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“Count me in”

That’s the opposite of, “count me out.”

Either you seek to unite and be part of it. Or to divide and watch it go away.

Whatever ‘it’ might be.

We can seek to trigger those we’ve decided are our enemies, undermine the standards and burn it all down. Or we can commit to the possibility that together, we can create something that works.

It’s not that hard to realize that even if we can’t always see the gunwales on the boat, we’re all in the same one.

Tilting at windmills

The windmills aren’t the problem, it’s the tilting.

In Cervantes’ day, ’tilting’ was a word for jousting. You tilted your lance at an enemy and attacked.

Don Quijote was noted for believing that the windmills in the distance were giants, and he spent his days on attack.

Change can look like a windmill.

When we say, “the transition to a new place is making me uncomfortable,” we’ve expressed something truthful. But when we attack a windmill, we’ve wasted our time and missed an opportunity to focus on what matters instead.

When my dad taught at the University of Buffalo, the heart of his MBA classes was teaching about the ‘change agent’. This is the external force that puts change into motion. The change agent, once identified, gives us an understanding of our options and the need to respond, not to react.

Every normal is a new normal, until it is replaced by another one.

The order of operations

If you put the jelly on before the peanut butter, the sandwich will fail.

And if you try to spread the peanut butter on the plate and then add the bread, it will fail even worse.

Like so many things, the order is not optional.

And yet, we often do the least-scary or easiest parts first, regardless of what the order of operations tells us.

Grievance and possibility

We might be settling scores or we might be opening doors. It’s up to us.

Grievance and possibility have confusing roots.

Grievance isn’t about grieving. In fact, it’s the opposite. Grievance is the narrative of getting even.

Possibility doesn’t itemize everything that’s possible. Instead, it focuses on the side effects that come from acting as though things are possible.

Grievance looks back and possibility looks forward.

Organizations and relationships that are focused on grievance care a lot about their share. About the competition. About maintaining ‘enough’.

Organizations that are focused on possibility care a lot about how big the pie is. About innovation. And about what’s next.

You can build a relationship or a career on grievance or on possibility.

And you can run a justice/penal system that way as well.

Possibility begets more possibility. Opportunities multiply.

And, alas, grievance leads to more grievance. Because it’s the fuel that keeps the narrative going.

Organizations/partnerships/systems that are usefully focused on possibility don’t deny that there are reasons for grievance, that there have been actions and omissions that must be addressed. In fact, they adopt a posture of forward motion as the best way to address the problems that came before.

One challenge is embracing the effective and generative approach of possibility when we’re sure that we’re entitled to grievance.

Toward better.

Ranking the unrankable

Weight is a useful measure. 10 pounds is twice as much as 5 pounds.

Measuring things and then ranking them effectively enables us to make better choices and to scale up our operations.

Sometimes, though, in our rush to standardize and process a complicated world, we begin to measure things that can’t be easily measured, and then, since we’ve measured them, to aggressively rank them.

Smart isn’t easily measurable. Neither is beautiful, good or successful. And especially happy.

A high SAT score is a measure of whether or not you scored well on the SAT. That’s it. A bank balance is a measure of how much money you have in the bank. That’s all.

In the face of the difficulty the system has in measuring things that don’t measure, we create proxies. Things like popularity as a proxy for whether a work of human creativity has worth or not.

It’s a method built to process commodities instead of people, and it’s running amok.

A precision ranking is nothing but a number, an inaccurate and ultimately useless stand-in. These proxies are created and spread and relied upon by a system that craves certainty and order.

Realizing the fraud of the proxies might help us get back to what matters instead.

The reverse value/luxury curve

For most products and services, we rate them on a curve.

Of course the seat on the discount airline was cramped, but that’s okay because it was cheap.

Of course this Camry doesn’t look or ride like a Porsche, don’t be stupid…

But, the opposite is true in the high end. When luxury goods are compared to luxury goods, the narrative is, “this one must be better, in absolute and relative terms, precisely because it’s more expensive.”

And so hiring McKinsey costs 10x more than hiring a former McKinsey consultant. And so it’s worth more.

And so $150,000 elephant-sized stereo speakers (yes, they exist) are far better than $5,000 speakers (can’t you see?)

This goes beyond the standard understanding of a Veblen good. Because in addition to being more expensive, these super-luxury goods are less effective, harder to use and generally a pain in the neck. That’s part of their appeal.

(And yes, the same is true for corporate luxury goods, like software and IT consulting…)

Price accordingly. And listen to the reviews with a careful skepticism.

That might not be the right question

“Where do you get your ideas?”

The thing is, everyone has ideas. All the time, every day. Having ideas is part of the human condition.

The right questions might be:

Are you exposing yourself to new inputs and new situations, and challenging yourself to find more interesting ideas?

Are you pushing the ideas you have further, making them more complete, turning them from hunches to notions to ideas to theories?

Are you publishing your theories, sharing your reasoning and having your ideas collide with the real world in service of making things better?

Careful what you wish for

Because wishes don’t always come true, but wishing takes a lot of time and energy and focus.

What you wish for determines how you’re spending a juicy part of your day. If you wish for something you can’t control, that might fill you with frustration or distract you from wishing that could lead to productive work.

Better to wish for something where the wishing itself is a useful act, one that shifts your attitude and focus.

The end of dumb pipes

The phone company didn’t care what sort of conversation you were having. The call was the call. Same is true for cable–what you watched didn’t matter to them.

The reason retail banks are so frustrating to many customers is that because they began with a geographic focus, they’re dumb about who their customers are. They underserve or overserve in random ways. And in trying to serve everyone, they end up doing a lousy job of serving anyone.

But there’s no longer a reason for a provider to be dumb. They can optimize for you and your needs. They know what you’ve done and they should be able to guess what you might want next. Not to do this to you, but with you and for you.

“You can pick anyone and we’re anyone” is a lousy slogan.

How do you make your pipe smarter than that?

Algorithms give or they take

If there’s scarcity, we need to make choices.

Who gets hired, what website shows up at the top of the search results, who gets a loan.

And while we can make those choices on a case by case basis, at scale, we rely on algorithms instead. A series of coded steps, inferences and decision-making heuristics that ostensibly get better as they gather more data.

At this point, it’s clear that algorithms are remaking our culture. They drive how social media networks surface content, how search engines highlight websites, how AI makes decisions about who flies or doesn’t, who gets a loan or doesn’t, it’s everywhere, all the time.

And algorithms are not neutral. They can’t be. Every decision has consequences, and unlike the pythagorean theorem, there isn’t a right answer, simply a choice about now or later, all along a spectrum.

An algorithm takes when it finds a selfish or defective element of society and magnifies it for short-term profit. It finds habits or instincts that individuals might have and exploits them to do something that benefits the algorithm-maker without leaving the culture or the user better off in the long run.

And an algorithm gives when it amplifies the better angels of our nature, when it helps us do the things we’d like to do in the long run, for us and the people we care about.

A challenge for anyone programming at a monopoly, a public company, a well-funded startup or even a non-profit in search of donors is this: Do you have the guts to build an algorithm you can be proud of even if it doesn’t pay off as well in the short run?

Because if the answer is no, blaming the system isn’t going to help anyone. You are the system, we all are, and given the power of invisible and leveraged algorithms, it’s essential that they be created and maintained by people who understand that they’re responsible for the impact they make.

More on this here and here.

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