Welcome back.

Have you thought about subscribing? It's free.
seths.blog/subscribe

Starting with agreement

Resilient systems are better than fragile ones.

Leave the campsite better than you found it.

Clean air is better than dirty air.

It’s more reliable to invest in things that produce positive impacts over time.

When the numbers add up, believe them

People who show their work are more likely to be right.

Important work is better done now, not later.

Talking about our problems makes the solutions more robust.

It’s better to make up your mind after you see the data, not before.

If we begin with what we agree on, it’s easier to move forward.

Of course, there’s always this alternative:

Compounded luck

If you and I play a game of cards, the winner will largely be decided by luck. Get good cards and you come out ahead.

If you and I play 100 games of backgammon, the better player will win, because the luck of the dice regress to the mean, evening out over time, leaving skill as the dominant factor.

Good game design involves creating the conditions where early luck doesn’t destroy the rest of the game. A good roll or a good first hand shouldn’t eliminate the opportunity for other players to have a chance. This is why Monopoly is a more accurate social commentary than it is a good game.

When people talk about life and say, “there’s no such thing as luck,” they might be referring to the fact that in the long run, people who are prepared, persistent and granted the benefit of the doubt often do okay. But what they’re missing is that life (and our culture) isn’t constructed as a game that doesn’t reward early luck.

Early luck has a massive impact. Where you’re born, the caste society puts you in, whether or not you were appropriately precocious in various early ranking systems–these all get compounded. Malcolm Gladwell has written about birth month having a significant factor in who gets to play in the NHL–because where a Canadian kid plays hockey when he’s six adds up over the decades.

[If you’re a sports fan, that means we could create a second NHL, with just as many star players, simply by creating a different farm system for kids born six months later].

Compounding early luck is generally fine with people who have early luck. What a surprise. But it’s unfair and it’s also a talent-utilization problem that hurts everyone. When we fail to create the conditions for people to persist with resilience until the luck comes along, we all lose.

Organizations have the opportunity to invest in the long haul. They can take profits from early luck and apply them to areas where upsides will eventually appear. This is the secret of successful VCs like Brad Feld and Fred Wilson. A portfolio is a simple way to reduce the impact of luck (good or bad) over time.

But we’re all in organizations. We have a chance to not confuse early luck with skill, and take the steps to build enough resilience into our journey that we’re more likely to get where we’re going.

“And then what happens”

We’re not very good at predicting the future.

We’re very good at being aware of the urgency of the moment, and familiar with our need to deal with emergencies.

Before we react, though, it might be worth asking “and then what happens,” five times.

Five steps from here to there…

If any of the steps involve, “and then a miracle happens,” or “we’ll deal with that later,” it might be worth taking a few more moments to reconsider the first step.

Snake handling

This is a very different task than snake charming.

The first is far more common, but it requires heavy equipment and is often dangerous…

On the other hand, if you have empathy and patience, it’s possible to learn to charm the snakes instead.

What makes it a profession?

Malpractice by one of us is malpractice by all of us.

When a calling turns into an industry, that can change.

In an industry, it’s buyer beware. It’s us against the rest. It’s a quiet line of self-preservation.

But in a profession, it’s clear that a service is on offer, and that standards and trust matter.

When you feel like it

It’s possible to create a life where we only perform tasks when we feel like it.

More likely, though, we end up with commitments. Commitments require us to do work when they feel like it, regardless of whether we do or not.

And the best sorts of commitments create a positive cycle. We end up changing our attitude and our energy precisely because we said we would.

This is one reason why a long vacation can leave us in a torpor. Left to our own devices, we skid to a halt.

But what’s your budget?

This can be an uncomfortable question. Not because any of us have unlimited time and unlimited money, but because it puts us on the spot in a few ways:

  1. Are you able to understand the project well enough to put boundaries around it? If you don’t, are you aware enough to announce what you will need to learn so that you can?
  2. Are you willing to be on the hook for managing the work so that you will be on time and on budget?
  3. Are you comfortable enough with your vendors and your team to accept responsibility for work you’re asking them to do?
  4. Are you a perfectionist, unwilling to ship the work until someone is finally so frustrated, cornered or broke that they pry it from your hands?
  5. The flip side: can you embrace the fact that no project is perfect and that by creating a budget, you’re leaning into boundaries that make you a professional when you do this work?

Too often, we’d rather say, “I’ll know it when I see it, it’s too important to compromise, you’re sucking all the fun out of it, the contractors won’t work with a budget and–don’t you want it to be good?”

But the best work regularly ships on time and on budget.

The kindness bonus

“Please be kind” sounds like a moral imperative. And in some ways, it is.

But behind the theory of the firm and a key building block of successful communities is the idea that kind interactions are significantly more productive.

When people feel seen and respected, they’re more likely to focus on what needs to be done, instead of taking umbrage or being defensive.

When we leave opportunities and pathways for others, they can move forward with less friction.

And when we’re enjoying our days, we’ve created a posture that spreads.

Hockey games aren’t supposed to be kind. But just about everything else works better when we don’t throw elbows.

“Could be better”

Three words that open the door for insight, understanding and improvement.

Gratitude isn’t in question. Neither is acceptance of the situation. It’s not unpatriotic or disloyal to talk about how something could be improved. Instead, when we care enough to say, “could be better,” we’re putting ourselves on the hook to create. You need to care enough to describe an improvement.

Because once you’ve announced how something can be better, you get the chance to show that it can be done.

Fear and footnotes

When you’re trying to make an argument in a scientific journal or a history monograph, you’ll need footnotes. Show your work. Make it clear who came before and what you’re basing your thesis on.

But it seems as though when we’re nervous and afraid, we don’t need any footnotes. “No,” is all we have to offer.

Show your work. It’s a good way to demonstrate that your decision isn’t based on fear alone.