Welcome back.

Have you thought about subscribing? It's free.

The ones who disagree with you

It might be because they are uninformed.

It might be because they are misguided in what they seek.

It might be because they’re short-sighted.

It might be that they are controlled by demons.

It might be that they are demonstrably wrong.

Or it could simply be that they disagree with you.


PS today’s the last day to join The Creative’s Workshop. Bring your work to the world.

But what does “this” do?

If you hand an electronics engineer an amplifier, she can take it apart and tell you what it is capable of doing, without reading the manual or seeing an ad for it.

If you show a civil engineer the plans for a bridge, he can figure out how heavy a truck could drive over it, regardless of what the sign says.

Too often, we resort to hand waving and random hopes for the things we build, merely asserting that our hocus and our pocus will have an effect. But the artifact we leave behind might do little or nothing without the fancy packaging.

There’s nothing wrong with the cognitive dissonance that placebos cause. It’s effective indeed. But it works even better if there are actually active ingredients in the potion we’ve created.

Painting fakes and singing covers

When a pop band goes on the road to promote a hit record, they’re almost certainly re-singing a version of their work that matches what the fan expects to hear, not the daring, original work that they actually might feel like playing that night.

And when, twenty years later, they go on a reunion tour, the same is true, but even more so. The band make-up has changed, their tastes have changed, and they’re an oldies act now. Playing covers of their own work.

Every once in a while, Pablo Picasso painted a daring new work of art. But most of his 10,000 paintings rhymed with the ones he’d done before. In his words, “I often paint fakes.”

Fakes and covers are an essential element of the creative cultural economy. But when we engage with them, we should do it on purpose and not be confused about what we’re getting (or creating).

Toward perfect

Draw a perfect circle. Use a compass or a plotter.

Now, zoom in. If you zoom in close enough, you’ll discover that it’s not a perfect circle at all. In fact, anything we create, at close enough magnification, isn’t perfect.

It’s foolish to wait until you’ve made something that’s perfect, because you never will. The alternative is to continue to move toward your imaginary ideal, shipping as you iterate.

Getting better is the path to better.

You can’t say you can’t play

Lenny Levine was a great kindergarten teacher. And he ran his class by this one rule.

It means that if another kid comes along, you need to include them in your game.

That’s it.

It changes everything. It puts an emphasis on connection, not exclusivity. It changes the dynamics of belonging. It weaves together a foundation that crosses traditional boundaries.

It’s a bit like giving every kid in the class a valentine’s day card. Some say that it cheapens the sentiment because it’s not about selection, it’s about inclusion. I think we’ve got plenty of selection already.

In the adult world, open doors create possibility and that leads to insight and productivity.

How we do things around here

When you’re beginning a new engagement, a new job, a new partnership, it might be worth agreeing on a list in advance. You don’t have to include all of these, and you don’t have to agree with them (because you can always take the other side) but here are some to start with:

We always answer emails to each other within a day, even if it’s just to say ‘got it’.

You’re invited as a guest into a purpose-built room in our Slack.

We’ll pay your invoices before they’re due.

We agree that all of our interactions are off the record, unless we agree otherwise.

We’ll never use legalese or intentionally trick you with loopholes in our agreements. Instead, we’ll be as clear as we can and honor what we said, and expect that you’ll do the same.

If we’re not sure, we’ll ask each other.

We don’t miss deadlines.

We don’t sprint at the end, we sprint at the beginning.

We don’t make compromises simply because bad planning means that we’re running out of time.

We eagerly highlight the potholes ahead, but spend no time casting blame after something fails.

We are intentional and specific about the work. “Who is it for” and “what is it for?” are the two key design questions.

We don’t use semi-colons or animated emojis.

If it’s not working, we’ll say so, and do it with specificity and kindness.

We’ll pay a lot but expect to get more than we paid for.

No cilantro. Of course.

Borrowed time

All of us are on borrowed time. There are no refunds and there are no guarantees.

At some point, the only time you’ll have to worry about is the time you’ve wasted.


Coming soon: The Podcast Fellowship is coming back. It’s helped more than a thousand people find a voice. Sign up here for more details.

The bad client/clueless boss trap

“I’m doing this meaningless/damaging/banal work because that’s what the client wants.”

There are many variations of this.

The plastic surgeon who does hideous work on the faces of people who demand it. The marketer who’s still trying to get teens hooked on smoking. The teacher who blames the curriculum for the boring classroom experience because that’s what the state mandated…

It’s a trap, like all traps, because there’s a lot of truth to it. In fact, the client might be misguided or selfish or lazy. In fact, the boss doesn’t care enough.

Fine, that happened.

But what we do about it is the spot where we either excel or fail. If all we had were great opportunities for insightful clients and bosses, then important work wouldn’t be scarce at all.

As professionals, part of our job is to educate our client to keep them from doing something stupid, short-term or selfish. As linchpins, we get to choose our boss, and if you’re unable to persuade them to raise the bar, then the obligation/opportunity is to go do something else.

The winning sentence is, “Despite having a lousy client or uninformed boss, we were still able to do great work.”

There are two secrets to doing great work:

  1. Persuade the client to let you do great work.
  2. Get better clients.

They dance together every day.

You get better clients as soon as you act like the creator who deserves better clients.

Unaided awareness

Name a brand of sneaker. Name a flavor of ice cream. Name a dead rock star.

If you came up with answers like Nike, Chocolate or Prince, you’re not alone. This is unaided awareness, the ability to name a member of a category without having to choose from a list.

It’s tempting to want to be the Nike of your category. It really pays off in group situations, where someone wants to be sure to choose an option that ‘everyone has heard of.’

But unaided awareness isn’t a useful goal. Because most decisions that matter aren’t unaided. Most choices are made with some consideration. What people say about you is even more important than being on everyone’s notorious list.


PS Early Decision for the April session of the altMBA is tomorrow. Ask someone who’s done it. And the very first lesson of the Creative’s Workshop went live today. It’s a perfect day to join us.

Information wants to be free*

*No, that’s not what he said, and no, it’s not completely true.

Thirty-five years ago, in a conversation with Steve Wozniak (pioneer of the personal computer), Stuart Brand (founder of the Whole Earth Catalog along with many other foundational disruptions), said:

On the one hand you have — the point you’re making Woz — is that information sort of wants to be expensive because it is so valuable — the right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information almost wants to be free because the costs of getting it out is getting lower and lower all of the time. So you have these two things fighting against each other.

This is prescient, and it deserves to be quoted or at least paraphrased correctly.

Information wants to be free or it wants to be expensive.

How can both be true?

Information that seeks the network effect, that is most useful when lots of people know it, that changes the culture–well, making this information free is the best way to accomplish this effect. The alphabet wants and needs to be free, because if you had to pay to learn and use a set of letters to make words, it wouldn’t be universally adopted and would fail. The same is true for the pursuit of hit records–getting played on the radio is the goal of the label, even if the radio is giving the music away. The music is ‘worth’ more when it’s a hit.

The tension for so many creators is that they’re used to friction associated with their mass-produced work, friction that used to pay them better than it does now. This is the shift that Brand is talking about in half of his statement.

But some information is valuable because it creates barriers to entry, gives a few people a head start, confers status, solves a specific problem in real-time, etc.

There’s no reason to price the design of a custom addition to a home by a famous architect at free. The person who’s buying it doesn’t benefit from it being free–they benefit from the status that comes from it being scarce.

And the information that comes from a meeting that’s only open to paying attendees is worth more because you got to learn it and others didn’t.

And Michael Bloomberg is a billionaire because his company sells information to companies just a few seconds faster than they can get it anywhere else. The cost of the information creates scarcity and the scarcity creates value.

[This post was inspired by a poorly edited headline and article in the Times yesterday that got the quote wrong and is also remarkably (or sadly, not remarkably) sexist. It’s hard to imagine it having the same tone if it were written about a man.]

This site uses cookies.

Learn more