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“This is mediocre”

Large organizations seek to decrease variability.

Starbucks wants the very best latte you buy from them to be exactly the same as the worst one.

If you define a spec and work hard to meet it, you can make it so that most things are within a reasonable distance of that spec. Which means that most of what you make is average.

If an entire industry is busy seeking to meet that average, we can define that work as mediocre. Not horrible, but certainly not exceptional (because ‘exception’ -al is self-explanatory).

When you go out to buy aluminum siding, copywriting or consulting services, you have a choice: You can demand that the work meets the industry spec, a fair product at a fair price. Or, you can seek something better than average, something worth paying extra for.

Most TV ads, most car services, most airplane flights–they’re mediocre. That’s a choice.

If you want to buy creative work that’s exceptional, you’ll need to pay for it (and accept the risk that it might not work out as planned).

Open the cookies

Put a bag of cookies in the break room and it might sit for days.

Open the bag and leave it out, and within an hour, all the cookies will be gone.

We are happy to take a tiny slice off the thing that’s being shared, but we hesitate to open the bag.

The same is true with all of the initiatives in our culture. Design, movements and ideas are all trapped, waiting to be opened, and then the rest of us will happily pile on.

Open the bag.

“I’m sorry” takes guts

I recently saw two men arguing about who got to use the urinal next.

As a result, neither got what he wanted, and neither could honestly say that his day got better.

The need to win every interaction, the inability to apologize, the short-term over the long-term–this isn’t a sign of strength, it’s a symptom of immaturity and weakness that almost always leads to suboptimal results.

If apologizing engages the network and makes it more likely that we can stay in sync, it pays for itself many times over.

Better than it needs to be

Every element of the organization has a spec, a minimum required performance. Accounting has standards, so does the department that measures the air quality.

Everything beyond spec is marketing.

That’s an interesting definition, but I think it’s true: All the money, effort and time that an organization puts into making anything better than it has to be is a marketing expense.

Because the extra is there to help change minds, to spread the word, to earn trust and loyalty.

The head of marketing is the person in charge of what’s extra. Because if you want to grow, nothing is actually extra. It’s simply an investment.

Initiative

The only way to get initiative is to take it. It’s never given.

And some people hesitate to take it, perhaps because they’re worried that we’ll somehow run out.

We’re not going to run out. It’s a self-renewing resource.

From an early age, most of us were taught to avoid it. Do your homework. Take out the trash. Wait to get picked. Wait to get called on. Become popular. Fit in. Maybe stand out, but just a little bit. Failure is far worse than not trying.

The alternative is to take some initiative. On behalf of those you seek to serve.

Go ahead, there’s plenty to go around.

Projects vs tasks

Your job might be a series of tasks. Tasks are work where money is traded for time and effort. You put in a fixed amount of time, expending effort along the way, and you get paid. In the end, tasks are completed and it’s up to the boss to weave those tasks together into something useful.

The person at the front desk of a hotel is probably doing a task. So is the lineman working on a high power line. The easier a job is to get, the more likely it involves doing tasks.

The alternative is projects.

The way a project gets done is up to you. Your goal is to create an extraordinary outcome, not to perform the tasks. The work done is simply a means to an end. If you can figure out how to do less work or different work and still create project magic, that’s exactly what you should do.

The challenge is in owning the project. To say, “I’m going to engage with this customer in a way that changes them from frustrated to loyal,” as opposed to saying, “I’m going to move this paper from here to there.”

Claim the project before you start the work.

Use your best judgment

I called the front desk early in the morning. “Where’s the gym located?”

It’s a big hotel. They have a thousand rooms, and they’re part of a chain. Still, I was surprised to hear typing. The person who answered was typing the question into their database and then proceeded to read me the answer.

It’s reasonable to assume that the hotel decided to save some money by consolidating all of their front desk work into one central location. And reasonable again to assume that instead of training people to give clear and helpful answers, simply instructed them in what to read.

Still…

I can’t imagine that’s a job you’d want to do. A job that would use any of your skills or care. A job you would look forward to doing.

The next step is to have voice recognition replace this pesky worker. After all, the best cog is no cog at all.

Our choice is profound, and more urgent every day: either do a job where your best judgment is required, or do a job where management will work hard to replace you with someone cheaper.

Race to the top, race to the bottom.

Either way, you might win. Up to you.

 

PS today’s the last day of the year to sign up for The Marketing Seminar, our industry-leading workshop for people who have an idea, a project or a business they need to grow.

The Big Fish theory

In all markets, the market leader gets an unfair advantage. That’s because casual and unsophisticated customers choose the leader because it feels easier and safer.

The strategy, then, is not to wish and dream of becoming a big fish.

The strategy is to pick a small enough pond.

By engaging with the smallest viable audience, you gain the reputation and trust you need to move to ever bigger audiences.

Narratives about modernity

If we give an isolated community access to the internet, very quickly, the quality of life will improve. Time will be saved, research into proven solutions will produce value, and people will become connected to a larger population. Those connections will lead to productivity and learning.

And, then, soon thereafter, they will become less happy.

Not because they’re worse off, but because the dominant media narratives that arrive exist to make them feel insufficient, inadequate or simply jealous at how green the grass is over there.

Our narrative defeats our surroundings, every time.

Security superstition/Security theater

Security theater is a rule requiring you to take off your shoes when you get to the airport. It doesn’t actually catch anyone, it simply makes people feel more secure, and it allows those in charge to feel like they’re doing something. Mostly, it’s a demonstration of power and authority, not a practical measure.

And security superstition involves putting security measures in place on a hunch, or because others are doing it.

This alert from a website run by Thomson Reuters manages to do both:

This is malpractice. No, it’s not a doctor giving you the wrong medicine, but it’s definitely someone who should know better making an error that will cost countless users a lot of time and money.

Long passwords work better than short ones. But impossible-to-remember passwords get written on post-its by people who haven’t yet realized that they need a password manager. Having people change their passwords often simply creates more post-its. Insisting on arcane rules is nothing but theater plus superstition.

The theater and the superstition compounds, creating mountains of cruft, layers and layers of misunderstood but accepted practices that waste our time and make our systems less secure, precisely the opposite of what’s intended.

Software runs our world. Building insecure, difficult to use and frustrating software and then forcing people to use it is easily avoided. But it requires leadership and insight, not mindless superstition.

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