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Doing presentations virtually

A few years ago, I posted about the hardware setup you can use to look better and feel better when working in a distributed organization.

Since then, I’ve tried many hacks for how to integrate Keynote presentations into this environment. I used some fancy software that was heartbreakingly disappointing and then figured out a much better solution, from a much more responsive company, using a little-known technique in Ecamm Live. All the details of how it’s done are here.

In short: you can create and control a Keynote presentation with a green screen built in so your face shows through–one screen for you and your slides that is easy to control and not awkward the way screen sharing is. (Keynote now also lets you embed your camera in the slides directly, but the quality isn’t as good).

Have fun.

I hope this helps. Life’s too short for ugly presentations.

The catfight and the construction site

We’re quick to stop to see the car wreck, the billionaire having a meltdown, or the professional wrestlers pretending to be political leaders. But it often seems more difficult to take a moment to watch people building something that matters instead.

We’ll probably spend billions of dollars and millions of hours transfixed by media coverage of one disaster after another this year.

What would happen if we watched Bryan Stevenson, Nazanin Ash, or Jim Killoran build something instead? Not just watched, but actually helped?

What sells is drama, conflict, and emergencies. So that’s what we get.

What if we spent our attention on a different thing? What if we built something better?

It’s easy to imagine that culture is immutable and that we have no choice but to pander for attention. But in fact, the culture keeps changing, and when we shift what we make and change what we pay attention to, the culture follows.

Cheaper than that

The race to the bottom has been won.

Anything cheaper than what’s on offer is a waste of the customer’s money, because it won’t get the job done.

Once we’ve cut every corner, all that’s left is the brutality of less.

One slogan is: You’ll pay less than you should have, and waste it all.

An alternative is: You’ll pay more than you hoped but get more than you paid for.

The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win.

Bought or sold?

Most things that consumers acquire are bought, not sold. We decide we’re interested in something and we go shopping to get it. Potato chips, wedding venues and cars are all purchased by people who set out to get them.

Selling is a special sort of marketing. It’s interactive, generous and personal. Selling brings individual attention, connection and tension to each customer. And selling takes time, effort and money.

Many companies believe they have a new product that will sell itself from the first day. But that’s unlikely.

We shouldn’t disrespect selling by pretending we don’t need it.

Falling behind

We’re not in races very often. Usually, what we’re doing is more like a walkathon, or perhaps, a hike.

And yet, we’ve been pushed to believe that the only performance that matters is a scarcity-based victory.

They close the parkway near my house on Sundays. As people pedal along, you can see the ripple of anxiety that spreads when a fast biker ends up passing everyone else.

The route is a loop. No one is getting anywhere you’re not getting. They’re just leaving this place faster.

Avoid false proxies

They’re toxic, wasteful and a tempting trap.

It’s one of the most important topics in my new book.

(And here’s a new podcast on it).

We need proxies. You’re not allowed to read the book before you buy it or taste the ketchup before you leave the store. We rely on labels and cultural cues to give us a hint about what to expect. We do judge a book (and a condiment) by its cover, all the time.

And hiring and managing people is far more important and risky than buying ketchup. So we look for proxies that may give us a clue as to how someone will ultimately contribute to our project.

False proxies include: Height, race, gender, attractiveness, charisma in meetings, famous college, etc.

It’s easy to imagine that we don’t fall prey to these irrelevant signals, but a quick look at the height of elected officials makes it clear that we do–we keep picking the tall ones.

When building the Oakland A’s into a championship contender, Billy Beane discovered that every other team was using these sorts of proxies to scout who would be worth drafting. By finding an actual proxy, a useful one, he was able to assemble a skilled team on a budget.

Just because someone interviews well, is friendly, or looks like you doesn’t mean that they can do the work that needs to be done.

Now that we can measure so many things, we might as well put that to use. Attitude and skill are useful proxies, while the easy-to-measure stuff is simply an expensive and hurtful distraction.

Volition and placebos

If a placebo heals your illness, does that mean it was all in your head in the first place? That you weren’t really sick, or didn’t really want to get better?

If expensive wine tastes better to you, but you can’t tell wine apart in a double-blind taste test, does that mean it doesn’t really taste better to you, or that you have shallow tastes?

Can luxury goods, spiritual practices or a change in the weather change our situation?

Knee surgery works for some people, and those people, apparently, had an actual injury and the surgery fixed it. And yet, sham knee surgery (in which the patient is sedated, cut and stitched, but no internal changes occur) is just as effective as ‘actual’ knee surgery for certain physical ailments. Does that mean that those ailments weren’t real, or that the patient was not trying hard enough to get well?

Along the way, we’ve persuaded ourselves and others that our brains don’t matter so much, and that the stories in our lives are not nearly as important as the molecules.

And yet, every time we look closely, the opposite appears to be true.

Stories are a balm. And our brains are powerful, though not always (or even often) under our conscious control.

“It’s all in your head.” Where else would it be?

Productive assets and useful flows

Assets are ownable. They are devices, skills, connections or properties that allow us to amplify our effort and do our work with more impact.

A drill press is an asset, so is your law degree. The permission you have to talk with your customers, the benefit of the doubt you get from your patients and the freedom to expand into a new territory are all assets. A movie studio owns volcano.com, decades after the movie was made. It’s an asset, a wasting one.

The projects we do create flows. We put in time or effort or cash, and something comes back. When the effort and resources we put in are rewarded with at least as much return as we expected, the flow is positive. It was worth the effort.

The next steps in figuring out our strategy (whether you’re a freelancer, a spiritual leader or a CEO) are:

Make a list of the assets. Put them in order of value to you and value to others. Are there some assets you’re hoarding that are going to waste? Some that might be worth selling or walking away from? Are there assets that will respond well to an investment of money, effort or learning?

Get really smart about the flows. Are you defending sunk costs, sticking with projects simply because that’s easier than leaving them behind? Which flows could be improved with focus and effort?

Hard choices today often lead to good outcomes later, and while today is real, we spend almost all of our lives living in later.

Consider the WordWindow

Computer adventure games were possible in the 1980s because of a bit of code called a ‘parser’. You could type, “pick up the axe” and the computer would understand the phrase and follow your commands. In italics, because it didn’t understand anything, it simply broke your sentences into bits and changed the state of your inventory accordingly.

When faced with a parser, even a primitive one, many people did that homunculus thing and decided that the computer could understand every single thing you might type, like, “I’m thinking that having an axe in my inventory would be helpful,” or even, “let me tell you about my cousin…”

My first gig, at Spinnaker, was leading the team that built the original generation of illustrated computer adventure games (I got to work with Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury, which is a great story). We discovered early on that the parser was magical but not nearly as powerful as people hoped.

Sounds a bit like LLM and ChatGPT, forty years later.

The solution was to offer a convenient and simple approach, which is almost always the solution to a problem of confusion.

We created the WordWindow™ button. The gratuitous trademark symbol made it more powerful, apparently.

When you clicked that button, it gave you a list of the 25 most common or useful things you could type.

I think this is going to be a powerful bridge even now. For example, a “Summarize” button is going to lean into ChatGPT’s strengths, but it’s not something people might immediately jump to.

Broadening this concept, whenever you find the folks you seek to serve appear to be hesitating or confused, consider offering them a multiple choice option.

Menus work. Even when we’re not at a restaurant.

The swag is here

To celebrate the new book, here are some limited edition swag options to benefit good causes and independent craftspeople.

You can find them all at seths.store.

I went to Brooklyn and worked with Dan at the Arm to create a set of five handmade letterpress posters. They’re 12 inches square, available framed or unframed, and all sales directly benefit Newborns in Need. It’s hard to describe just how magical paper and ink can feel in the hands of a pro. They’re each signed on the back, limited to 100 each. Many thanks to my friends at Scribe for making all of the fulfillment possible.

Next up are a pair of durable, soft, handmade t-shirts that capture some of the energy of the book. They’ll look better on you, promise. Made by the Cotton Bureau, all profits go to BuildOn.

And then there’s the legendary bee mug, made by independent craftspeople working with Bread and Badger in the Pacific Northwest. I can confirm that tea tastes significantly better in these mugs, with or without honey.

Book launches are always fraught, but now it’s the book’s job to spark and amplify the conversations that make change happen. Thank you for your support and for caring enough to make a difference.

PS bonus letterpress footage:

Double debossed, shot in gratuitous slo-mo, with AMSR sound as recorded live

PS lots of new podcast interviews here