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The struggle is real

Once a computer (or a player piano) begins to do a task, part of the appeal goes away.

Yes, the goods or services might be identical, but the story we tell ourselves about what they took to create disappears.

Effort is insufficient, but extraordinary effort (and our perception of that effort) can add value.

Diving boards

The leap at the swimming pool is obvious indeed.

Ten steps up the ladder.

The wait at the end of the board.

The moment in between not-diving and diving.

The leap is clear. We can see it and we can feel it.

In day to day life, we have worked to eliminate that feeling. Organizations and marketers and friends work hard to have it happen gradually instead. An incremental, almost invisible creep along a slippery slope, until the next thing we know we’re in a rut, or bored, or ill.

We’ve constructed a life where we rarely leap (new job!) and most of the time, we coast or fade or increment our way forward.

It might be worth investing the effort into turning some of your decisions back into leaps.

Semi-public

The internet began as a way to connect private networks. First it was university researchers. But then, as email kicked in, it was a tool for private conversations among people who knew each other. That's just one of the reasons that spam is so hated–it intruded on a space reserved for people with permission.

The next leap was a public one. Geocities and websites. Facebook and Twitter. This is the public, all of the public, or at least as much as you care to engage with.

The interesting phase that's happening more and more, and is amplified by the blockchain, is the semi-public/semi-private world. This is a group of people (perhaps a tribe, even) that are connected to one another (insiders) but the riff raff (outsiders) aren't invited.

These semi-public groups can work together in ad-hoc or permanent teams to create new work of value.

Lyft isn't a public system. You can't become a Lyft driver without going through some sort of vetting process. The same goes for a discussion board online that's just for licensed doctors, or volunteer firefighters…

There's a huge opportunity to become an organizer of semi-public groups. These entities will become ever more powerful as the economies of the firm begin to fade, replaced by the speed and resiliency of trusted groups instead.

Toward the honest job interview

The candidate thinks, “I really need this job.”

The hiring manager thinks, “I’m tired of this, I really need to fill this job.”

As a result, the candidate says what he thinks will get him hired. He’s not listening, not really. And he’s not telling the truth, not really. He knows that he needs to thread a needle and say what needs to be said to get the job. He lies to himself about what he wants and lies to the interviewer to get the job.

As a result, the hiring manager isn’t really listening, not really. She’s looking for clues, unstated hints about what this person is really like. And when she shifts to sell mode about the organization, she alternates between glossing over the bad bits, exaggerating the good ones (“Everyone here is really creative, and there’s no office politics…”) and being impossibly skeptical about the potential of the person across the desk.

No one is acting badly here. Cognitive dissonance is real, and the hope is that once in the new role, the hired person will grow to love it. And no job is static, and the hope is that with the earnest and generous work of the hired person, the role will get better.

But…

We could all save a lot of time and energy if we could figure out a way to find an actual fit.

One person thinks, “I have room in my career for just a dozen jobs. Is this one worthy?”

And the other realizes, “We could outsource this work, but we’re going to keep it in house if we find the right match. Is it you?”

How to run a better meeting (The conference series)

You rarely have the chance to quickly alter the culture of a group the way you do when you organize a retreat or a meeting.

So many of the variables are within your control, and the outcome is often directly related to the choices you make. Sure, there are pressures on you to compromise toward average, to fit in and to make the providers you work with fit the status quo. But if you resist, you can make a huge difference.

I’ve written four posts about off-sites, presentations and conferences. If they’re relevant to you and your team, I hope you’ll read and share:

The secret of the five top

How to organize a retreat

How to organize the room

How to run a (useless) conference

Skiing out of bounds

Some people find a thrill in going under the rope and skiing on the cliffs or other terrain outside the ski area.

They’ll tell you that the runs are better.

But if the ski area extends the boundaries, suddenly those spots aren’t as attractive. Now, it’s the next bit that’s seductive.

Because the thrill comes from the out of bounds part, not the skiing part.

A different feeling with a similar boundary issue is the magic of a first class seat. It doesn’t matter that first class seats are often smaller than they used to be. What matters is that they’re better than coach.

“Compared to what,” is often the cornerstone of our narrative.

Zoom & Skype call tips (the secrets of video conferences)

If you’ve ever joined more than three people on a Skype or Zoom conference call, I hope you’ll appreciate these tips, and perhaps share them:

  1. Sit close to the screen. Your face should fill most of it.
  2. Use an external microphone or headset.
  3. When you’re not talking, hit mute.
  4. Don’t eat during the meeting.
  5. When you’re on mute during an audio call, you can do whatever you want. But when you’re on mute on a video call, you need to act like you’re truly engaged. Nod your head. Focus on the screen. Don’t get up and feed your dog.
  6. Don’t sit with the window behind you. A little effort on lighting goes a very long way.
  7. When you’re talking, spend some time looking at the camera, not the screen. You’ll appear more earnest and honest this way.
  8. When you’re talking, go slow. No one is going to steal your slot.

These are obvious. They are generous. They’re effective.

And almost no one puts in the effort to consistently deliver on them. It’s worth it.

Profitable, difficult, or important?

Apple became the first company to be worth a trillion dollars. They did that by spending five years single-mindedly focusing on doing profitable work. They’ve consistently pushed themselves toward high margin luxury goods and avoided just about everything else. Belying their first two decades, when they focused on breakthrough work that was difficult and perhaps important, nothing they’ve done recently has been either. Tim Cook made a promise to the shareholders and he kept it.

Amazon became the second company to be worth a trillion dollars. And just about everything they focus on is difficult. They carry more than a million products, ship on a moment’s notice, rarely have a glitch, host a bulk of the internet’s traffic and disrupt one industry after another. Tons of tiny details, many leaps. Investors have patiently waited for them to be incredibly profitable, but the company focuses on the relentless, incremental work of the difficult instead. A totally different promise, kept.

But the most daring and generous, those that are often overlooked and never hit a trillion dollars in the stock market, are left to do the important work. The work of helping others be seen, or building safe spaces. The work of creating opportunity or teaching and modelling new ways forward. The work of changing things for the better.

Changing things for the better is rarely applauded by Wall Street, but Wall Street might not be the point of your work. It might simply be to do work you’re proud of, to contribute, and to leave things a little better than you found them.

Profitable, difficult, or important—each is an option. A choice we get to make every day. ‘None of the above’ is also available, but I’m confident we can seek to do better than that.

The risk of the Bixby button

The new Samsung phone has a hardware button on it that goes straight to their digital assistant.

The good news is that adding a hotline/dedicated button/clear signpost is a dramatic and effective way to influence customer behavior. “Pull rope to stop train” is much more efficient than navigating three pages of menus. It also communicates your point of view and confidence to the user.

The problem is that Bixby buttons are also stepping stones on the way to cruft. Once you create a dedicated sign or button or resource, it’s very difficult to uncreate it. The few who count on it will scream if you try to take it away. The elegance and efficiency of the tool you built will forever be hampered by the fact that you have to support a Bixby button.

Your microwave has 26 buttons on it now. Each one seemed like a good idea at the time.

Once you put up a stoplight at the intersection, or build a new exit, your highway ceases to be what it used to be. Forever.

What are you organizing?

For a hundred years, we organized the means of production. How do we get the right people, the right machines, the right materials and get this thing built.

Many of us still do this. It’s important and difficult work.

For thirty years, most of the profit has been made by the people who organize money. How do we float an offer, manipulate a currency, bring the right money to the right project on the right day.

The return on organizing money is huge, and it’s not going away.

But now, now there’s a third kind of organization going on, one that’s even more leveraged, because it isn’t easily replaced: Organizing an audience.

How do we find the right people on the right day in a way that creates value for them and for us? How do we deliver the right service to the right audience in the right way? The rising stars of our economy are in this business now, even more than production or finance.

If you’re seeking to build awareness, consider building a community instead.

If you’re working to sell your average stuff to average people (and working overtime to make it cheaper or faster), consider an alternative: serving the most dedicated people with something remarkable.

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