a lot of effort into a task, I fear we're letting ourselves off the hook.
In fact, it might not require a lot of effort, but a ridiculous amount of effort, an unreasonable amount of preparation, a silly amount of focus... and even then, there might be a little bit left to give.
It's entirely possible that it's not worth the commitment or the risk or the fear to go that far along in creating something that's actually our best. But when we make that compromise, we should own it. "It's not worth doing my best" is actually more honest and powerful than failing while being sort of focused.
Change is the point. It's what we seek to do to the world around us.
Change, actual change, is hard work. And changing our own minds is the most difficult place to start.
It's also the only place to start.
It's hard to find the leverage to change the way you see the world, hard to pull on your thoughtstraps. But it's urgent.
"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices..." William James
No one knows the right answer, no one knows precisely what will happen, no one can produce the desired future, on demand.
Some people are better at guessing than others, but not by much.
The people who are supposed to know rejected Harry Potter, Tracy Chapman and the Beatles. The people who are supposed to know sell stocks just before they go up, and give us rules of thumb that don't pan out.
If you mistakenly believe that there's someone who knows, you're likely to decide that whoever that person it is, it's not you.
And if it's not you, what a great reason to hesitate.
In fact, the gap isn't between the people who know and those that don't. It's between the people who show up with their best work, and those that hold back.
This is, of course, the opposite of,
"Touch it, you can make it better."
What's the default where you work?
Pema Chodron's new book is out this month. I was rendered speechless by her invitation to write the short foreword for the book, the first time I've ever agreed to do this. She's a caring, generous, magical person, a teacher with a special voice, one worth listening to.
Why buy a book about failing? Because success is easier to deal with and you're probably doing fine with that. Because your narrative about failing is keeping you from succeeding. And because you will have far more chances to fail than you know what to do with...
PS if you sign up this week, at this link, Sounds True will give you a seven-hour audio from Pema as well.
Also, Brene Brown's new book is out. Which is always a special occasion.
The short-term stuff is pretty easy to do well. Respond to incoming. Check it off your list. Next!
The long-term stuff, on the other hand, is so easy to postpone, because tomorrow always sounds promising. And so we might hesitate to define the next project, or look for a new job, or visualize something that breaks what we're already used to.
a. Keep them separate. The best way to avoid long-term work is to be exposed to juicy short-term urgencies.
b. Hesitate before spending your most alert and dedicated work time on the short-term tasks.
Day trading might be fun, but we can do better.
The only emotion that spreads more reliably is panic.
Contempt is caused by fear and by shame and it looks like disgust. It's very hard to recover once you receive contempt from someone else, and often, our response is to dump it on someone else.
If you want to be respected by your customers/peers/partners/competitors/constituents, the best way is to begin by respecting them and the opportunity they are giving you.
And the best way to avoid contempt is to look for your fear.
Everything you do is either going to raise your average or lower it.
The next hire.
The quality of the chickpeas you serve.
The service experience on register 4.
Each interaction is a choice. A choice to raise your average or lower it.
Progress is almost always a series of choices, an inexorable move toward mediocrity, or its opposite.
130 years ago, Frederick Taylor changed the world forever.
Scientific Management is the now-obvious idea that factories would measure precisely what their workers were doing. Use a stopwatch. Watch every movement. Adjust the movements until productivity goes up. Re-organize the assembly line for more efficiency. Pay people by the piece. Cull the workforce and get rid of the people who can't keep up. Make the assembly line go faster.
Once Scientific Management goes beyond system setup and starts to focus on the individual, it amplifies the gulf between management and labor. No one wants to do their work under the stopwatch (except, perhaps, Usain Bolt).
And now, here comes SM2.0.
White collar workers, the people who get to sit down at a desk, the folks with a keyboard not a hammer, can now be measured more than ever. And in competitive environments, what can be measured, often is.
Badge in, badge out.
How many keystrokes per hour?
How many incoming customer service calls handled per day?
What's the close rate, the change in user satisfaction, the clickthroughs, the likes?
You can see where this is heading, and it's heading there fast:
You will either be seen as a cog, or as a linchpin. You will either be measured in a relentless race to the bottom of the cost barrel, or encouraged in a supportive race to doing work that matters, that only you can do in your unique way.
It's not easy to be the person who does unmeasurable work, but is there any doubt that it's worth it?
Every grocer has to decide: when packing a quart of strawberries, should your people put the best ones on top?
If you do, you'll sell more and disappoint people when they get to the moldy ones on the bottom.
Or, perhaps you could put the moldy ones on top, and pleasantly surprise the few that buy.
Or, you could rationalize that everyone expects a little hype, and they'll get over it.
A local grocer turned the problem upside down: He got rid of the boxes and just put out a pile of strawberries. People picked their own. He charged more, sold more and made everyone happier.
Hype might not be your best option.
It’s a tool or a curse, and it comes down to the sentence, “I’d be embarrassed to do that.”
If you’re using it to mean, “I would feel the emotion of embarrassment,” you’re recognizing one of the most powerful forces of our culture, a basic human emotion, the fear of which allows groups to control outliers, and those in power to shame those that aren’t.
The stress that comes from merely anticipating the feeling of embarrassment is enough to cause many people to hold back, to sit quietly, to go along.
And this anticipation rarely leads to much of anything positive.
On the other hand, if you’re saying, “doing that will cause other people to be embarrassed for me, it will change the way they treat me in the future,” then indeed, your cultural awareness is paying off. There’s a reason we don’t wear a clown suit to a funeral--and it’s not precisely because of how it would make us feel to do that. It’s because insensitive, unaware, selfish acts change our ability to work with people in the future.
Most of the time, then, "I would be embarrassed to do that," doesn't mean you would actually be embarrassed, it means you would feel embarrassed.
In most settings, the embarrassment people fear isn’t in the actions of others. It’s in our internal narrative. Culture has amplified the lizard brain, and used it to, in too many cases, create a lifetime of negative thinking and self-censorship.
So, yes, by all means, don’t make us feel humiliated for you, don’t push us to avert our eyes. But when you feel the unmistakable feeling of possible embarrassment, get straight about what your amygdala is telling you.
That introduction you need.
The capital that your organization is trying to raise.
The breakthrough in what you're building...
Have you noticed that as soon as you get that one thing, everything doesn't change? In fact, the only thing that changes is that you realize that you don't need that one thing as much as you thought you did.
Most likely, this speech, or that inspection or this review won't materially change things overnight.
Companies that raise hundreds of millions of dollars don't seem to have an effortless time in changing user behavior, and well connected agents still have trouble selling that next script.
It turns out that nothing will change everything for the better. It works better to focus on each step instead of being distracted by a promised secret exit.
Sooner or later, the ones who told you that this isn't the way it's done, the ones who found time to sneer, they will find someone else to hassle.
Sooner or later, they stop pointing out how much hubris you've got, how you're not entitled to make a new thing, how you will certainly come to regret your choices.
Sooner or later, your work speaks for itself.
Outlasting the critics feels like it will take a very long time, but you're more patient than they are.
If you're doing something important, you're working to make change happen.
But change is difficult, often impossible. Are you trying to change your employees? A entire market? The attitude of a user?
The more clear you can be about the specific change you're hoping for (and why the people you're trying to change will respond to your actions) the more likely it is you'll actually achieve it.
Here are two tempting dead ends:
a. Try to change people who are easy to change, because they show up for clickbait, easy come ons, get rich quick schemes, fringe candidates... the problem is that they're not worth changing.
b. Try to change people who aren't going to change, no matter what. The problem is that while they represent a big chunk of humanity, they're merely going to waste your time.
And it's still not enough...
After you've written the best memo/blog post/novel/screenplay you can possibly imagine writing, after you've contributed your pithiest insight or gone on your best blind date...
and it still hasn't worked...
You really have no choice but to do it again. To do your best work again, as impossible and unfair as that seems.
It compounds over time. Best work followed by best work followed by more best work is far more useful and generous than merely doing your best work once and insisting we understand you.
A fad is popular because it's popular. A fad gives us momentary joy, and part of the joy comes in knowing that it's momentary. We enjoy a fad because our peers are into it as well.
A trend, on the other hand, satisfies a different human need. A trend gains power over time, because it's not merely part of a moment, it's a tool, a connector that will become more valuable as other people commit to engaging in it.
Confusion sets in because at the beginning, most trends gain energy with people who are happy to have fun with fads, and it's only when the fad fans fade away (yes, I just wrote 'fad fans fade') that we get to see the underlying power of the trend that's going on.
Please don't tell us it's complicated.
Organizations, scientists and individuals always do better in solving problems that are clearly stated. The solution might be complicated, the system might be complex, but if we don't agree on the problem, it's hard to find the resources and the will to seek out a solution.
For a business, the problem might be that:
- there aren't enough customers
- gross margins are too low
- word of mouth is poor
- hiring sufficiently talented people is too difficult
- competition just moved in next door
- production quality is off.
Identify and agree on any of these and we can get to work. Denying the problem doesn't increase the chances it will go away.
This is the political/lobbied challenge facing our stalled response to the melting icecaps. There are a variety of possible problem-denials along with one simple statement that actually opens the door to progress:
- The world isn't getting hotter, the data is wrong.
- The world is getting hotter, and that's okay.
- The world is getting hotter, but it's not caused by us, and anyway, we can't do anything at all about it.
- The world is getting hotter, it's urgent, we need to hurry, and dealing with it is a difficult technical and political problem.
Which category are you in at work? What about the people you vote for and work for?
Often, the reason people don't want to agree on a problem is that it's frightening to acknowledge a problem if we don't know that there's a solution, as if saying the problem out loud makes it more real, more likely to undermine our lives.
The irony, of course, is that fear of the problem makes it far more likely that the problem itself will hurt us.
Some people are able to reflect the light that lands on them, to take directions or assets or energy and focus it where it needs to be focused. This is a really valuable skill.
Even more valuable, though, is the person who glows in the dark. Not reflecting energy, but creating it. Not redirecting urgencies but generating them. The glow in the dark colleague is able to restart momentum, even when everyone else is ready to give up.
At the other end of the spectrum (ahem) is the black hole. All the energy and all the urgency merely disappears.
Your glow in the dark colleague knows that recharging is eventually necessary, but for now, it's okay that there's not a lot of light. The glow is enough.
We say we want to treat people fairly, build an institution that will contribute to the culture and embrace diversity. We say we want to do things right the first time, treat people as we would like to be treated and build something that matters.
But first... first we say we have to make our company work.
We say we intend to hire and train great people, but in the interim, we'll have to settle for cheap and available. We say we'd like to give back, but of course, in the interim, first we have to get...
This interim strategy, the notion that ideals and principles are for later, but right now, all the focus and resources have to be put into the emergency of getting successful—it doesn't work.
It doesn't work because it's always the interim. It never seems like the right time to stop doing what worked and start doing what we said was important.
The first six hires you make are more important than hires 100 through 105. The first difficult ethical decision you make is more important than the one you make once you've (apparently) made it. The difficult conversation you have tomorrow is far more important than the one you might have to have a few years from now.
Exactly how successful do we have to get before we stop cutting corners, making selfish decisions and playing the short-term game?
All the great organizations I can think of started as great organizations. Tiny, perhaps, but great.
Life is what happens while we're busy making plans. The interim is forever, so perhaps it makes sense to make act in the interim as we expect to act in the long haul.