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In Bhutan, they dream of rainbows

In countries throughout the world, even in countries where there are no snakes, the most common dream is one based on our (it must be) genetic fear of snakes.

But in Bhutan, they dream of rainbows.

The dreams might be consistent, but the way we talk about them clearly isn’t. Perhaps the dreams we remember and talk about have something to do with culture.

Conversations are contagious.

Crickets

When we sing in the shower, we hardly expect applause. In fact, that would be awfully weird.

But online, when just about anyone might be clicking, watching or sharing, it’s disappointing to put your work into the world and hear nothing.

Nothing but a black hole that absorbs your best work and reflects nothing back.

And if that happens again and again, it can become overwhelming.

It’s tempting to dumb down your work, or go for a shortcut or a quick hit.

Worst of all, to simply give up.

Please don’t.

The body of work you’re creating adds up over time. The consistency and empathy of your vision will seep through. Drip by drip, you’ll create something worth noticing.

The key word is empathy. While of course, you’re welcome to make work for just yourself, the path forward lies in figuring who it’s for and the change you seek to make. To go where others are instead of requiring them to put in the effort to figure out what you’re up to.

Sooner or later, the crickets will ask for more.

What to count

So many choices. So many sorts of metrics, critics and measures.

Perhaps it makes sense to count things where the counting tells us how to do better next time.

And to count things that let us know how much risk we can take next time.

Or to calibrate our judgment about the market.

But it makes no sense at all to count things over which we have no control, and which teach us nothing about the future.

Counting our luck (good or bad) doesn’t make us luckier.


[PS I’ll be doing a free online seminar at the New York Public Library on Monday as part of Carbon Almanac Week there. You’ll need to pre-register to get an invite.]

Also! This is the last best chance to take some of your favorite cohort-based workshops with my friends at Akimbo. These action-based workshops are the single most effective form of learning at scale that I’ve ever seen. The early bird discount now applies:

The Creatives Workshop is for anyone who was influenced by my book The Practice and is seeking a way to put their creative instincts to work.

The Marketing Seminar is the cohort-based course for This is Marketing and is the foundation you’ll need to understand how to bring your ideas to the people you serve.

To find more details on story skills, podcasting, copywriting and writing in community, check this link.

Waiting for a miracle?

Every year, tens of thousands of people get into a famous college of their choice. It’s not unlikely that someone will get in, it’s simply not certain that you will.

But someone will, so getting isn’t a miracle, it’s simply a long shot.

If you add a pound a day to the leg press machine at the gym, it’s possible to have the ability to press 250 pounds within a year.

It’s difficult and grueling, but not a long shot.

Neither of these outcomes requires a miracle. The first might have low odds, and the second requires persistence.

But a miracle is something that’s never happened before, and is not to be counted on.

Time and focus and energy

Sooner or later, they’re all finite. And the way we allocate our time and emotional energy determines what gets done.

If we audited your day in six-minute increments, what would we find?

By the clock, how did you actually spend the time given to you (we each get the same 24 hours). How much was spent on work? And the work time, how is it correlated with what creates the value you seek?

A question that’s harder to measure, but with far more impact, of the time you allocated, what was your focus and emotional drive spent on? What were the crises and highlights of the last day or week?

There’s generally a gulf between what we say we did all day and what we actually did. And there’s an even bigger chasm between the urgencies and emotional moments and the ones we know actually pay off.

When we give away our day, we give away our future.

Unavailable options

“What other colors do you have that are not currently in stock?”

There are always more options.

If exploring them is the goal, please explore. And sometimes, the unavailable can lead to a breakthrough.

But if the job is to simply get the work done, it might be worth pretending that the unexplored options don’t even exist.

How long will this take?

That depends.

Will the spec change after we begin?

Are we depending on supplies or inputs from other people?

Will the budget change?

Is this work that has been done by anyone before?

Is this work that has been done by this team before?

Is finishing it fast more important than doing it well or on budget?

Do you want to participate in the work (see the part about the spec)?

What are the incentives of the people working on the project?

How many different people are involved?

Are all the people, budgets and assets in place already?

Who is choosing the tools?

Pathfinding takes longer than path following. Discussions lead to changes in spec. Dependencies always add time.

A good spec

If you hand a good spec to three providers, you’ll get three variations back in return.

The way you know your spec is worthwhile is that you can live with the differences between them.

If it’s worth caring about, it’s worth writing down.

Strength through resilience

Brittle systems are weak.

Short-term wins feel like a demonstration of will by those that seek to be strong.

But the only run is the long run.

When we embrace flexible, renewable and diverse approaches, we create actual progress.

Our stories are all we really know

Joni wrote,

“Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all”

We’d like to believe that our experiences are aligned with the world as it is.

They can’t be. Everything we encounter is filtered through what we know. And what we know comes from the very human cultures we inhabit.

When someone rejects you for a job, they’re not rejecting you. How could they be? They don’t know you. Instead, they’re rejecting their story of you, the best approximation they had combined with the complicated story they (all of us) tell ourselves about our needs, dreams and fears.

We take these stories and we compound them. We sharpen them, rehearse them and turn them into an augmented version of the world as we see it, not the world as it is.

If it’s not working for us, the best thing we can do is begin to do the very hard work of telling a new story, a better story, one that’s more useful.

The clouds are up to us.