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Widest common denominator

If you’re creating something where widespread inputs, usage and adoption lead to significant benefits, it’s worth considering who you’re excluding.

The curb cut turned out not simply to be a boon for wheelchair users. At low cost, it opened the sidewalk to a significantly larger audience of strollers, delivery people and skateboarders, too.

Often, we make the mistake of focusing on too broad an audience. Obsessing about the minimum viable audience forces us to make something that’s truly better. But once we identify those we seek to serve, broadening access is a powerful way to add impact.

This isn’t a matter of high or low, more or less. It’s the power of thinking hard about who it’s for and what it’s for.

“What’s their phone number again?”

For more than a decade, I’ve been working with the fine folks at 800 CEO READ (and yes, that’s their phone number, and yes, people have asked me how to reach them.)

It’s where I exclusively sell my book What To Do When It’s Your Turn.

It’s the place my project ChangeThis is still happily thriving.

And it’s the place that makes it easy to buy a big box of books for an event or organization. If you need more than three copies of a title, give them a call and ask. You already know the number.

I’ve never said ‘thank you’ to them here on the blog, so today’s a fine day to do that. They’re changing their name and their website today: PorchlightBooks.

Thanks to the entire team for making the world of books a whole lot easier and more friendly.

Make a habit/break a habit

If you’re trying to help yourself (or those you serve), the most effective thing you can do is create long-term habits. They become unseen foundations of who we will become.

The goal of running a marathon in six weeks is audacious, but it’s not a habit. You might succeed, but with all that pressure, it’s more likely you’ll simply abandon the project.

On the other hand, the goal of running to the mailbox (at least) and back for 50 days in a row is the sort of habit that might stick.

The same goes for education (“we do flashcards every day” is very different from “I need to cram to learn quantum mechanics for the test.”)

And it goes double for our lifestyles. If you can replace a bad habit with a good one, you’ll live with the benefits for decades.

The challenge is to set up systems that are likely to create habits, not sprints that lead to failure.

The anatomy of annoying

Pema Chodron’s story has stuck with me for a decade: At a meditation retreat, the guy sitting near her kept making an annoying clicking sound. Again and again, she was jolted from her practice because he kept clicking his tongue.

During the break, as she gathered up her courage to tell him that he was ruining the day for her and for everyone else, she realized that in fact, it was a nearby radiator that was causing the clicking.

Suddenly, the fact that it was an inanimate object changed everything for her.

It wasn’t about her any longer.

It wasn’t intentional or selfish.

It was simply a radiator.

The rest of the day was fine, because it was simply a radiator.

My biggest takeaway is that the key leap wasn’t in discovering that the sounds came from a radiator. The lesson is that acting like it comes from a radiator completely solves the problem.

Sometimes (often, usually), it’s not about us. It’s simply weather.

Responsibility and the power of ‘could have’

The us/them mindset of most corporate customer service is simple:

  1. When you can, get it over with.
  2. If at all possible, evade responsibility.

Which means that when things go wrong, you’ll likely encounter a legalistic mentality that begins and ends with, “it’s out of our control.”

There’s an alternative.

It begins with understanding the economics of loyalty. Saving a customer is ten times more efficient than finding a new one. If it costs an airline $1,000 of marketing and route development to acquire a first class business traveler, it’s worth at least $10,000 in customer service to keep one. And that means that an extra ten minutes on the phone clocks in at a high value indeed.

And it continues with a simple tactic: Instead of defining the minimal legal requirement, outline the maximum possible action you could have taken.

“You’re right ma’am, that was a terrible situation. And we could have alerted you in advance that the plane was late, and we could have trained the flight attendants to be more aware of situations like this and we could have been significantly more responsive when we saw that the whole thing was going sideways. That’s incredibly frustrating–you’re right.”

Because it’s all true. You could have done all of these things. And it’s true, it was frustrating. If it wasn’t, she wouldn’t have called.

And then, after learning all the things you could have done, send the ideas upstream. It’s free advice, but it’s good advice.

Because the race doesn’t go to organizations that do the minimal legal requirement. The race goes to those that figure out what they could do. And do it.

Leadership

Leaders create the conditions where people choose new actions.

The choices are voluntary. They’re made by people who see a new landscape, new opportunities and new options.

You can’t make people change. But you can create an environment where they choose to.

Toward full stack

Find the right clients

Earn their attention and trust

Identify the problem

Find their fear, embrace their objectives

Prototype possible solutions

Create an architecture that supports your solution to the problem

Build a minimum viable solution

Test it

Program a well-documented, resilient piece of code

Test it

Debug it

Ship it

It’s easy to get distracted by the part of the stack that we consider to be our job or simply our expertise. But it’s all connected.

The never-ending ratchet of conspicuous consumption

It used to be that a well-tended lawn of 50 by 100 feet was wasteful indeed. Today, it’s in the by-laws of the local housing association. You could impress the neighbors with a new Cadillac, now you not only need a Tesla, but you need a new Tesla. And you could show off by flying first class, but then you needed to charter a plane, then charter a jet, then charter a bigger jet, then buy a fractional share, then own the whole thing, then get a bigger one and on and on.

Conspicuous consumption is not absolute, it’s relative.

It’s sort of a selfish potlatch, in which each person seeks to demonstrate status, at whatever the personal or societal cost, by out-consuming the others.

Social networks have amplified this desire, at the same time they simplified the execution. Now you can waste time and dignity instead of money. Who can you tear down? How much time can you waste? What’s it worth to you to have more followers than the others?

It’s a lousy game, because if you lose, you lose, and if you win, you also lose.

The only way to do well is to refuse to play.

Earning trust outperforms earning envy.

Innovation is guts plus generosity

Guts, because it might not work.

And generosity, because guts without seeking to make things better is merely hustle.

The innovator shows up with something she knows might not work (pause for a second, and contrast that with everyone else, who has been trained to show up with a proven, verified, approved, deniable answer that will get them an A on the test).

If failure is not an option, then, most of the time, neither is success.

It’s pretty common for someone to claim that they’re innovative when actually, all they are is popular, profitable or successful. Nothing wrong with that. But it’s not innovative.

Allow generosity to take the lead and you’ll probably discover that it’s easier to find the guts.

The downside of possibility

Optimists are always a little disappointed.

If you live with possibility, the idea that things can get better, that with consistent generous effort you can make a contribution, then you also end up feeling just a bit let down that it didn’t happen this time.

The alternative is to insist on limits, to be a pessimist, to simply play it as written and only do your job, expecting the worst.

Sure, you could probably avoid a little disappointment that way, but how could it be worth the journey? What’s the point of all this risk, effort and connection if we’re not going to use it in search of better?

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