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Afraid of afraid

We’d probably be better off if we could simply say, “I’m afraid.”

Our culture has persistently reminded us that the only thing to fear is fear itself, that confessing fear is a failure and that it’s better to lie than to appear un-brave.

And so we pretend to be experts in public health and epidemiology instead of simply saying, “I’m afraid.”

We fight possible change from the start instead of examining it on the merits.

And we make uninformed assertions about the causes and implications of global phenomena instead of acknowledging that change is scary.

Fear of being afraid keeps things on our to-do list forever, keeps important conversations from happening and shifts how we see our agency and leverage in the world.

The bravest leaders and contributors aren’t worried about appearing afraid. It allows them to see the world more clearly.

What will you leave behind?

Twenty years from now, you will have new skills. New customers. A new title and a new kind of leverage.

All of this forward motion requires a less celebrated element–all the things you’re not doing any longer.

To get a new job, you’ll need to leave the old job behind.

When you have a child, you’ve initiated a process that leads to an adult…

Often, we try to pretend that growth comes with no goodbyes, but it does.

Perhaps we can go in with our eyes open, understanding that what we begin will likely end. And when we plan for it, we’ll do it better.

The test kitchen mindsets

The first mindset is pretty common. Take good notes. Make tiny changes. Repeat. Improve. Incrementally move along the asymptote. Test and measure.

The other mindset is rare indeed. Do things that might not work. Develop new assertions. Go past the edges to unexplored territory. Try to figure out why things are the way they are. Fail often. Blaze a trail. After all, it’s a test kitchen, not a Michelin restaurant.

When the world changes, we see lots of people lining up to do the first sort of ‘tests’. A lot of crib sheets, looking over the competition and trying to fit in all the way.

But real innovation comes from the science of “this might not work.”

“They were all bored to tears waiting to hear something they knew”

That’s the report from the band on the audience’s reaction to the first live performance of Stairway to Heaven.

They bombed. The audience wanted hits, not something new.

Every good idea starts as a new idea.

And new ideas are never familiar.

An illusion of scale

Successful small businesses often stumble when they seek to get to an entirely different scale.

It’s easy to believe that things are dramatically better when there’s more.

More customers, more employees, more market share.

And it’s easy to believe that getting to the next sustainable level is simply the result of efforts similar to the ones that got you here.

But neither is true.

Between this level and the one you seek there may be a slog that’s longer, more difficult and more expensive than it appears.

Staying at a scale that’s working isn’t a cowardly copout. It might be the single best way to do work that matters for people who care.

And if you choose to get through the Dip, consider whether you have the resources, the patience and the team to get to the other side.


Insufficient effort creates work that’s wasted. If you do a slapdash job, then the roof leaks, the food is inedible, the car doesn’t start. Insufficient effort is a shortcut that wasn’t worth taking.

Sufficient effort is the goal of the industrial capitalist. Capture the most value with the least work. Build a house that doesn’t fall down, with components that last exactly long enough to avoid a claim. Explain that due to unusually call volume…

And then, perhaps, there’s a third option.

Expending more effort than most people think is sufficient.

This is attention to detail. Care in design. Follow through in customer service. This is an embrace of elegance and wabisabi and the opposite of laziness. This is bringing care (which is rare and precious) to work even if most people would look for a shortcut instead.

More effort creates beauty and magic and remarkability.

Perfectionism is a false hope and a place to hide.

Effort, on the other hand, is our best chance to do work that matters.

The hedonic buffet

Every day around 3 pm, my dog takes a nap.

As far as dogs go, he has a ton of available options. He could hang in the backyard, chase a squirrel, whatever. But in that moment, every day, the choice with the most benefit for him appears to be a nap.

We’re not that different.

Except times a billion.

In any given moment, you could read a blog like this one. Or watch a video. Or check your email. Or send an email. Or…

We choose.

We choose to see what Wolf Blitzer thinks is breaking news. We choose to have an argument or send a compliment. We do it largely out of habit, and our habit is grooved by countless choices in countless moments that came before.

Like the buffet, it probably won’t make you happier to keep loading your plate up simply because you can.

Our best path usually begins by acknowledging that we do, in fact, have a choice.

Zero percent market share

If you have a million Twitter followers, that means that 99.9% of the people on Twitter are ignoring you, which, with a little rounding, means you have 0%.

If you write a book and it sells a million copies, it will be one of the bestselling books of the year. It will also reach far fewer than 1% of the country’s population, never mind the world.

There are very few things that ever rise to 1% of the market. You don’t need everyone, in fact, the act of chasing everyone is probably keeping you from reaching anyone.

Zero (rounded) is enough.

Contagious commerce

Early adopters change the world.

While one person choosing not to eat meat will have a small impact on our climate, it will have a much bigger impact on the restaurants, groceries and food suppliers who notice what you’re doing.

They’ll change what they offer, and that will lead to a multiplier effect of other people changing their habits.

Buying an electric car or installing solar before they’re the obvious economic choice has the same impact. Because once marketers and investors discover that there’s a significant group that likes to go first, they’re far more likely to invest the time and energy to improve what’s already there.

The same goes for philanthropy. When some people eagerly fund a non-profit with a solution that’s still in beta, it makes it easier (and more likely) that someone else will start one as well.

It also happens in the other direction. If we buy from a spamming telemarketer, abandon a trusted brand to save a buck or succumb to the hustle, the market notices.

Very few people have the leverage to change the world. But all of us have the chance to change the people around us, and those actions change what gets built, funded and launched.

A future of retail

What do traditional retailers own or control?

  • The building
  • The inventory
  • The relationship with vendors
  • Data about who is shopping and how they shop
  • Trust with vendors, customers, employees and landlords

And now you can see the problem.

When retailers move online, the things they used to own are either eliminated or transformed.

And many retailers, in their eagerness to compete on price and their focus on selling things that everyone else is selling end up failing to build much of anything.

Permission–the privilege to deliver anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them, and the ability to work with customers toward something better–is at the heart of every retailer’s future.

But many are so busy spamming about this week’s promotions that they forgot to earn much of anything.