Who is happy?
Are rock stars, billionaires or recently-funded entrepreneurs happier? What about teenagers with clear skin?
Either what happens changes our mood... or our mood changes the way we narrate what happens.
This goes beyond happiness economics and the understanding that a certain baseline of health and success is needed for many people to be happy.
The question worth pondering is: are you seeking out the imperfect to justify your habit of being unhappy? Does something have to happen in the outside world for you to be happy inside?
Or, to put it differently, Is there a narrative of your reality that supports your mood?
Marketers spend billions of dollars trying to create a connection between what we see in the mirror and our happiness, implying that others are judging us in a way that ought to make us unhappy.
And industrialists have built an economic system in which compliance to a boss's instructions is seen as the only way to avoid the unhappiness that comes from being penalized at work. And so fear becomes a dominant paradigm of our profession.
Those things are unlikely to change any time soon, but the way we process them can change today. Our narrative, the laundry list we tick off, the things we highlight for ourselves and others... our narrative is completely up to us.
The simple shortcut: the way we respond to the things that we can't change can instantly transform our lives. "That's interesting," is a thousand times more productive than, "that's terrible." Even more powerful is our ability to stop experiencing failure before it even happens, because, of course, it usually doesn't.
Happiness, for most of us, is a choice. Reality is not. It seems, though, that choosing to be happy ends up changing the reality that we keep track of.
Very few people are afraid of speaking.
It's the public part that's the problem.
What makes it public? After all, speaking to a waiter or someone you bump into on the street is hardly private.
I think we define public speaking as any group large enough or important enough or fraught enough that we're afraid of it.
And that makes the solution straightforward (but not easy). Instead of plunging into these situations under duress, once a year or once a decade, gently stretch your way there.
Start with dogs. I'm not kidding. If you don't have one, go to the local animal shelter and take one for a walk. Give your speech to the dog. And then, if you can, to a few dogs.
Work your way up to a friend, maybe two friends. And then, once you feel pretty dumb practicing with people you know (this is easy!), hire someone on Craigslist to come to your office and listen to you give your speech.
Drip, drip, drip. At every step along the way, there's clearly nothing to fear, because you didn't plunge. It's just one step up from speaking to a schnauzer. And then another step.
Every single important thing we do is something we didn't use to be good at, and in fact, might be something we used to fear.
This is not easy. It's difficult. But that's okay, because it's possible.
It's quite natural to be defensive in the face of criticism. After all, the critic is often someone with an agenda that's different from yours.
But advice, solicited advice from a well-meaning and insightful expert? If you confuse that with criticism, you'll leave a lot of wisdom on the table.
Here's a simple way to process advice: Try it on.
Instead of explaining to yourself and to your advisor why an idea is wrong, impossible or merely difficult, consider acting out what it would mean. Act as if, talk it through, follow the trail. Turn the advice into a new business plan, or a presentation you might give to the board. Turn the advice into three scenarios, try to make the advice even bolder...
When a friend says, "you'd look good in a hat," it's counterproductive to imagine that she just told you that you look lousy without a hat, and that you then have to explain why you never wear hats and take offense at the fact that she thinks you always look terrible.
Nope. Try on the hat. Just try on the hat.
Put on a jacket that goes with the hat. Walk around with the hat on. Take a few pictures of yourself wearing a hat.
Then, if you want to, sure, stop wearing hats.
Advice is not criticism.
There's the hustle of always asking, of putting yourself out there, of looking for discounts, shortcuts and a faster way. This is the hustle of it it doesn't hurt to ask, of what you don't know won't hurt you, of the ends justifying the means. This hustler propositions, pitches and works at all times to close a sale, right now.
This kind of hustler always wants more for less. This kind of hustler will cut corners if it helps in getting picked.
Then there's the hustle that's actually quite difficult and effective. This is the hustle of being more generous than you need to be, of speaking truthfully even if it delays the ultimate goal in the short run, and most of all, the hustle of being prepared and of doing the work.
It's a shame that one approach is more common (though appropriately disrespected), while the other sits largely unused.
Professionals are able to get their work done without using emotion to signify urgency.
When a surgeon asks the nurse for a scalpel, she doesn't have to raise her voice, stamp her foot or even make a face. She merely asks.
When a pilot hits a tough spot, he's not supposed to start yelling at air traffic control. He describes the situation and gets the help he needs.
And despite what you may have seen in the movies, successful stock traders don't have to start screaming when there's more money on the line.
Compare this to the amateur world of media, of customer service and of marketing. Whoever yells the loudest gets our attention. Twitter users who use cutting language to get someone at a company to feel badly. Emailers who should know better who mark their notes as urgent, even when they're not. Politicians who take umbrage as if umbrage was on sale.
It should be clear (compared to say, astronauts and surgeons) that these people aren't angry because so much is at stake. They're angry because it works. Because attention is reserved in those industries for those who decide to demonstrate their emotions by throwing a tantrum.
The problem with requiring people to be loud and angry to get things done is that you're now surrounded by people who are loud and angry.
What happens if you take a professional approach with the people you work with, rewarding people who properly prioritize their requests (demands) and ignoring those that seek to escalate via vitriol? What happens if you consistently enforce a rule against tantrums?
If you go first, by consistently rewarding thoughtful exchanges and refusing to leap merely because it's raining anger, the people you work with will get the message (or move on).
A pitfall of throwing tantrums is that sometimes, people throw them back.
You can details and a link to apply right here. It's March 6, 7 and 8 just outside of New York City.
Having people apply for a seminar is an interesting choice. It certainly takes a lot more time (for you and for us) and also makes it more difficult to promote. In this case, I think it's worth it. The people in the room with you are as important (sometimes more important) than the person on stage. The connections and support and inspiration you get from those around you have a significant impact on who you will become.
We're limiting applications to 200, on a first-come, first-served basis, and then alerting successful applicants after a day or two.
The goal is simple: to create a posture of forward motion, a platform you can use to elevate your work, your company and your team.
You can find the details (and some photos) on this page. It's not inexpensive, and it's not for everyone, but for those that can find the time and urgency to step up and come, I hope it will be a turning point for you.
Optimistic time seems like a good idea. "We'll ship in January." "The conference will start at noon." "I'll be there in ten minutes."
The hope is that the expectation of completion will raise our expectations and increase the chances that something will actually happen.
In fact, though, there are huge costs to optimistic time. When you announce things based on optimism, the rest of the world you're engaging with builds plans around you and your announcement. And the cost of the person who doesn't have your software or is sitting around a meeting room for hours waiting is high indeed.
The alternative is honest time. Time without recourse or negotiation. The Metro North train leaves at 5:52. Not 5:55, no matter how much you want it to wait.
The software ships, the conference starts--at precisely when we say it will. So the world plans on it and depends on it and effectiveness grows.
It doesn't ship because it's ready. It ships because it's due.
(Amazingly, this rule makes things ready a lot more often).
It's a point of view and a contract with yourself. It ships when I said it would.
Where should great programmers choose to work?
[I say 'choose' because anyone who has worked with programmers understands that the great ones are worth far more than the average ones. Sometimes 50 times as much. That's because great programmers are able to architect systems that are effective, that scale, and that do things that other programmers can't imagine until after they're done.]
While this is a post about people who work to become great programmers, I think it applies to most fields, including sales and design.
Many programmers are drawn to famous, hip, growing tech companies. There are literally tens of thousands of programmers working at Apple, Google and Facebook, and each company receives more than a thousand resumes a day.
It might not be a great choice, though. Not for someone willing to exchange the feeling of security for the chance to matter.
The first challenge is freedom: Not just the freedom to plan your day and your projects, but the freedom to try new things, to go out all the way out to the edge, to launch things that might not work.
A key element of freedom is control. Controlling what you work on and how you do it. If you are part of a team of a hundred people working on an existing piece of software, you will certainly learn a lot. But the areas you have control over, responsibility for, the ability to change—are small indeed.
The team that built the Mac (arguably one of the most important software teams in history) was exactly the right size for each member to have freedom and control while also shipping important work.
Alas, when an organization gets bigger, the first technical choice they make is to build systems based on programming jobs that don't need brilliant engineers. The most reliable way to build a scalable, predictable industrial organization is to create jobs that can be done by easily found (and replaced) workers. Which means less freedom and less control for the people who do the work, and more freedom and more control for the organization.
When faced with the loss of freedom and control, many talented people demand an increase in security and upside. That's one big reason (irony alert) that fast-growing companies go public—so they will have the options currency to pay their team handsomely, which puts the future of the company in the hands of Wall Street, which will happily exchange stock price growth for the banality of predictable. This, of course, leads to programmers losing even more freedom and even more control.
It's entirely possible that an industrialized organization is going to change the world, but they're going to do it with you or without you.
The challenges here are that finding a great idea is a lot of work (and a distinct skill) and making it into a company that succeeds is a lot of work as well. Programmers who do both those jobs are often left fighting for the time to do the programming they actually love to do. (Mark Zuckerberg decided to give up serious programming at Facebook, Dave Filo chose not to at Yahoo).
The alternative? Be as active in finding the right place to work as great founders are in finding you. The goal might not be to find a famous company or even a lucrative gig. Instead, you can better reach your potential by finding the small shop, the nascent organization, the powerful agent of change that puts you on the spot on a regular basis.
This is a lot of work. Not only do you need to do your job every day, and not only do you need to continually hone your skills and get ever better at your work, but now you're expected to spend the time and energy to find clients/bosses/a team where you are respected and challenged and given the freedom and control to do even better work.
If I were a great programmer, I'd be spending the time to figure out what I'd want my day to look like, then going to events, startup weekends, VC firms and other places where good idea people are found. The best jobs might be the most difficult to find.
Bernie Taupin needed Elton John as much as John needed Taupin.
You can't get away with this strategy of self-selection if you're simply a good programmer. It won't work if you don't have a point of view about your craft and if you need management supervision in order to ship great code. You need to build a trail that proves you're as good as you assert you are. But those are all skills, skills worth acquiring in an age when they are worth more than ever before.
Once you have those chops, though, the onus is on you to choose not to be a cog in a well-oiled machine that will rob you of freedom and control, not to mention the personal development and joy that come with a job where you matter.
To be really clear, it's entirely possible to be a great programmer doing important work at a big company. But those companies must work overtime to create an environment where systems-creep doesn't stifle the desire and talent of the best people on the team.
The naive person wonders, "how come so many great architects build iconic buildings early in their career?" In fact, the truth is:
doing the work that earns a commision for an iconic building makes you into a great architect.
Michael Graves and Zaha Hadid didn't wait for someone to offer them a great project. They went and got it.
[If this resonates with you, I might have precisely the right gig for the right programmer. You can read the details here. If you know someone, please share.]
[UPDATE: You guys are amazing. Check out what's been posted (so far) ]
Winnie Kao, who has been leading special projects over the last few months in my office, has something to share. You can check it out here.
She's running a mutual support sprint to help people get on track (or back on track) with their habit of shipping. Here's how it works: Participants commit to posting 1 blog post every day for 7 days. The goal is to practice shipping with a like-minded community and to push yourself to simply start.
Check out her site and the video where Winnie explains the inspiration for the event and details on how to submit your posts. There'll be a Tumblr page featuring everyone's posts, a daily chat room at noon to connect, tweets with #YourTurnChallenge, and an audiostream broadcast at the end to celebrate.
This is a chance to practice shipping for one week within a community. It might be hard but it’s doable and it might change you. I hope you'll give it a shot.
PS it works even if you haven't read my new book yet.
PPS of course, Winnie didn't fail at all. She's succeeding, because connecting, leading and doing the work are precisely what we all need to do.
Tribes build sideways.
And the connection economy depends on that simple truth. If you care about something, you must not wait for someone in charge to organize everyone else who cares about it.
I'm not sure if Timothy Leary understood the urgency of his words. Today, when it's easier and faster to connect people who are waiting to be connected, inaction is the same thing as opposition.
Ten by ten by ten is a thousand. Do it twice and you're at a million.
And now, Acumen is offering a free small-group course/discussion about the letter. All you need to do is find two or three colleagues and sign up here.
"But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word 'tension'."
"Wait" has almost always meant 'Never'."
Taking action is a choice.
Speaking up is a choice.
And yes, standing on the sidelines is a choice.
What if you had a big blue phone on your desk, and whenever you needed to, you could pick it up and instantly be connected with a smart and caring tech support expert (from your internet provider, your web host, the airline you use the most...)?
What are the chances you'd ever consider switching to a competitor that didn't offer similar service just to save a few bucks?
The current model of big company support is to throw undervalued, undertrained, underpowered human beings at perplexed customers, frustrating and disrespecting them enough that they shrug and give up.
These are the chat rooms staffed by people who merely repeat what's on the website.
The phone trees that bury 'talk to a human' at the very bottom of the options (or hide it altogether).
The reps who are rewarded for a short call and punished for escalating you to someone who can help.
And yes, the email correspondents who send notes from addresses to which you cannot reply.
In industries with drive-by customers, people you'll never see again, customer churn is no big deal. But in businesses where the lifetime value of a customer exceeds $15,000 (I'm thinking cable, phones, travel, banking), it's insane to blow someone off so you can save $17 in customer support isn't it?
How to execute this shift? Start with this: Use the conference call functionality built into every phone to create a team of customer advocates. They can even work from home with a cell phone you provide. Your best customers call an advocate, and then the advocate's job is to start calling internal resources until the problem is solved. Reward advocates not for short calls, but for delighted customers.
Start with six advocates and 600 customers and see what happens. The advocates will get smart, fast, about who to talk with and what to say, they'll start to see what works and what's broken, and they'll work to change the organization into one that keeps score of the right things.
Any customer that walks away, disrespected and defeated, represents tens of thousands of dollars out the door, in addition to the failure of a promise the brand made in the first place. You can't see it but it's happening, daily.
I wonder how these companies would act if every day, someone piled $100,000 in cash in the parking lot and lit it on fire. For many companies, the 'please go away' strategy is more expensive than that.
For that new video, or that new brochure, or anything you create that you're hoping will change minds (and spread):
What's it for?
When it works, will we be able to tell? What's it supposed to do?
Who is it for?
What specific group or tribe or worldview is this designed to resonate with?
What does this remind you of?
Who has used this vernacular before? Is it as well done as the previous one was?
What's the call to action?
Is there a moment when you are clearly asking people to do something?
Show this to ten strangers. Don't say anything. What do they ask you?
Now, ask them what the material is asking them to do.
What is the urgency?
Your job is not to answer every question, your job is not to close the sale. The purpose of this work is to amplify interest, generate interaction and spread your idea to the people who need to hear it, at the same time that you build trust.
You will rarely achieve this with one fell swoop, so be prepared to drip your way through countless swoops until you've earned the privilege of engaging with the audience you seek.
I have a friend who can always be counted on to have a great book recommendation handy. Another who can not only tell you the best available movie currently in theatres, but confidently stand behind his recommendations.
And some people are eager to share a link to an article or idea that's worth reading.
Most people, though, hesitate. "What if the other person doesn't like it..."
The fear of being judged is palpable, and the digital trail we leave behind makes it feel more real and more permanent. We live in an ever-changing culture, and that culture is changed precisely by the ideas we engage with and the ones we choose to share.
Sharing an idea you care about is a generous way to change your world for the better.
The culture we will live in next month is a direct result of what people like us share today. The things we share and don't share determine what happens next.
As we move away from the top-down regime of promoted movies, well-shelved books and all sorts of hype, the recommendation from person to person is now the most powerful way we have to change things.
It takes guts to say, "I read this and you should too." The guts to care enough about our culture (and your friends) to move it forward and to stand for something.
We'll judge you most on whether you care enough to change things.
Explosive action. Training by jumping from a standing start. Not worrying about getting up to speed, but going from standing still to flight.
Not everyone needs to be good at this, but you can bet that most organizations need people who are.
Not, "I'll think about it," or, "I'll ask Susan what her take is," or, "Let's reconvene tomorrow..." but, instead, words like, "go," and "now."
Plyometrics is an attitude, the willingness (the bravery) to try things on small groups, in controlled situations, to say, "here, I made this."
It's not a slipshod way of doing business for your core customers (that's another form of hiding). No, it's the posture of urgency.
Will you leap?
My first real job was making educational computer games--thirty years ago. In those days, we had to deal with floppy drives bursting into flame and hardware platforms that had a useful life of two years, not two decades. A lot has settled down, but there's a ton left to do.
1. I know you're not backing up often enough... no one does. But computers should be smart enough that you don't have to. I stopped backing up by using Dropbox instead. I keep every single data file in my dropbox, and it's automatically duplicated in the cloud, and then my backup computer (in the scheme of losing a week or more of work, a backup computer is a smart thing) has a mirror image of all my stuff.
2. Removing features to make software simpler doesn't always make it better. You could, for example, make a hammer simpler by removing the nail puller on the other side. But that makes a useful tool less useful.
The network effect, combined with the low marginal cost of software, means that there's a race to have 'everyone' use a given piece of software. And while that may make business sense, it doesn't always make a great tool. I'm glad that the guys who make Nisus chose powerful over popular.
The argument goes that making software powerful rarely pays off, because most users refuse to take the time to learn how to use it well. The violin and the piano, though, seem to permit us to create amazing music, if we care enough. The trick is to be both powerful and simple, which takes effort.
3. It's entirely possible to find great software that isn't from a huge company. Products like Sketch deserve a wide audience, and just as a successful market for indie music makes all music better, indie software is worth using (and paying for).
4. Paying for tools is a smart choice. If programs like Keynote and Mail.app were actually profit centers for Apple, I would imagine that we'd have far better support, fewer long-term bugs and and most of all, a vibrant, ongoing effort to make them better. (Not to mention neglected and abandoned services like Feedburner and Google Reader).
The irony is that the first generation of PC software marketing was an endless cash grab, overpriced software that was updated too often, merely to generate upgrade fees to feed a behemoth. In the age of network effects, we swung too far in the direction of free software and the lack of care that sometimes comes with the beggars-can't-be-choosers mindset.
I wonder what happens if organizations that buy in bulk insist on buying software worth paying for?
5. Most of all, software as a whole just isn't good enough. There have been a few magical leaps in the evolution of software, products and operating systems that dramatically improved productivity and yes, joy among users. But given how cheap (compared to cars, building materials or appliances) it is to revamp and reinvent software, and how urgent it is to create tools that increase the quality of what we make, we're way too complacement.
Fix all bugs. Yes, definitely. But more important, restate the minimum standards for good enough to be a lot higher than they are.
We need better design, more rigor and most of all, higher aspirations for what our tools can do.
If you think your organization needs a bigger marketing budget, maybe you just need to be less average instead.
Indicted though innocent
Out of cash
Out of tune
Out of your league
Feel free to avoid all of these things by doing nothing, by second guessing yourself, by being your own worst critic, always ready to describe the apocalypse waiting on just the other side of shipping.
Either that or you can risk the narrative and risk the fear and make a difference.
That thing you're launching: what if it fails to function?
The challenge of doing something for a crowd in real time is that if it doesn't work, you're busted. You have no way to alert people, to spread out demand, to reprocess inquiries.
Batch processes gives you a fallback. If the first printing is a little off, you can fix it in the second (if the first printing is small enough). When you know the email address of the people you're dealing with, for example, you can easily reroute people and change expectations. If you know how to contact the ticket holders, you can let them know in advance that the theater roof is under repair. You can fix things today and get them right for tomorrow without disappointing a mob of people in real time.
There's a huge difference between interacting with customers one at a time, one after another, and learning as you go, vs. interacting with everyone, all at once, in parallel.
The arrogance of most web launches (from hip new sites to healthcare signups) is that they assume that nothing will go wrong if they do it live. So they try to do it live for everyone, at once.
When someone you have no data on bounces, you have no way to ask them to come back.
The only part of a launch that should be live is the part that benefits from being live. Everything else ought to be in a batch, reserved, asynchronous and capable of recovery.
It's a journey, not an event, and working in asynchronous batches is a smart way to stay resilient.
If you survey 10,000 of your customers by email and 200 reply, what will you learn from the responses?
You will probably not get a statistically accurate presentation of how your customers feel. What you will get is an accurate understanding of how customers who answer email surveys feel. Two different things.
People who vote are not always the same as people who answer surveys. People who post Yelp reviews are not the same as people who buy from you. Customers who complain are not the same as all customers.
Sure, sometimes the groups are similar enough that it's okay to use one as a proxy for the other. But often, that's just not the case, and we mistake proximity and noisiness for accuracy.