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“Do you have a plan?”

First, let’s agree that there’s a problem.

It may be that I think we’re facing something serious, something costly, something urgent–and you don’t.

We can have an honest conversation about the problem without worrying about whether there’s an easy or certain solution.

We can also have a conversation about whether it’s a problem (problems have solutions) or whether it’s simply a situation, something like gravity that we have to live with.

Once we agree that we have a problem, the status quo will show up. It will argue with every tool it has that any variation from the current path is too risky, too expensive and too painful to consider. The status quo will stall. It will argue for studies and will amplify the pain that will be caused to some as we try to make things better for everyone.

And the status quo usually wins. That’s because the makers of change are now playing defense, forced to justify every choice and ameliorate every inconvenience.

Perhaps there’s a more useful way forward.

We begin by agreeing that there’s a problem.

And then each party, every single one, needs to put forward a plan. A plan that either addresses the problem or takes responsibility for not addressing it.

And for each plan, we can consider the likely outcomes. For each plan, we can ask, “will that work?” and follow it up with, “why?” and “how?”

Perhaps you don’t think it’s a problem worth solving. That’s important to bring up before we ask you if you have a plan.

Delay might be the best option. But then let’s be honest and announce that instead of simply stalling.

Significant hurdles

If your plan, your idea or your art doesn’t involve any significant hurdles in moving forward, it’s probably not worth that much.

If it were easy, everyone would do it.

The tactic is to seek a path where you see and understand the significant hurdles that kept others away. And then dance with them.

They’re not a problem, they’re a feature.

Demand responsibility

Plenty of people insist on freedom and independence.

More rare and far more effective is to claim responsibility instead.

“I’ve got this,” can go a long way.

Two kinds of good cooks

One is very skilled at following the recipe. Quality control, consistency and diligence.

The other understands how the recipe works, sees patterns and opportunities and changes the recipe to fit the problem to be solved. It’s about metaphor in addition to process.

Both are useful.

If you think this is a post about cooking, you might be the first kind of cook.

10 reps

If you can do it once, you might be able to do it ten times.

And if you do it ten times, it will become a skill and a practice. You’ll do it more naturally and more often.

Sending a note, changing your mind, throwing a ball, offering a kind word, doing leg presses.

Ten reps is a great place to begin.

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.