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“Are you in a hurry?”

That’s what the sign at the airport cafe said.

It’s clearly a state of mind. Everyone at the airport is in one of two states: in a hurry, or killing time. The absolute number isn’t relevant–it doesn’t matter how many minutes until the flight that they’re expecting to catch. What matters is their state.

The same thing is true for someone on a commute, or a creative person at work.

You’re either in a hurry (with all the negative and positive that this state entails) or you’re not.

At the airport, people in a hurry are stressed, distracted and no more likely to make their flight.

At work, on the other hand, people in a hurry avoid getting sidetracked and (sometimes) are more likely to leap.

The two opportunities:

  1. redefine “in a hurry” to be a version of your best self. So that “hurry” isn’t a crutch, an excuse or a bane. It’s an asset.
  2. Turn on “hurry” whenever you need it, and turn it off when you don’t.

 

[New version of Akimbo out today–on tipping. And I’m told there’s a new Alexa skill, just say, “Alexa, start Akimbo”]

The two simple secrets to good ideas

Secret #1 is the biggest one: More bad ideas. The more bad ideas the better. If you work really hard on coming up with bad ideas, sooner or later, some good ideas are going to slip through. This is much easier than the opposite approach.

Secret #2 is more important: Generosity. It's much easier and more effective to come up with good ideas for someone else. Much easier to bring a posture of insight and care on behalf of someone else. It lets you off the hook, too.

Cold yeast

Almost every element of good bread happens long before it goes into the oven.

Too often, we spend our time and effort on the exciting last step. And too often, we forget to spend our time and attention on the preparation that’s a lot less urgent or glamorous, but far more important.

Poor preparation is a lousy excuse for a last-minute selfish frenzy. That frenzy distracts us from doing it right the next time.

If you want to understand where mastery and success come from, take a look at the inputs and the journey, not simply the outputs.

The trap of insightful selection

“Which one do you want?”

There were 100 quarts of strawberries at the farmer’s market yesterday. In answer to the farmer’s question, the person ahead of me in line spent a full minute looking them all over before picking one.

The thing is: 90% of the strawberries in a quart are hidden from view. They’re beneath the top layer. There’s no strategy to tell which quart is better than the other, unless you (erroneously) believe that the top layer is an accurate indicator of what lies below.

The analogy wasn’t lost on me: We do this all the time. We do it with job interviews, with dating sites, with decisions about who to trust with an investment or even to drive our Lyft.

The other thing is: We get satisfaction out of picking, even if we know that our data is suspect and evidence is limited. We like the feeling of power and control, even though we have very little.

If all you’re seeing is the top layer, you’ve learned nothing. Maybe less than nothing. Con men are particularly good at seeming trustworthy, and the outfit worn to a job interview tells you nothing about someone’s dedication, work ethic or honesty.

The real information comes from experience. If the farmer is the sort of person who won’t put the clinkers on the bottom, she’s earned our trust.

 

The danger of “not good enough”

That’s how we choose who to work with.

We want someone who’s good at their job. And the ones we pass up are usually labeled as, “not good enough.” And we label ourselves as well. “I’d like to do that sort of work, but I’m not good enough.”

This is obviously a trap.

In almost every line of work, the truthful sentence is, “not good enough yet.”

Of course, at least once you wrote a great line of code or crafted a good headline. At least once you made a good diagnosis or calmed a patient. At least once you did something extraordinary. So it’s not that you can’t do it.

It might be that you don’t care enough to try.

“I’d like to hire that programmer, but he doesn’t care enough to get really good at his craft.” That’s certainly more true than, “He’s never going to be good at programming, because his DNA doesn’t match the DNA of a good coder.”

It’s true that you’re not good enough yet. None of us are. But if you commit to trying hard enough and long enough, you’ll get better.

Better and different

Digital analogs only work when they’re better and different, not when they’re almost the same.

Chat isn’t the same as chatting. Email isn’t a replacement for mail. Video conferencing isn’t just like being in a real conference…

There’s still plenty of room for digital innovations to impact our world. But they won’t simply be a replacement for what we have now. They only earn widespread engagement when they’re much better than the status quo they replace.

And the only way they can be better is when they’re different.

Better together

An ideal project is one where the users are better off if others are using it too.

The train to the plane in Oslo is a great example. It’s faster, easier and nicer than driving. Its existence belies the argument for selfish chaos.

The same is true for the connected phone system. We all benefit from the fact that everyone uses the same protocol to make calls or send a text.

And the CES trade show was a hugely profitable project for decades for a similar reason. One big trade show was better than 200 competing ones…

When in doubt, look for the network effect.

How far behind?

Should you give up?

There are people who have read far more books than you have, and you will certainly never catch up.

Your website began with lousy traffic stats, in fact, they all do. Should you even bother?

The course you’re in–you’re a few lessons behind the leaders. Time to call it quits?

Quitting merely because you’re behind is a trap, a form of hiding that feels safe, but isn’t. The math is simple: whatever you switch to because you quit is another place you’re going to be behind as well.

It’s not a race, it’s a journey. And the team that scores first doesn’t always win.

 

[PS you’re not behind on my podcast, Akimbo, but there are plenty of episodes you haven’t heard yet. Last week was about blogging, and today’s is about chocolate. Except it’s not about the chocolate.]

In defense of handshakes

It seems to be getting more difficult to trust that someone is going to do what they say they said they were going to do.

“It was a misunderstanding.”

“That’s not what I said.”

“So, sue me.”

When local newspapers disappear and can’t keep a close watch on the government, it turns out that costs go up. When people need a lawyer to make an agreement and a lawyer to enforce an agreement, costs go up. When it’s not clear whether or not it’s worth the emotional and organizational risk to engage with someone, engagement doesn’t happen and costs go up.

Handshakes matter. They make our transactions more efficient and we all benefit.

But handshakes matter even more as part of our internal narrative. When you see yourself as a weasel, or as a bully, or as someone who is entitled to win at all costs, you’re poisoning your ability to be a generous creative. When you tell yourself a story of insufficiency, that you’re the sort of person who can’t possibly find the emotional or financial resources to keep your word, you make everything smaller. And when you’re always looking over your shoulder at who might be catching up to your most recent shortcut, you’re spending less time looking forward.

The bullying/shortcutting/legalistic approach to destroying the honor and trust of a handshake can lead to a downward ratchet. “Well, if they’re going to be like that, so will I…” The alternative is to reserve your best work and your best ideas and your best partnerships for people and organizations that work the way you’d like to work. A virtuous cycle, one in which the selfish people can peck at each other while you work overtime to keep your word with people who deserve it.

Learning from the factory/dealer divide

Car factories are a bit of a miracle. They make a complex, expensive device, and they do it close to perfectly. People love their cars, and regularly buy new ones long before they need to. It’s a largely solved engineering problem.

On the other hand, car dealerships are a disaster. No one likes them. They’re scammy, stressful and unpredictable.

The difference comes down to management vs. leadership.

Car factories are measured and managed. For a hundred years, stopwatches and spreadsheets have turned the process of making a car into a predictable, improvable system. Management is an act of authority and compliance, and in the controlled setting of a factory, it works.

Car dealers might try to measure the easy metrics of output (how many sold) but they’ve consistently failed at managing the improvised human interactions that car salespeople engage in. It turns out that the few great car dealers are great because of leadership, not management. Leadership is engaged with voluntarily, an enrolled engagement around meaning and manners, not process and motion.

Most of us don’t work in a factory. Most of us aren’t trying to solve an engineering problem. On our best days, we are leaders, or we are led by humans worthy of our best selves.

Leadership is difficult work, as far from a solvable engineering problem as we’ll encounter. It’s easier, though, if we realize that that’s what we’re doing.

When you run your dealership like a factory, you’re not going to succeed, nor are you going to please your staff. This is what creates senseless and humanity-starved bureaucracies.

The alternative:

Hire the right people, walk away from those that aren’t on the journey.

Gain enrollment.

Model behaviors.

Celebrate the right contributions.

Develop a culture, a language, a way of being on the path.

Commit to the journey.

People like us do things like this.

Raise the standards, repeat the process.

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