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Investing in slack

If your delivery drivers have to do six deliveries a day, they’ll rush from the first moment. They’ll be super efficient at easily measurable metrics. They’ll cut a few corners.

If they only have to make five deliveries, you can ask them to spend that ‘down’ time doing things your customers will actually remember. They can invest in less easily measurable metrics. Instead of cutting corners, they’ll embrace them.

Systems with slack are more resilient. The few extra minutes of time aren’t wasted, the same way that a bike helmet isn’t wasted if you don’t have a crash today. That buffer will save the day, sooner or later.

One thunderstorm can cripple the air traffic system for six major cities, because each plane is stacked so efficiently that the ripple cascades, leading to failure and cancellations. In the old days, when efficiency was measured over a longer term, there was enough buffer to absorb a bump like that.

The mistake happens when we over-index on the easily measured short-term wins and forget to account for the costs of system failure.

Competitive environments push profit seekers to reduce slack and to play a short-term game. If your organization hits the wall, the market will survive, because we have other options. But that doesn’t mean you will survive.

Slack is actually a bargain.

Even if it’s not graduation week for you…

Consider writing.

Not plastics.

Not Wall Street.

Simply writing.

As we race toward a post-literate world, the surprising shortcut is compelling indeed: Learn to write.

Audiobooks outsell print. AI can turn text into speech. People scan, they don’t read.

Doesn’t matter. Learn to write.

Yes, it would be great if you could become a full-stack developer. If you put in the hard work to be a civil engineer or a mathematician on the cutting edge. But most people were persuaded from an early age that this isn’t the work for them.

But writing?

If you’re an actor, being able to write means that you can cast yourself.

If you’re a marketer, being able to write means you can tell your story.

If you’re looking for a job, being able to write makes you part of a special minority.

Writing is organized thinking on behalf of persuasion.

Writing is your opportunity to stand out, to pitch in and to make a difference.

And you don’t need a permit or equipment. You don’t need an insider’s edge, or money either.

Writing may be the skill with the highest return on investment of all. Because writing is a symptom of thinking.

There will be weather tomorrow

There always is.

The song you’re listening to will end, a surprising news story is going to change the status quo and you’ll get feedback you didn’t expect.

It’s easy to imagine that things are going to calm down, that there’s a neutral position coming up, and that it’s all going to go back to normal.

But the swirl is normal. It’s always been this way. Changing.

There is no ‘ever after’. There’s just the chaos of now.

Ten words per page

That’s how many words get scanned the first time through. Perhaps five on a billboard.

Which means that your memo, your ad, your announcement, your post–you get ten words.

Highlight the ten of the 1,000 you’ve written. Which ten do you want someone to scan so that they’re intrigued enough to slow down and read the rest?

If you can begin with the ten words and write around them, you have the foundation for an effective message.

As Jay Levinson said, the best billboard ever said, “Free coffee, next exit.”

What do we see when we scan your work?

The Learning/Doing Gap

Our society separates them. Somewhere along the way, we decided that one interfered with the other.

Go to school for 8 years to become a doctor–most of that time, you’re learning about doctoring, not actually doing doctoring.

Go to work as a copywriter. Most of the time, you’re doing writing, not learning about new ways to write.

The thing we usually seek to label as ‘learning’ is actually more about ‘education’. It revolves around compliance, rankings and “will this be on the test?”

Being good at school is not the same as learning something.

One reason that we don’t incorporate doing into education is that it takes the authority away from those that would seek to lecture and instruct.

There are 56 million people in K-12 (compulsory education) in the US right now. Most of them do nothing all day but school, failing to bring real-life activity, experimentation and interaction into the things that they are being taught.

And there are more than a hundred million people going to their jobs every day in the US, but few of them read books or take lessons regularly about how to do their work better. That’s considered a distraction or, at best, inconvenient or simply wasted time.

The gap is real. It often takes a decade or more for a profession to accept and learn a new approach. It took gastroenterologists a generation before they fully accepted that most ulcers were caused by bacteria and changed their approach. It has taken our justice system more than thirty years to take a hard look at sentencing and corrections.

It could be because we’re confusing learning with education. That education (someone else is in charge and I might fail) is a power shift from doing, so I’d rather be doing, thank you very much.

What happens if the learning we do is accomplished by always engaging in it in conjunction with our doing?

And what happens if we take a hard look at our doing and spend the time to actually learn something from it?

When police departments invest time in studying their numbers and investigating new approaches, they discover that efficacy and productivity goes up, safety improves and so does job satisfaction.

When science students devise and operate their own lab tests, their understanding of the work dramatically improves.

Education (the compliance-based system that all of us went through) is undergoing a massive shift, as big as the ones that have hit the other industries that have been rebuilt by the connection and leverage the internet brings. And yet, too much of the new work is simply coming up with a slightly more efficient way to deliver lectures plus tests.

I see this every day. People show up at Akimbo expecting lifetime access to secret videos, instead of the hard but useful work of engagement.

The alternative? Learning. Learning that embraces doing. The doing of speaking up, reviewing and be reviewed. The learning of relevant projects and peer engagement. Learning and doing together, at the same time, each producing the other.

If you want to learn marketing, do marketing. If you want to do marketing, it helps to learn marketing.

That same symmetric property applies to just about everything we care about.

To quote the ancient rockers, “We don’t need no… education.”

But we could probably benefit from some learning.

In the middle of all this doing, this constant doing, we might benefit from learning to do it better.

100 compromises

Bit by bit, this is how we ended up with our organization, our job, our life.

It’s impossible to move forward without them.

And so we compromise on schedule, or quality, or on the pace of our days. We compromise on our standards, on our expectations and on what matters right now.

You can’t produce without compromises.

The question is: What would happen if you only had 98 of them?

The difference between extraordinary performance and average performance is simply in the last two compromises.

Overwriting

Decorating a car with bling, mudflaps and an airhorn is a form of signalling. You can show your peers that you have the resources to waste on superfluous adornments.

(Did you see what I just did there? I could have said, “You can show your friends that you have money to burn,” but I didn’t.)

Overwriting has a long tradition, particularly among academics. Make it a bit more complex and wordy than it needs to be. Write run-on sentences. Apparently, complicated writing must be more true.

One reason for this commitment to overwriting is that it keeps the hordes away. It’s difficult to read and hard to imagine writing. And so scarcity is created.

And yet, the articles and books that stand the test of time are straightforward. They’re memorable. They can be understood by the reader you seek to serve.

Simply write.

Write simply.

As few words as you need, but no fewer.

But simply write.

But what is this question for?

If you are asked a question in a job interview, on stage or even on a date, there’s probably a reason, and the reason might not be because the person asking wants to know your answer.

Teenagers are terrible at understanding this.

“How was your day at school,” is not a question asked to determine how a day at school was. It’s a (lousy) attempt at starting a conversation about feelings.

It requires empathy to answer a question that isn’t obviously about the answer.

The empathy to see that the person asking you has something else in mind.

Back when I was hiring dozens of people at Yoyodyne, I asked one of the hackneyed programmer interview questions (back then, it wasn’t nearly as well known.) “How many gas stations are there in the US?”

It should have been obvious that I didn’t actually want to know how many gas stations there were. That was easy to look up, and why would I ask someone I didn’t know a question like that?

Over time, I had to get more and more clear in my messaging. “Because I want to see how you figure out amorphous problems, help me understand how you would answer a question like…” Even then, it was a very powerful tell. Two people said, “I don’t have a car,” and left the interview. (That’s true, not hyperbole).

Other than name and phone number, when someone asks you a question, it’s worth considering why. Intentionally answering the real question is a great place to start.

 

[PS A question: Have you considered the altMBA?]

Junction City

A dozen states in the US have a Junction City.

A place with the claim to fame that it’s on the way to somewhere else.

You can do well being a stepping stone, a pathway, a place people go to get somewhere else.

Or you can be a place where people seek to be.

Yahoo grew as a place to stay. They built one service after another, hoping for time on site.

Google, on the other hand, began as a place to visit when you wanted to go somewhere else. That’s their entire business model. Time on site wasn’t as important to them as the accuracy of their direction. Come to leave.

Facebook, on the other hand, is organized to be a one-way street, with people staying on the site as long as possible.

Of course, it’s not simply web sites that work this way. Either we organize for junctions and trajectory, or we build our place as a destination, physically or as metaphor.

 

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