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Allies and accomplices

To be an ally means that you won’t get in the way, and, if you are able to, you’ll try to help.

To become an accomplice, though, means that you’ve risked something, sacrificed something and put yourself on the hook as well.

We need more allies, in all the work we do. Allies can open doors and help us feel a lot less alone.

But finding an accomplice–that’s an extraordinary leap forward.

Willie Jackson is leading that conversation in an area where we need it urgently: around race. Once you see it there, you’ll see it everywhere.

When do we care enough to lean into the work, the mission or the problem? Even if we think it’s “someone else’s work.” Because it probably belongs to us as well.

Tell a better story

Tell a story that is about the listener, not about you.

Tell a story that is worth sharing.

Tell a story that’s unforgettable.

And tell a story that makes things better.

Storytelling is a skill. It’s not something you’re born with, it’s not based on charisma or authority. It’s more simple than you think, but it takes practice.

Today, Akimbo is launching a new workshop on storytelling skills from bestselling author Bernadette Jiwa (with a little help from me).

If you’re committed to making change happen, I think you’ll find that the skills you learn and practice in this tested workshop will make a difference. We’d love to have you join us. Click the purple circle today to get the blog reader discount.

Busy is a choice, productive is a skill

Anyone can be busy. All you need to do to feel busy is to try to get two things done at once–or seek to beat a deadline that is stressing you out.

Productivity, on the other hand, has little to do with busy. Productivity requires bringing soft skills (real skills) to the table in service of the generous work you seek to do. Productivity is learned. And productivity takes guts.

We just wrapped up the most recent session of the altMBA, and I was thrilled to see the energy and insight each contributor brought to the workshop. The feedback from our thousands of graduates doesn’t vary by country, by profession, by age or by the scale of their project. People are discovering that once they get out of their own way, they can get a huge amount done.

Once you see what’s possible, it’s amazing how much you can contribute.

Learning is not the same as education, and busy is not the same as productive.

Today is the last day to apply for the next session of the altMBA. I hope you’ll check it out.

Off stage

I wonder what Carole King is up to? Did that kid who was in your third-grade class ten years ago get into his first choice of college? How did that couple that had a squabble in your store last week settle their argument?

We don’t notice people when they’re not in front of us. Of the tens of thousands of people, familiar and famous, that we know, we spend precious little time concerned about the ins and outs of their day. And more poignantly, the same is true for the way the world ignores our day to day as well.

Humans’ selfish survival instinct is to be aware of whoever is on stage in front of us, and then to move on to the next urgency. It’s a trap to believe that anyone in the world is as concerned about the noise in your head as you are.

Copernicus was right–the world doesn’t revolve around us. Most of the time, the world doesn’t even notice.

That doesn’t make your narrative less overwhelming, but it’s a useful reminder that just about everyone would appreciate being noticed a little more. Particularly when they’re off stage.


School trains people to work as maintainers. “The sculptures are all here in the gallery, make sure they are still here at the end of the shift… The floor is clean when you start, make sure it’s clean when you finish… The policy manual has seven rules in it, please don’t break them… The next ten patients are going to need allergy tests…” There are customers to be served, standards to be maintained, work to be done. Important work, no doubt, but not thrilling.

A few people somehow avoid these lessons and become instigators, impresarios and disruptors instead. They’re not only dancing with infinity but completely unsure what’s going to work, and yet they are hooked on leaping forward.

I think it’s possible to switch from one posture to the other. I know that it’s incredibly difficult, though. And it’s hard to do both at the same time.

Choose wisely.

The difference between memorization and learning

In order to learn something, you must understand it. You might become so insightful and facile with the ideas that it appears you’ve memorized them, but that’s just a side effect.

Rote memorization can be done in some fields, and you can even recite what you’ve memorized to someone else who can memorize it.

For example: You can’t learn alphabetical order, you can only memorize it.

On the other hand, memorizing anything that you’ll need to build upon, improvise on or improve is foolish. You’ll need to do the work of understanding it instead.

“As a technologist…”

If two people are having a discussion about the resilience of the food chain, and one says, “as a farmer…” it’s likely that this statement carries some weight.

The same goes for the opinion of an admiral if we’re talking about naval operations, or a copy editor if we’re talking about grammar.

The question is: Why isn’t everyone already a technologist?

Given that technology has been the defining cultural and economic driver of the last fifty years, why sign up to be a victim of what’s next?


Bonuses! A new article in the latest issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review. And a recent episode of my podcast Akimbo is worth checking out. It’s about impostors.

741741 — To be seen

A few years ago, Nancy Lublin discovered something obvious.

Nancy was the CEO of Dosomething.org, the largest teenage charity in the world.

In order to keep up with its members, Dosomething shifted their communications from email to texting (yes, that’s obvious, but that’s not what she discovered).

Monitoring the effectiveness of the texts, she realized that even though the millions of texts they were sending were clearly announcements, not personal notes, kids were texting back.

Texting is such a personal medium that it’s easy to see how the natural thing to do with an incoming text sent with permission is to write back.

Within days, Nancy was seeing that many of the return texts were from kids in trouble. Kids who were being abused, or suffering with mental issues. People who needed to be seen.

And so, Crisis Text Line was born. Thousands of trained volunteers in the US (741741), Canada (686868) and the UK (85258) fielding millions of text messages from people who need to be seen and heard. Not just teens.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that they’ve saved thousands of lives.

CTL is running a fundraiser, but that’s not why I’m posting this today. I’m posting it because someone you know might need the number.

Humans need to be seen and heard. And when we’re in crisis, the privacy and speed of a text is magical.

741741. Use it wisely. Spread the word.

The right tool

Umbrellas are a fabulous invention. You can use one when you need it, but you shouldn’t confuse it with a grapefruit.

Just because something is handy doesn’t mean it’s the right tool for the job.

What are the margins for?

A publisher recently sent me a 1,000 page book. The paper was perfect in its balance between opacity and thinness, but the margins were too small.

The production designer made a choice–push the text all the way to the edges, allowing the book to shave 20 or 30 pages in length. Sensible.

Except now, every single page seems cramped. The book is tense and can’t relax, and feels faintly amateurish. Why would a missing half-inch strip of white paper matter?

All of our media has margins. Even as computer and phone companies have made bezels ever smaller, we still want there to be a margin, a space between the thing we’re engaging with and the rest of the world. Movies have coming attractions and credits. Record albums have a few seconds between songs. Paintings have a frame, or a wall separating them from the next…

The edges do more than delineate. They give the person encountering the work confidence that a professional made it, someone who has an eye for what seems right and can respect the edges. It takes discipline to only go near the margin when you’re doing it on purpose, to make a point, not all the time.

Jackson Pollock not only abandoned the frame, he violated our understanding of the margin as well. But because he did it with intent, not out of commercial necessity or ignorance, his point was made.

The self-discipline to see the margin and use it as a tool is a gift we offer the consumer of culture.

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