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Two buttons on offer

Every person in your organization needs to wear a button.

And they can choose one of two. The choice is up to them, but they have to own it.

One button says, “I don’t care.”

The other button says, “I’d like to help.”

It’s entirely possible that you’ve managed your way into a bureaucracy that acts like it’s wearing the first button. If that’s true, admit it and have you and your team put on the buttons. You’ll save a lot of heartache by telling us and your co-workers the truth.

On the other hand, if you want the satisfaction that comes from wearing the second button, you’ve got to keep the promise.

Up and to the right

The typical performance chart has two axes. And one is time. We can’t do anything at all about time, so there’s really one axis.

How fast did your profits grow?

How many followers did you add to your account?

How much muscle did you add to your calves?

The problem with a graph that only has one axis is that it’s dumb. No room for nuance. It’s a blunt instrument, easy to game.

If you want your profits to go up faster, simply cut corners. If you want more followers, buy them, or lower your standards, or pick a fight. And if you want to add muscle faster, sacrifice your health…

Adults are better off realizing that we have the patience and intelligence to measure our lives on two or more axes. Which means that instead of just one quadrant, there are four. That maybe it makes sense to choose to pursue something longer term, more resilient, more important.

That maybe the metric that was chosen for everyone isn’t really the metric you care about it.


PS Applications are now open for the next session of the altMBA. Today’s the Early Deadline, and the best chance to set your sights for 2020 (yes, it’s almost 2020). The altMBA is a powerful, proven approach to leveling up and making work matter.

The limits of technique

It’s possible that you no longer need to get better at your craft. That your craft is just fine.

It’s possible that you need to be braver instead.

The simple dynamics of failing retail

The local retailer says, “I’m sitting here all day, with a limited selection and a paid staff, waiting for you to come and buy something I have in inventory. I’m paying rent, just waiting for you to come in, try things on and pay for them.”

The online retailer says, “I can use the same size staff to serve a town of a million, not a few thousand. I have a much bigger inventory, of course, but my rent and my staffing costs are tiny. And so what I sell you costs a lot less.”

The local retailer depended on two groups of people: Folks who needed or wanted the hands-on service, the ability to try things on and the chance to chat. And, people who didn’t demand those things but had no choice because there were no other options.

When online showed up, the second group defected. And with just the first group remaining, most local retailers are doomed.

The answer isn’t to figure out how to be as cheap as Amazon… you can’t. The answer is to figure out how to find the people (and the products and services they demand) so you can eagerly and comfortably charge a fair price.

‘Not good enough’ is an easy place to hide

Sniffing at the others who care is a form of virtue signalling. It’s also an ineffective way to create real change.

“My Prius Hybrid gets 140 miles per gallon.”

“My Tesla is solar powered.”

“Really, well I take an electric scooter.”

“We carpool by sharing a horse.”

“A horse? You should walk!”

This misses the real problem: The 1998 Chevy Suburban, with just one person on board, doing a forty-mile commute at 12 miles per gallon.

The same goes for ranking elected officials on who is the most perfect on the issue we care about.

The people who are paying attention are the ones who are trying. And shaming people who are trying because they’re not perfect is a terrific way to discourage them from trying. On the other hand, the core of every system is filled with the status quo, a status quo that isn’t even paying attention.

Focusing the group’s energy on shutting down stripped-mine coal is going to make far more impact than scolding the few who are trying.

The enthusiasm correlation

That fan at the game, the one who was cheering the whole time…

That audience member, the one that gave a long standing ovation after laughing through the whole show…

And that team member, who eagerly participated in the last meeting…

Surveys showed that they had a truly great time. They were glad to be there and thought it was a terrific day.

The question: were they enthusiastic because it was a great event? Or did it feel like a great event because they were enthusiastic?

What did you expect?

If you run a rush delivery company, expect that the customers will be rushed.

If you run a health food restaurant, expect that your customers will care about the ingredients you use.

If you run a preschool, expect that your users will act like little children at times.

If you offer urgent consulting services for clients in trouble, expect that they’ll be stressed and want you to work all night.

If you treat people with mental health issues, expect that they’ll not always be patient and long-term thinkers.

Sometimes, we get what we expect and still complain about it. It’s a feature, though, not a bug.

Hope for the best

Better, I think, to spec for the best instead.

It’s comforting to hire a contractor, give them a rough spec and hope for the best. Wish to be positively surprised. Leave room for lots of unexpected magic.

But if it matters, write a really good spec instead.

Freelancing is a brave act

When I quit my job in 1986 and went out on my own, it was shortly after my picture had appeared in a small feature in a national magazine. My grandmother proudly kept a copy of the magazine (not the article, the entire magazine) on her coffee table, proudly telling anyone who stopped by that her grandson was now a “FREE lancer.” Not sure what that meant, she had a hunch that it wasn’t nearly as stable, easy or prestigious as having an actual job.

Freelancers show up in the world without a safety net, offering to do their best. Freelancers rarely get the credit they deserve for the work they do.

Freelancers aren’t always sure of what’s next, and freelancers often get the wrong end of the stick.

But it’s about a pure a craft as most of us can find. You’re your own boss, most of the time, and figuring out a way to become better at being the boss of you is a worthwhile investment of effort.

I’m so pleased with the results we’ve achieved with The Freelancer’s Workshop. It’s a straightforward approach to the biggest problem most freelancers have: Finding better clients.

Our new session begins signups today, and I hope you’ll check it out (click to find the disappearing purple circle discount). It’s the last session of 2019.

Better clients demand more, pay more and talk about your work. Better clients make it easier for you to level up, and better clients challenge you to dig deeper and do what you’re capable of.

You don’t do better by working more hours. You can’t work more hours. You do better by finding better clients.

I’m delighted that so many freelancers read this blog, and proud to be, on my best days, a freelancer.

Join me at 1 pm ET today, Tuesday to talk about freelancing and how to level up. I’ll be taking your questions on my FB and Insta pages.

Now might be the time to be seen as the professional you’re capable of becoming.

“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).

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