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The jerk fallacy

There’s a common misperception, particularly in media, business and politics, that being a jerk is a necessary ingredient on the way to becoming and staying successful.

But there’s no data to support this. Sure, some people succeed despite being jerks, not because of it.

For every person who has a reputation as a bully, a deal breaker, an intimidator—someone who fights for every scrap—there are many people who succeeded by weaving together disparate communities, by keeping their word, by quietly creating value.

Both roads can work. The presence of jerks at the top confirms this, and so does the predominance of good folks.

The problem with the jerk path is not that it isn’t more effective, it’s that you have to spend your days being a jerk.

Hollow inside

What’s inside the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

Nothing. It’s a hollow tube.

One of the most iconic buildings in the world is empty.

But that’s okay, because the building doesn’t make any promises about what’s inside. There’s no expectation, no offer of engagement. It merely is.

Chocolate Easter rabbits are a different story. You can’t help but feel ripped off when you discover that they’re hollow.

When we bring a brand to the world, it’s rare indeed that people are okay with it having nothing inside. The wrapper matters, but so does the experience within.

Paper clips and string

All software is held together with patches, shortcuts and cruft.

(Many old houses are as well).

Don’t be surprised. Expect it.

At some point, you’ll need to take a deep breath and pay a bunch of money to start fresh. And then, the very next day, there will be paper clips and string accumulating again.

That’s how it works. And it’s a miracle that it works at all.

(In fact, architecture, design, all the corners of our culture–it’s an evolving process, with cobwebs, repavings, repairs, potholes and improvements. We’d like to believe in the shiny perfect thing, but it’s rare indeed. Even your smartphone has the wabisabi of unused apps and bugs to be avoided.)

Shipping the work

A few years ago, I self-published a workbook called the Shipit Journal. It instantly sold out, so I went back to press two more times, and they sold out as well.

The Shipit Journal works for a simple reason: It’s difficult to write things down. Difficult to break a project into small pieces and take ownership over each one. Mostly, it’s difficult to announce to yourself and to your team that you’re actually on the hook to do great work.

I’m delighted to let you know that the journal is back, but it a much more beautiful format. Created in conjunction with my namesake moo.com, you can find it right here.

It’s a blank book, but one with words in it. Designed to have you add the rest of the words, to write in it, to commit, to share, to ultimately make a ruckus.

Thanks for checking it out. Here’s a quick video look at the new Focus Journal:

“Are you in a hurry?”

That’s what the sign at the airport cafe said.

It’s clearly a state of mind. Everyone at the airport is in one of two states: in a hurry, or killing time. The absolute number isn’t relevant–it doesn’t matter how many minutes until the flight that they’re expecting to catch. What matters is their state.

The same thing is true for someone on a commute, or a creative person at work.

You’re either in a hurry (with all the negative and positive that this state entails) or you’re not.

At the airport, people in a hurry are stressed, distracted and no more likely to make their flight.

At work, on the other hand, people in a hurry avoid getting sidetracked and (sometimes) are more likely to leap.

The two opportunities:

  1. redefine “in a hurry” to be a version of your best self. So that “hurry” isn’t a crutch, an excuse or a bane. It’s an asset.
  2. Turn on “hurry” whenever you need it, and turn it off when you don’t.


[New version of Akimbo out today–on tipping. And I’m told there’s a new Alexa skill, just say, “Alexa, start Akimbo”]

The two simple secrets to good ideas

Secret #1 is the biggest one: More bad ideas. The more bad ideas the better. If you work really hard on coming up with bad ideas, sooner or later, some good ideas are going to slip through. This is much easier than the opposite approach.

Secret #2 is more important: Generosity. It's much easier and more effective to come up with good ideas for someone else. Much easier to bring a posture of insight and care on behalf of someone else. It lets you off the hook, too.

Cold yeast

Almost every element of good bread happens long before it goes into the oven.

Too often, we spend our time and effort on the exciting last step. And too often, we forget to spend our time and attention on the preparation that’s a lot less urgent or glamorous, but far more important.

Poor preparation is a lousy excuse for a last-minute selfish frenzy. That frenzy distracts us from doing it right the next time.

If you want to understand where mastery and success come from, take a look at the inputs and the journey, not simply the outputs.

The trap of insightful selection

“Which one do you want?”

There were 100 quarts of strawberries at the farmer’s market yesterday. In answer to the farmer’s question, the person ahead of me in line spent a full minute looking them all over before picking one.

The thing is: 90% of the strawberries in a quart are hidden from view. They’re beneath the top layer. There’s no strategy to tell which quart is better than the other, unless you (erroneously) believe that the top layer is an accurate indicator of what lies below.

The analogy wasn’t lost on me: We do this all the time. We do it with job interviews, with dating sites, with decisions about who to trust with an investment or even to drive our Lyft.

The other thing is: We get satisfaction out of picking, even if we know that our data is suspect and evidence is limited. We like the feeling of power and control, even though we have very little.

If all you’re seeing is the top layer, you’ve learned nothing. Maybe less than nothing. Con men are particularly good at seeming trustworthy, and the outfit worn to a job interview tells you nothing about someone’s dedication, work ethic or honesty.

The real information comes from experience. If the farmer is the sort of person who won’t put the clinkers on the bottom, she’s earned our trust.


The danger of “not good enough”

That’s how we choose who to work with.

We want someone who’s good at their job. And the ones we pass up are usually labeled as, “not good enough.” And we label ourselves as well. “I’d like to do that sort of work, but I’m not good enough.”

This is obviously a trap.

In almost every line of work, the truthful sentence is, “not good enough yet.”

Of course, at least once you wrote a great line of code or crafted a good headline. At least once you made a good diagnosis or calmed a patient. At least once you did something extraordinary. So it’s not that you can’t do it.

It might be that you don’t care enough to try.

“I’d like to hire that programmer, but he doesn’t care enough to get really good at his craft.” That’s certainly more true than, “He’s never going to be good at programming, because his DNA doesn’t match the DNA of a good coder.”

It’s true that you’re not good enough yet. None of us are. But if you commit to trying hard enough and long enough, you’ll get better.

Better and different

Digital analogs only work when they’re better and different, not when they’re almost the same.

Chat isn’t the same as chatting. Email isn’t a replacement for mail. Video conferencing isn’t just like being in a real conference…

There’s still plenty of room for digital innovations to impact our world. But they won’t simply be a replacement for what we have now. They only earn widespread engagement when they’re much better than the status quo they replace.

And the only way they can be better is when they’re different.

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