Every crowd, sooner or later, will let you down.
The crowd contains a shoplifter, or a heckler, or an anonymous boor who leaves a snarky comment.
The crowd loses interest, the crowd denigrates the work, the crowd isn't serious.
Worst of all, sometimes the crowd turns into a mob, out of control and bloodthirsty.
But people, people are real.
People will look you in the eye.
People will keep their promises. People can grow, can change, can be generous.
When in doubt, ignore the crowd (and forgive them). When possible, look for people instead.
Scale is overrated, again and again.
On a long flight a little while ago, I saw two couples watch movies while they let their six kids run around like maniacs from take off to touchdown. A seven-year old actually punched me. (I didn't return the punch).
A few days later, I saw the now-typical sight of kids in a decent restaurant eating french fries and chicken fingers while watching a movie on a tablet.
And it's entirely possible you have a boss that lets you do mediocre work, precisely whenever you feel like it.
I wish those kids had said, "Mom, Dad, raise your standards for me. I deserve it."
And the sooner you find a boss who pushes you right to the edge of your ability to be excellent, the better.
Even if the boss is you.
Each of us gets to choose the sort of freelance work we will do.
This is a profound freedom, and one that we often ignore, wasting the opportunity.
To provoke you to take advantage of this moment, my new course for freelancers is now available on Udemy.
In this online, video-based class, I'm daring you to get paid what you're worth and to find a platform where you can do your best work.
When you move up the ladder, step by step, the work gets more rewarding. We each start as a replaceable cog, open to taking whatever is offered. With focus and effort, though, you can go all the way to becoming a remarkable creator with few substitutes. Along the way, you will gain respect, income and freedom.
This is the course I wish I had taken thirty years ago.
If you work on your own, either full time or part time, this mindset of moving up the ladder will fundamentally change your work.
Through the end of April, readers of this blog get a significant discount from Udemy by using the coupon code MOVEUP. Please go ahead and share this automatic link with your colleagues. The course comes with a money-back guarantee.
[Also: Over the last six months, I've been building two courses. This is the first one. In a few weeks, I'll be telling you about the other, which is dramatically different. It's aimed at a far smaller audience, requires a bigger investment and is delivered in a totally different format.]
Freelancers, this is our chance to move up.
Something doesn't have to be trite and dreadful to be popular, but often, popular things get this way.
In the 1980s, most of the cars made by General Motors were mediocre, unmemorable and poorly designed. They were also quite popular. By racing to the bottom, GM defended market share but ended up crippling themselves for generations.
Hot Wheels, Spaldinis and the original Monopoly game are classic toys, Platonic ideals of good design and idiosyncratic thought. On the other hand, the hyped toys of the moment fade away fast, because they're designed to shortcut straight to the lowest common denominator of the moment, not to earn their way up the ladder of mass.
Just because bad design and popularity sometimes go hand in hand doesn't mean they're inextricably linked.
The culture of compromise is often accepted as the price of mass. But in fact, this is the crowded road to popular acceptance, and it works far less often than the compromisers believe it will.
Most of the news/advice/insight you run into is merely seen. You might acknowledge that something is happening, that something might work, that a new technique is surfacing.
Sometimes, if you work at it, you actually hear what's being said. You engage with the idea and actively roll it around, considering it from a few angles.
But rarely, too rarely, we actually get what's going on, we understand it well enough to embrace it (or reject it). Well enough to teach it. And maybe that leads to a productive change.
It's not clear to me that more stuff seen leads to more ideas gotten and more action taken. We probably don't need more inputs and noise. We certainly need to do a better job of focusing and even more important, doing the frightening work of acting 'as if' to see if we get it.
It starts with more doing, not more seeing.
The wrong answer to this question is often, "what do you need?"
When someone asks what you have to offer, when they ask for a menu or a price list or some indication of what they can choose from, it's tempting to ask what they want, because maybe, just maybe, you'll figure out how to make that for them.
When you act like a short-order cook at a diner, people rarely ask you for something interesting. Instead of trying to figure out what will get us picked, we might figure out if there's a way we can sell people on dreaming about what we have instead.
What would happen to your audience if you shut the doors tomorrow? (I know what would happen to you, that's not my question... what would happen to them?)
What would happen to your customers and to your prospects if you stopped doing your work?
If you stopped showing up, if you stopped selling them something, would they miss you if you were gone?
If the airline went away, we'd just find another airline. If the cookie cutter politician went away, we'd just vote for someone else. If the typical life insurance agent...
Does it matter if it's you doing the work?
A hundred and fifty years ago, when people finally began organizing to eliminate child labor in American factories, they were called anti-business. There was no way, the owners complained, that they could make a living if they couldn’t employ ultra-cheap labor. In retrospect, I think businesses are glad that kids go to school--educated workers make better consumers (and citizens).
Fifty years ago, when people realized how much damage was being done by factories poisoning our rivers, those supporting the regulations to clean up the water supply were called anti-business. Companies argued that they’d never be able to efficiently produce while reducing their effluent. Today, I think most capitalists would agree that the benefits of having clean air and water more than make up for what it costs to create a place people want to live—the places that haven't cleaned up are rushing to catch up, because what destroys health also destroys productivity and markets. (And it's a good idea).
When the bars and restaurants went non-smoking in New York a decade ago, angry trade organizations predicted the death knell of their industry. It turns out the opposite happened.
The term anti-business actually seems to mean, “against short-term waste, harmful side effects and selfish shortcuts.” Direct marketers were aghast when people started speaking out against spam, but of course, in the long run, ethical direct marketers came out ahead.
If anti-business means supporting a structure that builds a foundation where more people can flourish over time, then sign me up.
A more interesting conversation, given how thoroughly intertwined business and social issues are, is whether someone is short-term or long-term. Not all long-term ideas are good ones, not all of them work, but it makes no sense to confuse them with the label of anti-business.
Successful businesses tend to be in favor of the status quo (they are, after all, successful and change is a threat) perhaps with a few fewer regulations just for kicks. But almost no serious businessperson is suggesting that we roll back the 'anti-business' improvements to the status quo of 1890.
It often seems like standing up for dignity, humanity and respect for those without as much power is called anti-business. And yet it turns out that the long-term benefit for businesses is that they are able to operate in a more stable, civilized, sophisticated marketplace.
It’s pretty easy to go back to a completely self-regulated, selfishly focused, Ayn-Randian cut-throat short-term world. But I don’t think you’d want to live there.
Expected value is a powerful concept, easy to understand, often difficult to use in daily life.
It's the value of an outcome multiplied by the chances it will happen.
If there's a one in ten chance you'll get a $50 ticket for parking here, the expected value (the cost) of parking here is $5. Park here enough times, and that's what it's going to cost you.
If there's a one in five chance you'll win that lawsuit for a million dollars, the expected value of the suit is $200,000.
That's not a guess or a vague hunch, it's actually true. If the odds are described properly (and setting those odds is an entirely different discussion) then the value of the opportunity (or the cost of it) is clear.
And yet we anchor our risks, often overestimating just how much it's going to cost us to get a ticket.
And we anchor our possible gains, usually overestimating how much that opportunity is worth (which is why so few lawsuits that should settle, do).
Humans are quite bad at dealing with ambiguity, and even worse when there's money on the table. Ellsberg's paradox helps us understand some of the bugs in the system, and perhaps we can take better risks by using a pencil, not our gut, to decide what a chance is worth.
We box ourselves in long before the outside world ever gets a chance.
"I'm not the kind of person who watches movies like that."
"I'm not the kind of person who proposes new ideas."
"I'm not the kind of person who reads books for fun."
"I'm not the kind of person who apologizes."
"I'm not the kind of person who gets a promotion."
"I'm not the kind of person who says 'follow me'."
I'm not the kind of person who... is up to you.
Hope is fuel, it moves us forward and it amplifies our best work.
Expectation is the killer of joy, the shortest route to disappointment. When we expect that something will happen, we can't help but be let down...
One common insightful definition of AI: Artificial Intelligence is everything a computer can't do yet. As soon as it can, we call it obvious.
And so, self-driving cars and devices that can beat us at chess don't really think, they're just doing something by rote (really really fast).
One reason we easily dismiss the astonishing things computers can do is that we know that they don't carry around a narrative, a play by play, the noise in their head that's actually (in our view) 'intelligence.'
It turns out, though, that the narrative is a bug, not a feature. That narrative doesn't help us perform better, it actually makes us less intelligent. Any athlete or world-class performer (in debate, dance or dungeonmastering) will tell you that they do their best work when they are so engaged that the narrative disappears.
I have no idea when our computer overlords will finally enslave us, but it won't happen because we figured out a way to curse them with a chattering monkey.
Washing your hands helps you avoid getting sick.
Putting fattening foods out of your reach helps you stay slim.
And the provocations and habits you encounter in the digital world keep you productive (or drive you crazy):
- Turn off mail and social media alerts on your phone.
- Don't read the comments. Not on your posts or on the posts of other people. Not the reviews and not the trolls.
- De-escalate the anger in every email exchange.
- Put your phone in the glove compartment while driving.
- Spend the most creative hour of your day creating, not responding.
Each habit is hard to swallow and easy to maintain. Worth it.
If technology gives you the chance to speak up, build a platform and help show the way, why not use it?
If someone offers you a project or a job with more leverage and the chance to both learn and teach, why not take it?
If you can learn something new, more efficiently than ever before, if the opportunity to leap presents itself, why not?
Now is a good time.
Someone who shows up with enthusiasm made a decision before she even encountered what was going on. The same thing is true for the guy who scowls with contempt before the customer opens his mouth.
It's a choice.
This choice is contagious.
This choice changes what will happen next.
This choice is at the heart of what it takes to be successful at making change or performing a service.
More than you imagine, we get what we expect.
As a company gets bigger, there's an inevitable split between the people who market what gets made and the people who design what gets made.
At some organizations, it's likely that these two people work in different buildings, and don't spend much time together.
One of the most important decisions made in the early days of JetBlue was that the woman in charge of marketing the airline was also in charge of hiring and training. Amy designed the product and the marketing, both.
This was certainly one of the things Steve Jobs brought to the table as well.
There are a lot of reasons that this is quite difficult to pull off. That doesn't mean it isn't important.
There are two kinds of purchases: Either you are replenishing (you know precisely what you're about to get) or you are exploring.
Books and movies are almost always purchased before they are consumed. A bottle of Coke, or a return visit to a massage therapist, on the other hand, are replenishments of a known quantity. You might buy something for the satisfaction of owning it, or of owning one more, but that's different than buying one to find out what it does.
Neither is better or worse, but they are very much not the same.
If you sell an exploration, your customer is taking a chance. Sometimes magnifying that chance fits the worldview of the purchaser, and sometimes minimizing the risk is precisely what the purchaser is seeking.
On the other hand, in services like software and in recurring purchases, the sampling that leads to people getting hooked on the network effect and in replenishing what they have is what the seller seeks.
This is almost never talked about by marketers, but it's at the core of the strategy choices that follow.
Are tomatoes a fruit?
The benefit of a category isn't to denigrate something or someone. It's to help us make better decisions with limited information.
If we put someone in the category of, "frequent business traveler," we can apply previous learnings about what people like this might want or need.
Categories are useful tools when they help us find shared worldviews and interests. They're ineffective when they are nothing but surface labels, labels that don't help us serve.
Use categories well and you seem like a well-prepared mindreader, able to provide what people need, sometimes before they even realize it. It means you can treat patients, lead employees and delight customers on a regular basis.
Use them with laziness or ill intent, and you dehumanize the very people you ought to be serving.
Reputation is what people expect us to do next. It's their expectation of the quality and character of the next thing we produce or say or do.
We control our actions (even when it feels like we don't) and our actions over time (especially when we think no one is looking) earn our reputation.
If your Chanel bag wears out, don't expect the same response you might find if you have trouble with something from LL Bean or Lands End. Luxury brands have long assumed that if you can afford to buy it, you can afford to replace it.
The mass brand leaders in most markets have figured out how to deliver extraordinary promises at scale. Not the high end guys. The mass ones. They do this by realizing that the cost of making the customer happy is tiny compared to the cost of leaving her unhappy.
[Hint: if you think that there's any chance at all that people consider what you sell a luxury good, the answer is, they probably do.]
Go to a McDonalds. Buy a Big Mac and a chocolate milkshake. Drink half the milkshake. Eat half the Big Mac. Put the rest of the Big Mac into the milkshake, walk up to the counter and say, "I can't drink this milkshake, there's a Big Mac in it." You'll get a refund. (Please don't try this, but yes, it works).
It's cheaper to just say, "here's a refund," than it is to start a debate.
How is a luxury brand going to compete? Is part of the story of why you pay extra because of the service you'll get? Lexus did groundbreaking work on this (compare the Lexus service story/truth to the way Porsche or Jaguar owners used to be treated).
Luxury buyers who see that they're getting lesser service feel stupid, and stupid is the brand killer.
If you're going to sell luxury, you probably need to figure out how to use some of the premium you charge to deliver even better service than your lower-priced competition.