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Undoing the toxic myth of exclusion and scarcity

It’s easy to believe that excluding a group increases the benefits for those that are doing the excluding. That division and barriers somehow benefit the people who divide and hoard.

That’s true when we’re talking about allocating a truly scarce resource. If you’re on a spaceship that’s headed for Mars, the oxygen you’ve got is all you’ve got. (Unless you have a population with the innovation needed to make more).

But in our modern world, a world built on community, connection and the magic that comes from combining ideas, the opposite is true. When people deprive others of education and opportunity, they’re not helping themselves, they’re depriving themselves of the benefits that would come from what others would end up contributing. We don’t benefit from treating others poorly, we pay for it.

More programmers, more healthy parents, more scientists, more leaders, more passionate artists, more breakthrough designers, more caring health care providers–it doesn’t crowd out anything. It creates more opportunity for everyone.

This is one reason that the faux scarcity of famous colleges is so toxic. Because we don’t have to exclude and sort to help people move forward, yet we do.

If you’ve ever heard a clarinet orchestra perform, you can instantly see how this works. Of course, there are no all-clarinet orchestras, because they don’t sound very good.

 

PS The First Priority deadline for the October session of the altMBA is tomorrow, July 14th. Showing up early is rarely a bad idea. Apply here.

None of the above

That’s a comfortable thing to say for some. It lets you off the hook.

There are definitely people in every group who prefer “none of the above,” regardless of what’s on offer. Because none of the above is also a choice, something that’s offered without being offered.

Being against might feel easier than being for.

Systems design and the front line

If you experience lousy service or poor quality, it’s probably not solely the fault of the person who talked to you on the phone, dealt with you at the counter or assembled your product.

It’s the boss.

The boss didn’t design the system properly, didn’t align incentives, didn’t invest in training. The boss isn’t thinking hard about hiring the right people. And the boss isn’t listening.

As a result, the frontline workers are often undertrained, underresourced and overscheduled.

But, and it’s a huge but, those very same frontline workers don’t have to suffer in silence. They can provide a useful conduit of information and feedback. They can model how it could work better and establish a model for those around them. Not because it’s easy, but because it’s important.

The top-down nature of the industrial entity is rapidly being replaced by the power of peer-to-peer learning and leadership. There’s no top and no bottom. Simply the ranks of people who care enough to make things better.

Sixty orbits

Birthdays are contagious. No one actually remembers the day they were born, other people remember it for you. And the way we celebrate them is cultural, a shared process that keeps changing.

People keep track of birthdays, and today used to be mine.

Sixty of them.

It doesn’t feel like it’s been that many. Time flies when you’re busy. Lots and lots of projects. Countless friends made, lessons learned and ideas shared. Quite a journey, with lucky breaks and advantages again and again, beginning with my parents, the cultural identity, time and town where I was born… I wouldn’t have been able to go on this journey without you, thank you.

But today’s not my birthday (no need to send an email or a card). I’ve never really liked my birthday (it’s a long story involving a non-existent parrot), and the only reason for this post is to talk about who owns my birthday now.

What happens if we start celebrating our birthdays differently? Today belongs to the 20,000 + people who are on their way to a permanent supply of clean drinking water because readers like you brought their birthday (and mine) to charity:water. Thank you. Now, particularly now, when the world is in pain and when so many people are wrestling with health, the economy and justice, it’s more urgent than ever to think of someone you’ve never met living a life that’s hard to imagine.

And today, because it celebrates a round number, I’m hoping you will join in and help us break charity:water’s birthday record. And maybe donate your birthday too. Better still, if you subscribe as a monthly donor, you become a core supporter of a movement that changes lives with persistence and care.

How it works:

If you have the ability, I’m hoping you’ll click here and donate to charity:water to celebrate what used to be my birthday.

And either way, I’m hoping you’ll also donate your birthday to them. Because when it’s your turn to celebrate a missing parrot or a lost cake, you can ask your friends, and they can do what you just did.

It’s hard to visualize 21,000 people, mostly kids, fighting illness because the water in their village is undrinkable. That’s about three times the population of the town where I live. Thanks to all of you, my projects, including this blog, have already raised nearly a million dollars to build long-term solutions to this problem.

Will you help me double that?

Even one kid who lives the life he or she is capable of is worth this blog post and worth your support.

Thank you.

Take good notes

Everyone is entitled to their own experience.

In fact, that’s all we ever get. Our own take on the world around us, informed by where we’ve been and where we seek to go.

Sometimes, we get the chance to hear about someone else’s experience. In those moments, it’s tempting to use the opportunity to explain a situation, to excuse or even to persuade.

Perhaps it pays to simply take good notes.

Acknowledge what you’re hearing. Encourage and amplify and find empathy.

There are plenty of opportunities to expound on our version of the world. Every once in a while we have the rare chance to explore someone else’s.

The magic of the countdown

Thea von Harbou invented the countdown. 10, 9, 8…

It works.

It focuses the attention of everyone involved and ensures that we’re truly alert for what’s going to happen next.

It helps that the numbers go down, not up (because up might never end). And it helps that as we get closer to lift-off, tension goes up, not down.

But what really matters is this: There’s a commitment.

When we get to zero, we’re actually going to do this.

The commitment has to happen before the countdown can.

The 100 hour asset

We’re all so busy doing our work that sometimes we fail to build a skill worth owning.

If you invest 100 hours in a rare skill, you’re likely to acquire it. If you could learn to sharpen a tool better than your peers, organize a high-performance database, see the nuances in some sector of cryptography, know how to build a pretty-good WordPress site or really understand the arc of a particular writer’s career, you’d have something of value. Something that anyone who was focused enough to invest 100 hours could have, but few will choose to commit to.

String together a few of those, or dig deep and develop a 1,000 hour asset and now you truly have something.

There’s huge pressure to fit in, and plenty of benefits if you invest the time and stand out instead.

Twenty hours a week for a year and you can know something that puts you in a new category. Access to knowledge isn’t nearly as difficult as the desire to learn.

The difference between patina and cruft

Cruft is obsolete. Cruft is broken, discarded, non-functioning refuse that should be hauled away.

Patina is the wabi-sabi of positive use. A bookshelf of well-worn encyclopedias (now replaced by Wikipedia) has a patina to it. Simply seeing it reminds us of the possibility of discovery.

Patina makes it easier to go forward. Cruft gets in our way.

“It might not be for you”

If you walk into a noisy bar and ask why they don’t have Chopin on the jukebox, they’re unlikely to accommodate you.

The same is true if you go to a BBQ joint and insist on sushi.

Most of the brands we truly care about stand for something. And the thing they stand for is unlikely to be, “whatever you want, we have it.” It’s also unlikely to be, “you can choose anyone and we’re anyone.”

A meaningful specific can’t possibly please everyone. That’s the deal.

Are we part of us?

Liberty is a state of mind. It can be seen as a chance for freedom, or a promise made but not kept. We can choose to be part of something or choose to be apart.

Liberty is the offer and promise and requirement of responsibility. A willingness to connect and to offer dignity in response to those around us.

Independence is actually about cooperation and interconnectedness.

Yet we’ve set up systems that limit what we see, how we connect and insulate us from the hard work that’s right in front of us.

One of the most important words I know doesn’t have a simple English equivalent, which says a lot. Sawubona, a Zulu term, means, “I see you.” Not just your face, of course, but your hopes, your dreams, where you came from and where you’re going. It’s not something we’re good at, and I need to do it better.

Figuring out the best way to see and understand and care about the people we call ‘us’ can be difficult indeed. And essential.

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